Image, they say, is everything. In fact, I can probably quote you thousands of clichés and sayings that relate to image and perception, and the very reason that those sayings exist is because they usually hold true. This is especially the case in the truck safety arena, where public perception plays a huge role.

I am sure many in the industry can relate to people telling them stories about commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers operating their vehicles dangerously or acting unprofessionally. Rarely does someone outside the business tell me a positive story about one of our nation's CMV drivers. Unfortunately, safety and its ties to public image have been a predicament for the industry since wheels started rolling.

In many cases, the only people telling positive stories are trucking professionals, who more often than not hope to supplant negative ones. As some carriers are proving, however, the impact of actually getting the public to think about and speak of the good things that drivers and fleets do can far outweigh the effects of one bad driver.

Aiding your community is one way to positively spread your company's and industry's message. For example, Gordon Trucking, located in Pacific, WA, is actively involved in its community, locally and statewide, through its Homeward Bound program. This program brings together Gordon Trucking and the Washington State Patrol to help locate and identify missing children and return them home. The company wraps its trucks with large photos and information about these children; to date, the company has helped bring three of them home. Not only has Gordon dedicated itself to a worthy cause, but the company is now recognized as a vital part of its community.

Even smaller carriers have gotten into the business of public image and outreach. Stone Belt Freight Lines of Shoals, IN, actively donates trailers for community needs, such as parades, auctions and performances by local bands. Another small carrier, Raider Express of Fort Worth, TX, operates lemonade stands at local fairs, sponsors local sports teams, and even relies on the interests of some of its employees to build upon its public outreach campaign. One particular employee supplies horses for local children to ride during a recruiting event. Supporting even small, local events like these can go a long way toward improving your company's image. By putting your company front and center at local events, you can hopefully change the negative image of trucking into positive stories about what your company does to aid its community.

Our industry's drivers safely deliver goods to consumers every day and relish the opportunity to be more than unsung heroes. Reaching out to a community and proactively taking part in campaigns outside of trucking allows a carrier's employees and its community to take pride in the company and the community they're building together. Giving the community an interest in its local trucking company will always make a dent in the all-too-often negative perception of trucking held by the public.

David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn., responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to Mr. Heller at Safety411@truckload.org.