Pollster Neil Newhouse talks about survey results. Photo by Evan Lockridge.

Pollster Neil Newhouse talks about survey results. Photo by Evan Lockridge.

SAN DIEGO – It looks like the trucking industry's efforts to educate the general public about the safety and vital nature of trucking may be working, based on results of a new national poll released Monday at the American Trucking Associations' Management Conference and Exhibition.

However, concerns about drivers being pushed to work too many hours behind the wheel were a clear signal that hours of service regulation continues to be a controversial topic on the national scene.

The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies between Sept. 20-24, 2014, surveyed 800 registered voters on their attitudes about politics, the trucking industry and the state of infrastructure.

When asked whether they had a positive image of the trucking industry, 65% viewed it favorably, and 23% as "very favorably." Only 9% said they had an unfavorable image of trucking. In comparison, 61% viewed railroads favorably and 54% viewed airlines favorably.

“This poll confirms that the public knows what we in the trucking industry have always known: professional truck drivers are dedicated, professional and safe,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “It also shows that our efforts to portray a positive image of our industry are having a tremendous impact.”

When asked an open-ended question of the first things that come to mind when you think of the trucking industry, positive impressions revolved around the reliability and efficiency of the goods, of trucking as a source of employment, and hard-working drivers, such as, "It keeps America running," and, "without the trucking industry we would have a lower standard of living."

"A good chunk of these comments talked about the government regulations [affecting trucking]," said Neil Newhouse, partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, the firm conducting the survey. "That was one of the most surprising results of the study."

For instance, one comment read, "If the trucking company is running their company following the Department of Transportation rules and regulations, they are dong a great job because it isn't easy."

Some comments, of course, were less positive, and they revolved around topics such as traffic congestion, safety, rude drivers and emissions.

Some of the other highlights of the poll:

  • 80% believe truck drivers are safer than passenger vehicle drivers;
  • Just 7% of respondents believe truck drivers are more likely than passenger vehicle drivers to drive unsafely;
  • 90% of respondents believe passenger vehicle drivers are more likely to speed than truck drivers, and
  • 74% of respondents think in accidents involving a car and a truck, the passenger vehicle driver is at fault
  • Nearly half said they know someone who works in the trucking industry, Voters who say they now someone in trucking have more positive impressions of the industry and its safety record.

Many seemed to tie concerns about safety to the idea of drivers being overworked, based on some of the comments. For instance: "From what I understand time is money, and they push their drivers even if they are tired and if someone's safety is on the line it doesn’t seem like the bosses care."

One question asked respondents if their impression of the trucking industry would change if the industry took one of three actions. Placing new safety technology on each truck to make sure that drivers weren’t on the road for too many hours at a time ranked the highest, with 85% saying they would view the industry more favorably. The poll found 61% said that would make them view the industry much more favorably.

As Newhouse said, "Improved safety is strongly linked to improving the industry's image – significantly more so than better controlling emissions. There is a clear worry that drivers are working too many hours, endangering their safety and the safety of the cars around them."

Paying for infrastructure

In addition, the poll made abundantly clear that the public feels something ought to be done about the nation's highway infrastructure – but they aren't willing to pony up any more money to pay for it.

The poll asked if the federal government should spend more or less on the following priorities: K-12 public schools, highway infrastructure, anti-terrorism/defense, healthcare, protecting the environment, food and drug inspections, and assistance to the unemployed.

Schools, unsurprisingly, were number one, with 61% saying more and 14% saying less.

What was surprising was that coming in at number two was highway infrastructure. Almost half of those polled, 48%, said the government should spend more on infrastructure. Only 10% said we should spend less. A close third was anti-terrorism and defense efforts.

And half the country, 49%, ranked our infrastructure condition as only fair, while 53% of those rating it as fair said we should spend more money on it.

When offered various plans to raise the money to improve that infrastructure, however, every option got a negative response. The most palatable was the idea of raising federal income taxes by 1% and earmarking that money for highways. It drew a 36% positive rating but 62% were opposed.

Other ideas such as raising the fuel tax, tolling highways or raising vehicle registration fees were even less popular. Worst was the idea of charging a per-mile fee, where only 10% supported it.

"They want it, but they don't want to pay for it," said Newhouse.

You can read the entire survey here.