This year’s National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, being celebrated September 11-17, takes on greater significance in light of the selfless efforts many truckers have displayed in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
As National Truck Driver Appreciation Week rolls into communities across the country, we’re reminded of the ways that 3.6 million U.S. truck drivers keep freight, and society, moving. The sacrifices of these men and women have been amplified over the last year-and-a-half as they worked to sustain us during uncertain times.
Since its inception more than 20 years ago, National Truck Driver Appreciation Week has raised the profile of commercial drivers. But as the week highlights the good that drivers do, it also achieves more than that.
Here, Elisabeth Barna, Executive Vice President of Industry Affairs and Senior Adviser at the American Trucking Associations (ATA), talks about the motivation behind National Truck Driver Appreciation Week and the difference it’s making — from greater awareness to safer performance.
National Truck Driver Appreciation Week is now celebrated in all 50 states
The idea for National Truck Driver Appreciation Week originated with former ATA Chairman Don Bowman, who felt drivers were underappreciated. He wanted to increase public awareness about the important work drivers do, and in 1998, his brainchild sprang to life.
“Setting aside a week to recognize truck drivers was a way to give them the respect they deserve,” Barna says. “It was a way to highlight the important role drivers play in our everyday lives. Without them, store shelves would be empty. We wouldn’t have the clothes on our backs or the medicines we need. Simply put, everything we have, a truck delivered.”
What started as an awareness-raising advertising campaign has grown into a national movement supported by trucking associations in all 50 states. In the two decades since it started, National Truck Driver Appreciation Week has become a time of celebration from coast to coast. Local and national media have contributed to its rise, and drivers are spotlighted on TV, on billboards, and on social media.
Fleets, meanwhile, host safety days and barbecues. Truck stops and weigh stations offer giveaways and free lunches, and shippers offer giveaways of their own. Taken together, these events send a powerful and positive message that professional drivers keep our world moving.
Driving for the well-being of others during the pandemic
Truck Driver Appreciation Week inspires us to reflect on the sacrifices drivers made on the frontlines during the pandemic. As Americans hunkered down at home, drivers delivered food and vaccines, slept in their trucks, and stayed away from their families to avoid spreading the virus. The image of a driver keeping freight moving while the rest of the country stood still became a powerful symbol of a driver’s impact on the U.S. economy.
“The truck driver became recognized as the hero,” Barna says. “As their efforts were highlighted in the media, they gained respect from the general public, from shippers, and from public officials. Americans came to realize that without trucks, without drivers, America stops.”
In boosting morale, National Truck Driver Appreciation Week creates other positive outcomes
As a special commemoration during Truck Driver Appreciation Week 2021, the ATA is orchestrating video tributes from the supplier community. Media interviews will encourage people to share the road with trucks day and night. Even Nascar driver Ryan Huffis showing his appreciation by displaying the “Thank-a-Trucker” logo on his car.
Truck Driver Appreciation Week acknowledges drivers in every sector, from logistics and distribution to agriculture and moving & storage.
“Truck Driver Appreciation Week instills in drivers pride in their community and a passion for the job at hand,” Barna says. “It inspires them to take pride in what they do and who they are. That means they’ll be well-rested before they start their shift and can perform their job as safely as possible. When drivers take pride in their work, they tend to be more conscientious, more vigilant, and safer. Not only is NTDAW about the professional driver, but it’s also about thanking the family members for their support.”
“Like anyone,” Barna adds. “when drivers are passionate about their work, they do their very best.”
As Truck Driver Appreciation Week has fostered pride among drivers, it’s demolished stereotypes. It all started seven years ago with the launch of ATA’s image campaign, Trucking Moves America Forward. The effort encourages professionals in every sector of the transportation industry to tell their story and talk about what they do. Over time, the campaign has helped educate the public and burnish the reputations of commercial transportation workers.
“Whether it’s keeping car drivers safe on our roadways or delivering medicine and food, we’ve gotten a little spoiled in being able to get what we want from truck drivers when we want it,” Barna says. “You don’t see a train or steamboat pulling up to a store or hospital, delivering the products we need to live on. Truck Driver Appreciation Week puts a face on the people behind the wheel and helps Americans understand — it’s professional truck drivers who are making it all happen.”