Oregon experience suggests when it comes to drivers under the influence, the fire is far from out.

Where there's smoke ... there's fire is a trusted adage to live by. That's especially so in trucking, where it's often easy to be lulled into complacency by the relentless squads of industry cheerleaders bent on spreading good news instead of tackling bad.

In fact, that thought brings to mind something I heard when I first started covering trucking. A noted industry figure told me ' in no uncertain terms ' that 'trade books' (such as FLEET OWNER) should be proud to serve as the 'industry's cheerleaders.'

I disagreed then and still disagree with that narrow-minded view of the role dedicated 'truck' journalists at this magazine and others should play as professional news gatherers, opinion makers, and editors.

To the benefit of all our readers, the industry's journals are not mouthpieces for anyone. The major independently published magazines, and many of the smaller ones, too, provide fleet-management readers with impartial reporting and unbiased opinions on the issues of the day.

All this ranting about cheerleaders brings us to the sobering reality revealed by a recent set of highway-safety checks in Oregon.

The results of those inspections run counter to all the cheering about how the industry has reduced the number of truck drivers found to be using illicit drugs or alcohol while on duty.

Yes, it's great news those numbers are down. It is especially so considering the high cost fleets have paid for mandatory drug testing and drivers have, in many cases, for invasion of their constitutional right to freedom from unreasonable search.

On top of that, fleets have been stuck with the unseemly task of acting as de facto police agencies toward their most valued employees.

Now, we learn from Oregon's experience that the industry dragnet to nab drivers under the influence still has holes big enough to threaten highway safety ' not to mention the erstwhile pursuit of the Holy Grail known as a positive public image.

Here are the dry facts. During a 48-hour safety checkpoint conducted last fall at two southern Oregon entry points, one in ten truck drivers pulled over tested positive for drug or alcohol use. Oh, by the way, over a quarter of the trucks stopped had to be put out of service for equipment violations, too.

The checkpoint sites were selected for good reason. During the first nine months of '98, both spots witnessed a number of accidents judged to be caused by truck drivers.

Carrying out the selective enforcement were State Police officers and Oregon DOT inspectors assisted ' for the first time ' by special 'drug-recognition experts' drawn from local law-enforcement agencies.

'Operation Trucker Check' halted 373 trucks entering the state from California and 367 drivers provided samples for urinalysis to detect drugs or alcohol presence. No less than 26 truckers refused to be tested.

Of those who submitted, 34 drivers ' or almost 10% ' had drugs in their system. These included everything from cocaine and opiates to amphetamines and marijuana.

Six drivers were so impaired they were arrested on the spot for DUI. Another five truckers were taken out of service thanks to excessive fatigue.

As for the rest of the days' haul, 45 citations and 80 warnings were issued for equipment or driver safety problems. Of the trucks inspected, 98 ' over 25% ' were tagged out of service.

No matter what spin industry cheerleaders put on the Oregon police action, the reality is most voters and consumers will hear only what their newspapers and TV stations report. And that will mainly be the state's side of the story.

But any way you slice it, netting that many druggers and drinkers piloting 'big rigs' in one spot in just two days puts trucking in a pretty crummy light.

I say to hell with more cheerleading. Besides, the choir it's directed at ' people in the industry ' already knows the score by heart.

The grim reality is that letting ignorance or indifference leave just one drugged or drunken truck driver behind the wheel is still one too many for the road.