Trucking employers need to lead by example when it comes to courtesy

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Until recently, I have been the only one in my family who drives for a living.

I’m far from the only one who loves to drive though. My mother decided to make the 2,100-km trip back home from a wedding with five of my kids and two active grandsons rather than flying. We all seem to think nothing of long hours behind the wheel or as a passenger in anything with wheels, including in the case of my younger brother, gyrocopters.

I may be the Crazy Canuck but this summer, younger brother flew his gyro from Carp, Ont., to Landmark, Man., and back. That’ll be a story for another day. This one does involve him though.

I was near his home, so I called him to see if he wanted to meet up. He was on his way to camp for an extended weekend several hours away. Like I said, we like to follow the asphalt ribbon.

We chatted for a few minutes before he told me how his drive was going. As he was talking to me, hands-free of course, he told me about the drive along Hwy. 401, somewhere between Prescott and Kingston, Ont.

The Toronto-Montreal corridor is scenic but can be slow and frustrating. He was definitely in the frustrated zone. He is not the kind to road rage or pull a stupid stunt like passing when unsafe, but it’s still not a fun time. So, he did a play-by-play for me. If I write down his commentary about the entire 10 minutes you’ll be bored, quit reading my articles, I’ll get fired by my editor – and I like this gig, so I’ll summarize.

One semi was attempting to pass the other. For miles. Shock! Gasp! Really? We never see two semis playing a seesaw battle from one city to the next. I know – I have written about this before, but I want to come at it from the employer’s angle because the drivers don’t seem to be listening.

Two semi trucks drive on Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) between Lloydminster and Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada on a cloudy day.
(Photo: iStock)

There’s two important points in this charade that played out that day. Mr. Highballer in the hammer lane, after many miles of creating a line of vehicles behind him, slid into the slow lane and then promptly took an exit. Yes. I’m not making this up.

The other important point is the frustration from the other motorists. Courtesy was not a strong force in either driver playing that stupid game for miles. Remember, my brother is mild-mannered compared to most, and he was not a happy soon-to-be camper.

As we are both problem solvers, so we dissected the situation, looking at it from all angles and discussed what could have been done. We also talked about the impact it has on the image of truck drivers and the company’s names emblazoned all over the equipment.

I thought back to every orientation I’ve ever been in during the past 33 years. I cannot remember much, if any, emphasis on courtesy. A couple places did touch on it, but it is usually in the form of dress and how we present ourselves during personal interactions.

Further to that, I asked Erin, my very pleasant server at the Big Stop in Aulac, N.B., about the emphasis on courtesy to patrons. She replied that there is some, but mostly during the hiring process. Whatever they are doing here works, because this stop – not really close to any place big in population – is teeming with diners. A truck stop restaurant lives and dies by the serving staff. Most drivers I know will patronize a place with bad food if the servers are friendly. The opposite is also true.

If we want the motoring public to be on our side, we must take this approach. It doesn’t take much learning to be better. I pay attention to the traffic flow and make sure I pass very few other trucks. If I must pass, I do it as quickly as the law allows. The law limiting trucks to 105 km/h is something I don’t agree with because it helps create these bottlenecks, but I still can decide whether or not to be courteous.

Recently, I fought traffic all day and ended up 70 km short of where I wanted to be. Part of the reason is because I kept my speed fractionally lower than the other trucks. I wanted to stay at my max but it wasn’t worth holding up cars. I’m sure no one realized what I was doing, but I knew. My mental health was the only one who thanked me.

Don’t put out a bulletin to your drivers reminding them to be courteous. Lead by example. Talk about it one-on-one. Create that culture. Hire those that represent you.

Be a destination employer. We’re the professionals, let’s act like it.

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David Henry is a longhaul driver, Bell Let's Talk representative and creator/cohost of the Crazy Canuck Truckin podcast. His passion is mental health and presenting a better image for trucking to the public.

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  • Great message David, I tell each and every new hire to remember that as important as their load is that it is still just “stuff”. Nothing is more important than being safe, drive like your kids in the truck or in the cars around you.
    I will make sure we include your message in our onboarding and our 1 to 1 conversations. Thanks for this.