They make it look easy, but that couldn't be further from the truth. They maneuver their jumbo loads nimbly through challenging obstacle courses, demonstrating precise control in a high-pressure atmosphere.
No, I'm not talking about pro football training camps. I'm talking about the 2010 National Truck Driving Championships, sponsored by the American Trucking Association.
I attended yesterday's competition events with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Anne Ferro. And, I can assure you, if you were to sit through a day of these tough road-tests, you would walk away with a new appreciation for one of our nation's most important professions.
The more than 400 professional drivers competing in Columbus, Ohio, are a testament to the skills required of commercial truck drivers across the country on America's roadways. They have already won their state championships in categories like 18-wheeled five-axle sleepers, tank trucks, twin trailers, and straight truck. And they have come to Columbus to win national gold.
The obstacle course covers real-world challenges commercial truck drivers face every day across the US. These include an
alley dock, a rear stop, a front line stop, a scales stop, a right or
left turn, parallel parking, and straight line driving through
diminishing clearance. They might sound simple enough, but I saw them first-hand, and--believe me--they are not.
The most important rule? Don't hit the duck!
That would be the small, yellow rubber duck placed perilously near the trucks' path. As drivers navigate a tight corner turn, they must avoid this precious toy enroute to victory.
But the winners have to be more than highly skilled drivers. Part of their score includes sitting for a written examination to test their knowledge of safety, equipment, and the trucking industry.
And, in knowledge and in practice, these drivers really are ahead of the curve on safety. They are setting the standard for others and representing their industry in the best possible light.
You know, it is thanks to America's truckers that we enjoy the quality of life we have today. They are out there--often far from home--navigating weather and congestion, and safely transporting the goods we need and use every day.
There are more than 700,000 trucking companies in the US, transporting 70% of America's freight. Of those, only 300 have more than 2,000 trucks. That means the vast majority of trucking companies in the US are small businesses. It's difficult enough driving a large commercial vehicle safely. Add to that the complexities of managing a small business, and you get a sense of the high-wire act our truckers face.
And in these economic times, running a small business is even more challenging. Every mile, every hour, every gallon of fuel counts. That's one of the reasons the Obama Administration's DOT is working so hard to restore the nation's transportation infrastructure and stimulate economic activity through the Recovery Act.
If you've spent any time on my Facebook page, then you know we have many truck drivers who regularly contribute. Their anecdotes about the distracting behaviors they observe behind the wheels of the cars on our roadways really illustrate the dangers distracted driving poses. And I thank them for that and for the professionalism they demonstrate to the rest of America's drivers.
So, whether you're in Columbus for the National Truck Driving Championships or driving around town, I hope you'll appreciate that commercial truck you see. That driver is a professional in a difficult industry. And, chances are, that driver is a true advocate for safety.