I hope you were as outraged as I was upon reading what passes for a keyboard mugging in the July 20 issue of Parade magazine. In his cover story, "Feel Safe?," Bernard Gavzer does a clever job of passing off the standard and familiar attacks on trucking under the guise of investigatory journalism and balanced reporting.
It was neither. The piece was so filled with distortions, half truths, and innuendoes that it amounted to character assassination for the 9-million people employed by trucking companies who work hard every day to deliver freight -- in some cases even the very Parade magazine that smeared their reputation -- safely and efficiently. What can we do?
1. Understand the big picture. What started out as a comprehensive story on trucking quickly got swept up in the highly charged policy discussion on increased sizes and weights.
2. Recognize mistakes. Here are several examples:
According to Gavzer, "In 1995, while large trucks made up only 3% of all registered vehicles, they accounted for 21% of all deaths in crashes involving two or more vehicles . . ." This statement makes it look like the trucks were responsible for crashes. Not true. They were involved in them.
He also says the average single trailer length is 60 ft. In fact, only one state, Wyoming, allows a 60-ft. trailer. Most importantly, he failed to mention that CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) has been bankrolled by the railroad industry.
3. Know the real story. The trucking industry has worked hard, long, and effectively to improve safety. Today, trucking is safer than it has ever been, despite higher vehicle mileage, increased congestion, and road systems that are in constant need of repair. To wit:
* More than 88% of highway fatalities don't involve trucks at all.
* Seventy-two percent of fatal car-truck accidents begin with a mistake by the driver of the car involved.
* While the miles driven by trucks have increased 41% over the past 10 years, the rate of fatal accidents involving trucks has decreased 39%.
4. Understand the emotion. As impressive as these safety accomplishments are, the issue of truck safety reaches beyond the head, touching the heart and playing to our fears.
Again, Gavzer does a marvelous job of fanning those fears through the use of anecdotal comments from motorists or highlights of high-speed chases. His descriptions of triple combinations "at 120 feet, as long as a 10-story building," are not designed to reassure.
5. Set the record straight. Fortunately, the American Trucking Assns.' publicity apparatus swung into high gear when it found out about the Parade piece. ATA sent a response to the editors of the nation's top 500 newspapers, where, in many cases, cooler heads prevailed.
But industry organizations cannot do it all alone. Fleets simply must do a better job at the grass roots level of getting the marvelous story of trucking out. There is some risk -- as the Parade sandbagging evidenced -- of going public. But all told, the downside risk of letting somebody else, including your competition, define you is far greater.
6. Throw emotional counterpunches. Whether it's through courteous driving, community involvement, or helping stranded motorists, the trucking community has a rich heritage of making this world a better place.
7. Keep up the good work!