Furious truckers react to column calling for tougher restrictions and controls

Orchestrated rage is nothing new.

In my own experience, one of the most dramatic outpourings was a big mistake. A rumor started that I'd been fired for a column supporting the Second Amendment. (Actually, I just went on vacation after a dust-up with an editor.) The local rumor turned into an Internet brouhaha, and hundreds of ferocious calls and letters from gun-rights advocates poured in, from as far away as Guam.

Later, the tattoo parlor industry, which I said should be more carefully regulated with regard to health and safety, organized an angry nationwide crusade aimed at me. The anger probably was exacerbated by my uncharitable comments about the types of people who get tattoos. Similar verbal rampages followed columns I wrote on dangerous dogs in general and pit bulls in particular.

This week, a cacophonous symphony is being performed by truckers from all over America — hundreds of them, although I have not yet heard from any in Guam.

On Sunday, after criminal charges accused a trucker of falling asleep and causing a horrible accident near Easton, I was harshly critical of the trucking industry as a whole, citing statistics that showed 94 percent of those killed in truck-car crashes are car passengers. I also noted that the trucking industry gets away with a lot while raking in tons of money because it has politicians in its pocket, even though there are 22 times as many voters driving cars as there are driving 18-wheelers.

"Your article is biased and extremely lacking in actual fact," wrote Wendy Parker of Overdrive, a trucking industry online publication based in Alabama.

Rick Passan of Bethlehem wrote to say he feels I "seem to have a vendetta" against truckers. "You haven't a single truth in your article. … You're spreading hatred and lies," wrote Keith Ware. (He and many others did not indicate where they lived.)

That was a common theme by truckers, although the "lies" I spread were based mainly on federal statistics. The truckers did not seem as annoyed with the feds as they were with me, and did not offer any statistics, except for some disseminated by trucking industry functionaries.

The crusade to go after me was orchestrated, according to many calls and letters, by an outfit called OOIDA — Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association. "Please contact OOIDA. … They can set you straight," wrote Jesse Bjerk of Colorado.

The most persistent assertion had to do with who was at fault for truck-car crashes.

"The vast majority of car/truck incidents are not the fault of the truck. They are the fault of the sedan," wrote Thomas Krohg. Don Lanier said "cars persist in driving around us, cutting us off, passing recklessly and jumping into the space … in front of us."

So it seems the problems are caused by car drivers who bully and intimidate the drivers of 40-ton semis, and it's wrong for four-wheelers to try to get around 18-wheelers that clog up passing lanes. In fact, Chad Hughes said trucks should be allowed to monopolize left-side passing lanes in busy areas "so we can keep it moving."

As for my cruel suggestion for "measures that … could ward off drowsiness" by the drivers of huge rigs, Chris Gray attacked my "slander against the trucking industry" and pointed out that "drivers are required to take a 30-minute rest break after only eight hours of driving." (That is comforting. If you see a 40-ton rig bearing down, be assured the driver may have been at the wheel for only eight straight hours of monotonous driving. What could go wrong?)

Most of the truckers I quoted were civil. Most others have something in common with the tattoo and pit bull crowds, with vocabularies dominated by the F-word. A couple of guys called me a "[bleeping] coward" for not taking their calls (without divulging their names), and a few made what sounded like threats on my life.

The rage began to subside by Tuesday, when I heard from fewer than 300 truckers.

I also should mention I received quite a few (not hundreds, to be sure) calls and letters from those who supported my views.

"In total agreement with your Sunday column," wrote Bob Morris of Macungie. "Thanks for the critical analysis and not being shy about pointing out how the costs are being defrayed," wrote Richard Stevens of Pohatcong Township, N.J.

One trucker, Jason Cwach, also blamed cars for many accidents, but confirmed what I suggested about some truckers. "It used to be a job where, if you didn't have the skills … you didn't have a job," he said. "Now companies that need to fill seats hire what we call 'steering wheel holders' … a person with little or no skill that somehow is behind the wheel of a semi truck."

Desiree Ann Wood, president of REAL Women in Trucking, based in Florida, said her organization fights for safety improvements. She decried the practice of forcing taxpayers to fund "subsidized truck driver training programs to an industry that has a 100 percent turnover rate. This means few, if any, qualified truckers are being produced from the welfare program for big trucking."

"Great article," said Brian Carlson, who runs the North American Professional Driving Academy, which tries to do something about the problems Wood addressed.

I assume the next torrent of calls and letters will be addressed to them.

paul.carpenter@mcall.com 610-820-6176

Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays

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