Over the past decade or more, the trucking industry has launched a number of initiatives to improve its image in the eyes of the general public. Almost all of these programs have been and continue to be fine efforts by people who are dedicated to this demanding and often thankless business. They may even be moving the needle of public opinion gradually higher, but it has been a tough sell to a very tough audience.

Now, one year into CSA, it looks like the new safety rating procedure may be the image changer that trucking has been seeking for so long. Unlike image campaigns, however, CSA is working its magic in an entirely different way; it is transforming trucking itself.

Independent standards serve a number of functions for an industry. Think about Consumer Reports, J.D. Power ratings, ISO standards for manufacturers and even the old Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Not only do they tell the general public who is the best at what they do, they describe for that industry what being the best means in concrete, measurable terms that can be used to objectively compare one company or one performer or one product to another. And those metrics become common goals, which can transform industries over time.

In other words, CSA may well turn out to be the equivalent of ISO for trucking operations, describing as it does what it means to be good, better and best and how to get there — or not.

Last month, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit again with Don Osterberg, senior vice president-safety, security and driver training for Schneider National. In the course of discussing the impact of CSA on fleets, I asked him if he thought that CSA will help to create a new sense of professionalism among drivers, and here is what he had to say: “It absolutely will.”

“We all want to be the best at what we do, or at least be proficient,” he continued, “and we behave in accordance with how we believe ourselves to be. If I see myself as a disciplined professional, I will behave that way.” CSA, he noted, is giving drivers a new yardstick, a new way to measure their own performance and have it independently rated, independently validated for everybody to see.

“Drivers are embracing that,” Osterberg noted. “It is making a difference. We have to somehow take driver behavior back to the belief level, back to how they see themselves. I personally think that behavioral training is old school. If we can get individuals [to see themselves as professionals and to act accordingly], then we can elevate the industry as a whole.”

“CSA is raising all boats,” he said. “Our experience so far has confirmed what we expected. It has improved accountability. That is not to say CSA is perfect, but I really am encouraged.”

And that might be the unexpected power of CSA — that it is “raising all boats.” In the process, it is also giving good drivers and good fleets a way to be independently recognized at long last, by customers and the general public, for what they have been doing all along, exceptional work in an exceptionally tough job. CSA provides the numbers to prove it.

CSA will, of course, also challenge those who are not measuring up to change or be washed out of an industry that, increasingly, really knows what it means to be good at what you do. You can't get a better image campaign than that.

Wendy Leavitt is Fleet Owner' s director of editorial development. She can be reached at wleavitt@fleetowner.com