Out of the many calls and letters I have received about truck drivers, a call that came in yesterday contained a unique ingredient.
I will withhold the identity of the caller to make sure that nobody takes reprisal against him.
He began this way: "I'd like to give you one more example of truck driver conduct. I was coming back from Fredericksburg at dusk a couple of days ago when I noticed a big lumber truck coming up fast behind me. I was doing 55-plus - a little over the limit, just to keep up with the flow of traffic - but this guy was just furious with me for not going faster.
"I could hear him on the CB radio telling another trucker about me. The other man asked, 'Why don't you run that (deleted deleted deleted) out of the way?' and the guy behind me said, 'That's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to run that (deleted deleted deleted) right off the road.' and with that he wheeled around me and might have actually run me off the road if I hadn't been forewarned. The attitude of these drivers is just unbelievable."
I said, "Surely you weren't quoting him verbatim. He didn't use all those cuss words on the air, did he?"
"He sure did," my caller said. "A lot of people do. Anybody who listens to CB can tell you that some of the language is pretty bad."
"I don't have a CB radio, so I wasn't aware of it," I said. "But I know that the state police monitor CB, and I wonder why they don't do something about the bad language."
"They have no jurisdiction," he said. "It's a federal violation - FCC regulations. But there's virtually no enforcement."
"How sad," I mused.
"Yeah," he said. "That old image of the truck driver being a Knight of the Road is certainly being tarnished by their recent conduct. And it sickens me the way truckers and private car drivers use CB radio to thwart the police, who are out there to protect all of us. I'm so disgusted with them that I've started a counter-campaign."
"What kind of counter-campaign?"
"When I see a really flagrant violation, a speeder going 70 or more, or weaving from lane to lane, I broadcast a description of the car and his tag number. I figure if the state police are listening, they might get some of these maniacs off the road."
"I hope it does some good," I said. "Thanks for calling. By coincidence, I was planning to write about truckers again tonight."
"One more thing and I'll stop bending your ear," he said. "I think it ought to be noted that most of the truckers who are guilty of irresponsible conduct are independents. Very rarely do I see a driver for a big company act like that. I guess the pressure to save time and make an extra buck isn't as a great on the company drivers as it is on the independents who own their own trucks."
I smiled, thanked him and rang off. I smiled because at the very end of his conversation he had offered a comment no other reader had expressed. And it matched well with a letter from Donald E. Tepper that I had mentally scheduled for publication.
Tepper is with the Regular Common Carrier Conference. He wrote that in previous columns about truck drivers I had taken pains to point out that only some drivers are offenders, but my June 19 column had "simply referred to the 'over-the-road' driver and to 'truck drivers.'
"There are basically two types of truck drivers," he pointed out. "The first is a company driver; he or she is employed by a trucking company or manufacturer. The second driver type is an owner-operator. He or she owns the truck" and drives it.
Tepper went on, "Much of your criticism could not conceivably apply to company drivers or to regulated trucking companies." Specifically, he said they had not been guilty of violence, threats, strongarm tactics or sniper fire. "To the best of my knowledge," he added, "these actions have been perpetrated by a small percentage of owner-operators. I haven't heard of any reports of any drivers employed by a regulated carrier engaging in such tactics."
If anything I have written about misconduct one the highways has done injustice tolaw-bidding drivers, I sincerely regret it and hasten to add Tepper's clarifying comments. Criticism of malefactors within a group should never serve as basis for the assumption that all within the group are guilty of misconduct.
The problem for the entire trucking industry is that the public's perception of truckers' conduct will not include the distinctions Tepper emphasizes. Only one of my readers expressed it.
A man whose life had been endangered by a trucker had been fairminded enough to note the distinction between independents and company drivers. But to the average motorist, a truck driver is a truck driver.