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Love your stuff? Thank a trucker for getting it to you | COMMENTARY

Truck drivers make their way through Bristol, Tenn., along Interstate 81 as they continue to make their deliveries despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Truckers across the nation are working to deliver goods. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP)
Truck drivers make their way through Bristol, Tenn., along Interstate 81 as they continue to make their deliveries despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Truckers across the nation are working to deliver goods. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP) (David Crigger/AP)

Although the trucking industry is not always front and center, it may be impossible to overstate just how critical trucking is to the American economy and our citizens’ lives. While many may often think of our nation as a country of farms and factories, as much as anything else we are a country of roads.

And on those roads are millions of trucks — driven by 3.6 million professional drivers as part of an industry that employs nearly 8 million people. That industry, trucking, is the lifeblood of our economy. Powering economic growth, raising our quality of life and now, during these unprecedented times, just making life possible as we work to distribute the goods needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Maryland’s trucking industry provides jobs to over 111,000 workers — making it one our state’s largest employers. But beyond the jobs the industry creates, the trucking industry is a lifeline for communities across our state. Trucking serves every community in the state, from Baltimore to Western Maryland and across the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore; 93% of Maryland cities and towns are solely dependent on trucks to deliver their food, fuel, clothing, medical supplies and other goods. This means there are simply no other ways for those communities to get the goods they need and our citizens use. Trucks serve as that critical connection between our homes and our jobs and the rest of the world.

Nationwide, trucks move 11.84 billion tons of freight annually — accounting for 72.5% of all freight hauled in the U.S. And as an industry, trucking had gross revenues of nearly $792 billion according to the most recent data. This would conjure images of an industry of giant national companies, but trucking is overwhelmingly made up of small, local businesses. In 2020, 91% of trucking companies operated six or fewer trucks, and 97% of fleets had 20 trucks or less. There are certainly several large trucking companies that are household names, but there are many, many more smaller companies doing their part to keep America moving.

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All of these companies, regardless of size, share several common values including a dedication to doing their job efficiently, but more importantly, safely. Last month our association had the opportunity to recognize 12 extraordinary drivers, one for each month of 2020, with one outstanding driver — Willard Nearhoof III — being selected by the Maryland State Police as Maryland’s Truck Driver of the Year. The combined records of the Drivers of the Month are inspiring. They include 18 million miles traveled safely on our nation’s roads. By himself, Mr. Nearhoof has driven 3.7 million miles safely in a career that spans 44 years. Men and women like this are the heart of trucking, which as an industry, spends more than $10 billion a year in safety technology and training that go above and beyond what federal and state regulations require. The highways are our offices, and we want them to be safe for everyone.

Now, more than ever, the trucking industry is demonstrating its essentiality by playing a vital role in the effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic. As witnessed at the onset of the pandemic, when supply chains are disrupted, product shortages are quick to follow. We all remember the mad scramble last spring for hand sanitizer, bleach wipes, and (most importantly) toilet paper. Trucks are the hub of Maryland’s distribution wheel, playing a vital role in support of the state’s manufacturing, agricultural, grocery and retail industries. Without the trucking industry’s heroes, there is no food on the grocery shelves, there are no medical supplies in our hospitals, and there are no vaccines in our pharmacies.

The next time you see a truck driver, perhaps sitting in a parking space or getting something to eat, consider giving him a “thank you.” He is working to keep America safe, and our economy moving.

Louis Campion (louis@mdtrucking.org) is president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association.

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