What a great idea to help educate the public about trucking: Get reporters behind the wheel of a big rig.
Last year's national truck driving championships.
Mike Mendenhall, a staff writer for the Newton Daily News, Jasper County, Iowa, surprised himself by taking home a first-place plaque in the "media division" of the Iowa Truck Driving Championships at the Iowa Speedway last month, put on by the Iowa Motor Truck Association.
This year's competition hosted 88 drivers in 22 different trucking companies. Mendenhall noted that IMTA President Brenda Neville said in a statement, "As a professional truck driver, these men and woman are the foundation of the trucking industry."
As the young reporter writes, "My experience Saturday was exhilarating, but if that foundation hadn't been there to guide me it would have turned to exasperation quickly."
Press contestants had an experienced driver along to coach them and stayed in first gear through the course, so they only had to worry about maneuvering, not shifting.
The 5-minute drive gave the reporter some new perspective.
"I envisioned road raged interstate drivers speeding by truckers, honking and cursing in their blind spot. The difficulty of this job, and the skill it takes is not in question. Bolstering our lifestyles and contributing to our standard of living, without these drivers dealing with hellacious working hours and weather conditions to delivering our food, luxuries and other goods, our lives would be immensely different."
You can read Mendenhall's entire piece here.National Championships
The American Trucking Associations didn't have any figures on how many states offer this type of opportunity, but the association does offer a media day at the National Truck Driving Championships,
which this year will be Tuesday, August 9, 1-4 p.m. at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
There, reporters are encouraged to get up in the cab of the ATA Share the Road tractor-trailer and try their hand at similar skills test that the competitors will be doing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"They really enjoy it and get a real feel for what it is like," says Elisabeth Barna, vice president, Strategic Planning & Outreach for ATA. "In the past years a number of reporters have broadcast their 4 and 5 pm news from inside the cab."
Of course, it doesn't take actually getting behind the wheel for a reporter to get an appreciation for the professionalism of these drivers. Take this video report
that follows Con-way Freight driver Wilbert Vano's efforts to win the New Jersey Truck Driving Championships. Last year he was the state's grand champion; a supervisor calls him the "rock star" of the event, and another Con-way driver says Van is his "hero."
These kind of events can make truck drivers heroes in the eyes of more reporters and the general public.