Perception matters

by David Bradley

Still to this day, one of the great preoccupations for the trucking industry is its relationship with the motoring public and public perceptions of the industry.

That is the burden we must bear for being one of the few industries that shares its workplace directly with the public.

For those of us who have been around for awhile, just think back to the mid-1990s, and the wheel-off incidents that touched off a firestorm of public antipathy (in some cases rage) against the entire industry.

These perceptions, whether you feel they are fair or not, reflect themselves in just about every aspect of the business -from the regulatory system that the industry operates under, to the degree to which economic policy considers the opinion of the industry, to its ability to attract the next generation of workers.

Recently, the well-regarded Traffic Injury Research Foundation conducted a survey of public opinion on large truck safety in Canada.

Interesting results

Twelve hundred Canadians were polled; 67 of which were truck drivers. Sponsors of the survey were Transport Canada, the Brewers Association of Canada and CTA.

The results are very interesting, and on balance I think positive.

The public appears to understand that in most fatal crashes involving a truck, the driver of the passenger vehicle is more often at fault. In fact, 73.4% thought this was the case.

In terms of safely sharing the road with a truck, 64.2% said they know the minimum distance they should leave when merging in front of a truck; 77.2% said they know where a truck driver’s blind spots are -or at least they think they do.

The positive thing is that despite these results, 62.4% said they don’t believe that passenger car training is adequate in terms of sharing the road with trucks -something CTA and the provincial associations have been saying for years.

According to TIRF, there is no evidence suggesting that drivers of large trucks generally engage in a variety of dangerous behaviours although the survey of the 67 truck drivers (while limited) provides evidence that a small minority does.

(Ten per cent said they drive when the truck is overweight, 9.4% said they drive well over the speed limit, 8.2% said they falsify their log books, 8% said they drive when tired or fatigued, 6.7% said they drive when they are distracted, 5.3% said they drive a truck that does not meet safety standards, 4.2% said they tamper with their speed limiter, 3.4% said they drive in excess of the hours-of-service, 2.4% said they drink and drive, and 2.4% said they use illegal drugs and drive).

But, despite these low numbers the industry still has its challenges. While concerns over drinking and driving continue to be Canadians’ major highway safety concern (83.4%), a large number also rank certain trucking concerns quite high.

Canadians are not particularly concerned about the number of trucks on the road, but overall, about two-thirds are very or extremely concerned about some aspect of truck safety.

Seventy per cent said they are concerned about truck drivers who are tired from driving long hours; 67.1% said they were concerned about trucks not meeting safety standards; and 63.8% said they were concerned about truck drivers driving too fast above the speed limit.

So, it’s not surprising that there is a relatively high level of support amongst Canadians for a variety of safety measures.

Public supports EOBRs

Greatest support (64.8%) came for EOBRs. Sixty-four per cent advocate the mandatory activation of speed limiters in all trucks.

Sixty per cent said truck drivers should be re-tested every five years, but interestingly only 27.6% felt that all drivers should undergo such retesting.

In summation, the results I think are a fair ref lection of public perceptions of our industry. (They are considered accurate within plus or minus 2.9%, 19 times out of 20).

While as I said above, we still have our challenges in winning the hearts and minds of the public, or at least neutralizing their opinions of the industry, most do seem to recognize that the drivers of passenger vehicles play a major role in truck safety.

And, in the areas that they are most concerned about the policies of CTA and the provincial associations in terms of what to do, are consistent with the measures the public would like to see introduced.

-David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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