As media relations subcommittee chair for the Truckload Carriers Association's Public Image Committee, I have promised to regularly dedicate this space to the topic of improving the trucking industry's image with the public, media, legislators and regulators.
Over the years I have written countless columns and features about our image problem and solutions for solving it. It's an uphill battle, with no easy solution.
That's because there are so many things that can sway public perception of trucks. One frequent and dangerous occurrence is flying debris from failed tires. The Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau (TRIB) receives e-mails daily from motorists, who usually blame retreads for incidents they experience.
Here are excerpts from one recent letter: "Last night a tread separated from a tire on a semi truck and hit my van. This is the second time it happened to me in the last two years. The first time it happened was more dangerous than last night. It was during rush hour, [debris was] flying off a few trucks in front of me and there was nowhere for me to go because there were cars on each side and behind me. I had to let it hit me. It took the passenger side fender, headlight and side mirror.
"Last night there were two trucks in front of me and one beside me. It was dark so I couldn't see which it came from. It was nearly one complete and full piece of tread and this time it took my front grille and passenger side headlight.
"This surely must be a safety concern... treads on the side of the road or even in the middle of the road is dangerous, but avoidable... Having them fly through the air and land with force on a vehicle driving at highway speeds must be a serious safety issue with the Department of Transportation. Are people getting killed because of this?
As always, TRIB responded quickly. "We immediately contacted the writer and explained that, while we were sympathetic to his plight, he needed to understand that the tire debris from both trucks might not have come from retreads," says Harvey Brodsky, TRIB managing director. "He fully understood and was not blaming retreads. He simply wanted to express his feelings in the hopes that his message could somehow be brought to truckers so that they would understand how important it is to properly maintain their tires."
TRIB was launched in the early '70s by a group of retreaders and suppliers to the retread industry, who realized it would be best to have an objective, arms-length, non-commercial voice to speak for the entire industry and not just one company or system.
TRIB's mission and goals are simple: Promote the economic and environmental benefits of retreading and tire repairing. Their sub-goal is to defend our industry against any negative/false attacks by the media, government agencies and others who are misinformed about the true causes of tire debris (road alligators) on our highways.
"We try to achieve our mission and goals by always being on the lookout for negative mentions about retreading and tire repairing, and whenever we come upon one we vigorously and immediately respond with factual rebuttals," Brodsky says.
There are two lessons here for the industry:
Most tire failures on the highway result from heat caused by underinflation. One great (and easy) step toward improving safety and our image is to be diligent in checking tire pressure on all your rigs.
TRIB long ago proved that being proactive in rebutting negative media is effective in combatting bad press. Forming a similar organization, to respond to negative press on behalf of the trucking industry in general, might not be a bad idea.