Image has been a key theme at the American Trucking Assns.' summer leadership meeting this week in Washington, DC, along with a number of important legislative issues currently being considered on Capitol Hill.
Attendees questioned a reporter's panel about why anti-truck voice Joan Claybrook is so widely quoted in the media, while the trucking industry seems to have a hard time getting the mainstream media to listen. The answer? Claybrook, who is head of Public Citizen and has ties to CRASH, is easy to get to, she's available. And with her former government service during the Carter administration, she is taken seriously. Reporters said the trucking industry needs to become more proactive and less reactive.
Frank Wilmer, capitol hill correspondent for Traffic World magazine, said the challenge is "Image, image, image, safety, safety, safety." Until the industry gets the word out that trucking is safe - and that the trucking industry is concerned about safety - it's hard to do anything about other negative image problems.
ATA is working on a public relations campaign to help get that safety message across, as well as the message of how essential trucking is to Americans. A committee devoted to the campaign, which Freightliner is also involved in, met for four hours Wednesday night and had to reconvene the next morning. Word is they're planning a nationwide campaign on the order of the dairy industry's famous "Got Milk" milk-mustache campaign.
The safety of trucking has also been a big issue in Congress this session, particularly with discussions of whether or not to move the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety out of the Federal Highway Administration. Jim Whittinghill, senior vice president of legislative affairs, gave an overview of pending bills and ATA's legislative priorities.
One of the top priorities, he said, is killing a bill that would virtually eliminate the use of leased independent contractors in the trucking industry. The bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Jerry Kleczka (D-WI) and Amo Houghton (R-NY), would simplify the current 20-question criteria into three. Although this measure is heavily supported by organized labor, Whittinghill was confident it would go nowhere.
Other legislative priorities the ATA is working on:
· Replace the single state registration system with a national electronic system. ATA says there are 38 states that are hitting the industry up for $104 million in funds that are not being used to enhance truck safety, which was the idea behind system.
· Get the federal government to devote more attention to cargo theft. It's now a $10 billion a year problem. Apparently the feds' fight against the illegal drug trade is working -- organized crime elements are turning to cargo theft instead. One truckload of cigarettes can make a thief an instant millionaire, and the penalties for cargo theft are much softer than drug dealing.
· Convince the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that ergonomics regulations need to be postponed until there is solid scientific evidence that they will do some good.
· Continue to fight against the placement of tolls on existing Interstate highways. A bill in Congress would repeal the portion of TEA-21 that set up a pilot program.