Recently I spoke to Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s Jim Davis about the company's “Highway Heroes” program, lamenting the fact that drivers from medium- and light-duty fleets aren't eligible. The program, founded in 1983, recognizes professional truck drivers for the often-unnoticed life-saving rescues and roadside assistance they provide while on the job. Currently, nominations are restricted to drivers of commercial vehicles with 14 or more tires.

“That's just the way it was set up over 20 years ago,” said Davis. “To be honest, we never really thought about expanding the program. But you raise a good point. I'm sure there are lots of drivers operating under-14 wheel equipment that have performed similar deeds.”

I had the honor of being a judge in this year's contest. While reading about the brave men and women who were nominated for the 2003 Highway Hero award, it occurred to me that a similar program recognizing drivers from the light- and medium-duty sectors would also be appropriate.

David Dunham, for example, pulled fellow driver Azem Rizvanovic out of his burning truck, dragged him to safety, and stayed with him until police and medical personnel arrived. Derrick Harris noticed someone on fire alongside a Tennessee highway, so he stopped and used a blanket soaked in water to extinguish the blaze and then comforted the victim. Though burned over 60% of his body, the man lived because of Harris's quick action. Joe Sines freed two sisters, ages one and seven, from a wrecked minivan, tended their wounds, and dialed 911 for help — all at the same time. Finally, Anne Spriggs, a former nurse, helped resuscitate a five-year-old who suffered a grand mal seizure at a truckstop.

What's even more amazing is that many of the drivers nominated for Goodyear's award program have to be tracked down. Very few seek the recognition on their own.

“I've talked to a lot of the finalists and many are almost embarrassed by the attention they get,” Davis said. “We get a lot of reluctance because they feel they would have done what any other person in that position would do. They just reacted to the situation, did what they could to help, and then went on with their job. Many tell me ‘I'm no hero’ and try to sidestep the limelight.”

Goodyear contacts law enforcement agencies, as well as firefighter and emergency rescue groups to help unearth truck driver hero stories. “We're trying whatever we can do to make sure drivers who perform this kind of service get recognized,” Davis said. “The worst part is that some drivers are going unnoticed — and they really deserve a chance to be recognized for their actions.”

As a journalist, I find it particularly galling to see national newspapers regularly splash large photos and write-ups of truck accidents and fatalities across their pages — but almost never give the same kind of coverage to truck drivers who plunge into burning cars to save total strangers.

“Few drivers nominated for this award get coverage beyond their hometown papers,” said Davis. “I think they're deserving of recognition on a national platform, but it's a struggle to get the national media to see it that way.”

Let's hope that attitude will change — and sooner rather than later. Let's also hope we can find a way to extend our appreciation of highway heroes to those behind the wheels of light- and medium-duty trucks.