R-E-S-P-E-C-T [and how to earn it]

Drivers can ease the burdens of the job with some common courtesy.

Some truckers give trucking a bad name.

You’ve all heard a tale like this one: “I tried to flash a driver over after he passed me,” says owner-operator Rick Brogan of Toledo, Ohio. “He got on the CB and said, ‘If I wanted to get over, driver, I’d just #$%^&* move over.'”

Displays of bad manners and gratuitous profanity are not the norm, but they happen often enough to disturb most professional truckers and keep an ugly image stuck firmly on the face of our industry.

Oh look, say the public, there’s another rude, reckless trucker.

“Some drivers wonder why we get called the trash of society, and that’s why,” says Brogan, who’s been driving for about five years. “Everything is [expletive] this,’ and [expletive] that.'”

Drivers are saying that respect for others and self has decreased among truck drivers in recent years. Some blame society; others blame young, inexperienced drivers; and still others blame working conditions.

In drivers’ defense, trucking is an extremely difficult job, one liable to heap stress upon stress. Safety, security and schedule concerns dominate and become overwhelming. Secondary concerns, such as traffic, weather, road conditions, maintenance, permits, getting enough rest and bills of lading (shipper load and count?) are always present.

For many truckers, especially those driving over-the-road, trucking is a mostly solitary lifestyle. For rookies who haven’t learned yet, loneliness becomes a problem, and families suffer. The lifestyle and the job’s level of difficulty catch them by surprise.

And the result, for the unprofessional driver, can be rudeness and a thoughtless outburst.

“I can’t say to truck drivers, ‘You don’t have anything to be frustrated about,’ because they do,” says Wayne Lubner, vice president of driver relations with Schneider National. “They put in long days, and they’re confronted with situations people in other jobs don’t see. That just requires them to be more professional.”

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“They need a program in the driving schools that teaches new drivers everything about the industry,” says Purco Trucking driver Bill Miller of Sumter, S.C. “There’s a lot more to it than just driving a truck.”

Miller, who’s been trucking for eight years, has a point. If trucking school students know what they’re getting into, they’ll be more prepared to handle the job’s demands, and maybe some will choose other careers. “Not everybody can come out here and run the hours that we run,” says Brogan. “Not everybody can do this job.”

Young, inexperienced drivers, who haven’t yet learned that stress is the rule – not the exception – in trucking, get blamed for most of the disrespect. “Nine times out of 10, the older the drivers are, the more manners they have, especially on the fuel island,” says Tyson driver Melvin Hanes of Raleigh, N.C., who drove big trucks in the U.S. Army before going over the road. Stories about drivers blocking fuel lanes for long periods are common. “The truckstop managers come out and direct traffic,” Hanes says. “That’s the only way they can get traffic through.”

Sometimes fuel desk lines are long and slow, especially when drivers do their banking and send faxes there. But to give other truckers the respect they deserve, limit the time parked on fuel islands. It’s faster and easier to park on the fuel island and go inside, but it’s disrespectful. When you know your time inside the truckstop will be longer than five minutes, park in a space on the lot.

Respect requires only a small extra effort.

Hanes says it’s good when the younger drivers rub elbows with older drivers in truckstop bull sessions. “I sit here and listen,” he says. “There’s a lot of experience here. I listen to the older drivers, and I’ll ask an older driver for advice in a heartbeat.”

From older drivers, Hanes learned that the job and life skills necessary for successful trucking are mostly unspoken and unnoticed. But successful drivers have accepted the job’s difficulties and lifestyle and found constructive ways to deal with the stress.

For many, the best antidote to stress is humor. “The first thing I do is crack a joke,” Hanes says.

“Drivers sign on to do a job,” he says. “They have to be ready to do it,” and a big part of the job is showing respect, even when frustrated.

Waiting game
The first benefit of better manners is better treatment.

Waiting for hours to load or unload is stressful, but discourteous behavior toward the customer could make your wait that much longer and hurt you in terms of lost time and money. “The ladies behind the windows, it’s not their fault,” Hanes says. “They’re just doing their jobs.”

Drivers who treat customers respectfully sometimes have to wait anyway. But customers will not respond positively to rudeness, and they might call a driver’s employer or broker.

Also, your disrespectful behavior might color the customer’s opinion of other drivers from your company, Lubner says. “If a customer has a bad experience with one driver, that’s going to carry over to the next driver, especially if he works for the same company,” he says. “You go in, and the customer says, ‘Oh, it’s another one of those guys.'” And that is likely to find its way back to your employer.

