Throughout the COVID pandemic, we saw many of our professional truck drivers heralded as society’s heroes. They were praised for delivering critical supplies to aid our nation’s response. They were cheered for being on the road while the rest of the country was in lockdown. But the compliments and applause from the public has since quieted. That’s one of the reasons STC committed to 2023 as our “Year of the Driver.” We cannot revert to the mean. Our drivers are still heroes who deserve our respect, admiration, and support. Doing so instills pride, professionalism and a sense of duty, which in turn leads to safer roads.

But how do we do this? One thing we consistently hear is that drivers want to be treated fairly and rewarded for a job well done. They want to be recognized for the professionals that they are. They want to be home to spend time with their families. They deserve all of these. Younger drivers, a key demographic if trucking hopes to keep pace with other industries, are looking for a bit more too. Recent research conducted by Gallup and cited by ATRI indicates that younger persons seek jobs with recognizable brands whose mission they support. They’re looking for opportunities to make an impact and to play an important role in the organizations’ success. They want career development and mentoring. Trucking can provide that too.

Of course, not all drivers will have the opportunity to be promoted out of their driver role, and not all will want to. This doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, look for other opportunities for drivers to improve their standing and influence in the organization. Many companies focus on increasing pay as the primary way to reward drivers, but that ignores the drivers’ need for validation, or flexibility, and increased responsibility. To be successful, fleets could work to provide high-performing drivers additional benefits in the form of expanded freedom to make decisions that their less experienced, less high-performing counterparts may not have. The idea is to make the driver a more integrated part of decision-making and enhance the quality-of-life benefits wherever possible.

Sadly, while they’re out on the road, truck drivers still face harsh indignities based on outdated notions of the truck driver persona. The most obvious recent evidence of this is the need to pursue legislation on the state and federal levels to guarantee drivers access to a bathroom. A bathroom. Considering this is what they face as they deliver America’s essential goods, it emphasizes the need to double down on our collective responsibility to ensure they’re treated with the utmost dignity and respect. And that starts with opportunity and acknowledgment.