Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hatchet job

Ronald Piper wasn’t done working Monday when he saw the headline that once again perpetuated myths about “medically unfit” truck drivers supposedly driving up numbers of highway crashes.

By now you’ve seen the headlines and every television news station’s version of the story on the GAO’s study of an untold number CDL holders having medical disabilities. Untold is the correct figure, since the study never claims to show how many CDL holders may be physically unfit to be behind the wheel, nor did it claim to define how many crashes were caused by truck drivers at all.

Land Line’s Special Report is available here, and the GAO study itself can be viewed by clicking here.

Ronald correctly pointed out the GAO study didn’t assign blame for wrecks among 15 specific cases highlighted by the GAO – Congress’ investigative arm. The 15 cases only identified that a driver with a certain medical issue was involved.

Unfortunately, a media power known as The Associated Press published a story about the GAO report that mislead readers, newspaper editors and TV news managers around the world into incorrectly believing that the report blamed truckers for more fatalities and said that the wrecks were directly related to medical fitness.

The Associated Press, despite suffering its own job slashes in recent years, continues to grow in influence because of accelerated job cuts at newspapers and television stations throughout the country.

I personally believe The AP does some great reporting. It’s too bad the GAO story became a case study in the power of a single bad story.

Here’s a list of bad headlines associated with the story, put together by our Copy Editor Elizabeth Andersen. The headlines shed no light on the GAO’s report, but instead perpetuate bad stereotypes about truck drivers in general.

  • “Unhealthy truckers levy toll on lives” – Tampa Tribune
  • “Drivers truckin’ despite disabilities” – Connecticut Post (Can you hear Smoky and the Bandit in the background?)
  • “Study reveals truck drivers threat” – KOMU-TV (Heavens, prepare for a new anti-terrorism Cabinet post to deal with truckers alone)
  • “Study: Ill truckers behind wrecks” – Time Magazine (Simply incorrect, because the cause of the wrecks hasn’t been declared)
  • “Trucks, buses too big to fail when it comes to safety” – Advertiser-Tribune, Tiffin, OH (Apparently barges, alien aircraft and Geo Metros are OK to fail)
  • “Be warned: Some truckers prone to unconsciousness” – Waco Tribune (Something tells me the phrase “Be warned” has been used a lot in Waco Tribune headlines since the early 1990s)
  • “Legions of sick truckers on the road” – from legions of local television stations
And Elizabeth’s favorite:
  • “Medically unfit truckers roam the highways and authorities know it” – eFluxMedia (Enough said).

And one day later, a slew of editorials gave a tongue lashing to commercial drivers and government officials. The Tiffin, OH, Advertiser-Tribune accused administrators and legislators of being hamstrung by the trucking industry, which may be “too important to regulate.”

To be fair, some news outlets put the GAO story in some sort of perspective, and may have whittled it down to meet space or truthiness standards.

But, like the general public remembering one unsafe truck barreling down the highway after 1,000 safe ones, truck drivers won’t forget the batch of knee-jerk negative news following the GAO report.

“We’re the mean, nasty truck drivers,” Ronald said sarcastically, repeating the stereotype he’s fought his entire career.

After a few minutes, Ronald had to go. He had to put aside his frustration from another hatchet job about his profession.

He had a job to do.

6 comments:

  1. Yes, I am sick and tired of the slaughtering we get in the media. Both my husband and I have been in the industry for 20 years. He drives and I have worked in offices as dispatch, planner and customer service. It is truly disheartening that the only positive stories concerning truck drivers are only found in the industry trade publications. Outside of the industry drivers are looked at like some sort of plague to be eradicated. Keep up the good work, someday we'll crack the mainstream media.

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  2. Those headlines are incredible. Thanks Charlie and Land Line staff for revealing the truth out there. Knee-jerk editorial, especially from the Associated Press, must be challenged.

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  3. I am SO sick of truckers being targets for health issues. Is this because we are the most regulated profession there is? What about the puffed-up physicians, the fluffy firemen, the swelled-up surgeons or the porky policemen?
    Why are there NO regulations on our heath care providers? (For sure, the surgeon I would NOT want to operate on ME is the one who just drove in from vacation and goes straight to the OR and it's my turn to go under the knife!!! And certainly not the one who just pulled a "double shift"!!)
    What about our protectors? If I were being chased by a policeman, I want that big, fluffy one to chase me, OK?
    I just want these people to LEAVE ME ALONE and let me do my job! "I" know when I'm tired - they don't. "I" know when I don't feel good - they don't.
    I can only wish that the ones who whine and complain about truckers, and those who make the anti-idling rules, would have to sit in their metal storage building with NO heat or a/c after "3" minutes and try to work/rest in these conditions! Yeah, I sure do wish this could be achieved! THEN let's see what kind of "fair" rules they would come up with! BUT, since I have a PET in my truck, I am allowed to idle it to protect my dog! Not me, a HUMAN, but a dog. Well, at least there are rules to protect her!

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  4. I am SO sick of truckers being targets for health issues. Is this because we are the most regulated profession there is? What about the puffed-up physicians, the fluffy firemen, the swelled-up surgeons or the porky policemen?
    Why are there NO regulations on our heath care providers? (For sure, the surgeon I would NOT want to operate on ME is the one who just drove in from vacation and goes straight to the OR and it's my turn to go under the knife!!! And certainly not the one who just pulled a "double shift"!!)
    What about our protectors? If I were being chased by a policeman, I want that big, fluffy one to chase me, OK?
    I just want these people to LEAVE ME ALONE and let me do my job! "I" know when I'm tired - they don't. "I" know when I don't feel good - they don't.
    I can only wish that the ones who whine and complain about truckers, and those who make the anti-idling rules, would have to sit in their metal storage building with NO heat or a/c after "3" minutes and try to work/rest in these conditions! Yeah, I sure do wish this could be achieved! THEN let's see what kind of "fair" rules they would come up with! BUT, since I have a PET in my truck, I am allowed to idle it to protect my dog! Not me, a HUMAN, but a dog. Well, at least there are rules to protect her!

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  5. truckingalcomcast.netJuly 26, 2008 at 11:11 AM

    I believe you missed the worst title, “Deadly Tolls: Sick truckers causing fatal wrecks”, by Hope Yen-Washington Post and others. The article cited six accidents-three were bus drivers (and one was questionable as to his CDL-required status for a small van).

    One thing that interests me is that many larger carriers have selected "occupational health" clinics to do their DOT physicals-and the actual examination is done by a physicians assistant or a DO-not an MD. My own personal physician (MD) is DOT certified-does airline pilot physicals regularly, yet is NOT approved by my carrier...because he refuses to give them health information not required by the DOT on a physical I pay for myself.

    There is much going on here with the DOT physicals-mostly political. Proposed changes have little to do with safety to drive and more to do with giving employers confidential information on health issues not affecting the job per se but definitely impacting future claims against their health insurance!

    If the AP is truly concerned with highway safety, perhaps they need to examine the report more closely-and maybe ask some hard questions about WHY there are so many sick truckers! If the driving force's health is this bad, even with a mandatory DOT physical,what's going to happen when you allow unlimited Mexican trucks with NO dot PHYSICAL?

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