Hanes says respect is a matter of professionalism; it’s part of his job. “Are you a professional truck driver, or just a truck driver?” he asks.

Part of professional respect is punctuality. “Arriving at the shipper on time is a point for you. Everybody’s happy,” says owner-operator Lonnie Reagan of Palestine, Texas, with 28 years of experience. “If you get there late, it’s three points against you.”

“Loading and unloading take as much patience as driving,” Reagan says. “If you let it get to you and have a bad attitude, your whole experience is going to be bad.”

Patience is only part of the game. You also need to look presentable and keep your language in check. “If a trashy-looking potty mouth comes to the dock and presents himself that way, he will not get good treatment,” says owner-operator James Maxwell of Chilicothe, Mo., who has 12 years of driving experience. “Neat, clean, respectable people will get treated the way people see them. This is not rocket science.”

Owner-operator Gordon Alkire of Riley, Kan., agrees that appearance matters. “Shippers and receivers have no respect for truckers who have no respect for themselves,” he says. “If you look and behave like a dumpster diver, you will be treated like one.”

Another way drivers can really hurt themselves is by disrespecting their dispatchers. Miller says when a driver feels mistreated by dispatchers, “then his manners go out the window.”

But the dispatcher, to some degree, has control over your loads and – for your own good – should be respected.

“Disagreements will occur between the front line person and the driver,” Lubner says. “But these are not life and death issues. Work to getting it resolved.”

Hanes agrees. “What goes around comes around,” he says. “My dispatcher handles 45 trucks. If I give her a hard time, she’ll put me at the bottom of the list.”

No more road rage
Courtesy around truckstops, customers and dispatchers is a win-win practice. But respect on the road is more necessary. “From a position of courtesy, professional drivers get paid to drive, and four-wheelers don’t,” Lubner says.

Offending four-wheeler drivers isn’t a good idea. “People in cars have cell phones,” Lubner says. “They can call police, or they can call the company and complain.” He says trucking companies don’t ignore complaints about their drivers. “We use that for identification of future problems, because statistically, bad road etiquette leads to accidents.”

Besides, maintaining a fiery disposition on the highways can seriously affect your stress level and health – both physical and mental.

“You take two drivers who go through Chicago,” Lubner says. “One sets his cruise control at 50, and the other goes as fast as he can. They both get through at the same time, but one is calm and relaxed, and the other is in a cold sweat. You have to know when to pace yourself, when to back off.

“Drivers who have a million miles under their belts learn how to adapt to a situation very, very quickly.”

CB Etiquette
Drivers can use the CB to police each other, but they commonly respond to correction with rudeness and profanity. “I see drivers tailgating, and I ask them, ‘Driver, what will you do if something happens right in front of you?'” says owner-operator James Maxwell. “They usually come back with, ‘You need to worry about your own truck, and leave me alone. I can handle my ride.'”

CB radios have become very commonly used as mediums of the most offensive driver behavior. Because CB operators mostly remain anonymous, their respect for self and others is crucial because nobody else sees them. But people hear them.

“The CB radio turns out some frightful people who are not happy with themselves,” says owner-operator Gordon Alkire. “Profanity is the product of a small mind trying desperately to express itself and failing miserably in the attempt. Rise above it.”

Drivers who abuse their CBs might think only other drivers are listening, but spouses and children often travel along.

“I had my son with me in the truck last year in St. Paul,” says Tyson driver Melvin Hanes. “We were sitting and listening to the CB. Finally my son reached up and turned it off. He said, ‘Daddy, that’s just not Christian.'”

The radio waves in and around truckstops are thick with profane, obscene and abusive language and noise from truckers. “The closer you get to a truckstop, the louder and nastier it gets on the CB,” says owner-operator Rick Brogan.

Many drivers agree and, like Brogan, turn their radios off when they pull into a truckstop. “I don’t know how much the CB is used anymore,” says Schneider executive Wayne Lubner. “It was a useful tool for drivers, but it’s used much less today.”

So how will drivers benefit from improving their etiquette? “If drivers let some of this disrespect go and improve their courtesy, they’ll wind up being happier, more satisfied and more willing to deal effectively with higher levels of stress,” Lubner says. “Professional drivers are a key part of this economy, and they deserve to have a good work life.”

Treat others as you would be treated, and you’ll feel more at peace and get through your day more easily.

“Be polite,” says Alkire. “You will see a better life. The benefits are there. You just have to earn them.”