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Stacey Vanek-Smith: Tonight, John McCain and Barack Obama face off in their second presidential debate. As part of our series, Interested Parties, we asked some voters what they're looking for from the next president. We thought we'd check in with independent truckers. They see a whole lot of the country and they really feel the effects of things like gas prices. Mitchell Hartman pulled into a truck stop in Portland, Oregon.
Mitchell Hartman: Truck drivers hit the Jubitz Travel Center is the creme de la creme of truck stops with a hotel, a country music lounge, cinema -- even a church meeting for truckers. None of which takes the sting out of filling up with diesel at more than $4 a gallon.
Howard Hart: But I remember fueling right here when fuel was less than $1 a gallon. It wasn't that long ago.
That's Howard Hart. He visits truck stops all over the country for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. Hart says what gets truckers hot under the hood is when trucking companies pocket customer fuel surcharges instead of passing them on to drivers who pay at the pump. Hart's association is pushing legislation on the issue.
Trucker driver Gary Fallon is from Missoula, Montana:
Gary Fallon: I don't know about the government involvement, I don't know if they should have to take care of our business like that. But I think it just ought to be more open books, so everybody can see if it's being passed on like it ought to be.
That feds-get-off-my-back mentality is common at the truck stop.
Robert Johnson is a driver out of Sacramento:
Robert Johnson: When it comes to taking care of myself, I'll take the personal responsibility, and I really don't want the government involved in it.
Still, Johnson rails against laws that say he can't idle his truck and run the AC, even in hundred-degree heat. And don't even get him started on the condition of America's highways . . .
Johnson: The roads are pretty deplorable in some states, and traffic, and congestion, and just too many cars on the road all competing for the same piece of asphalt.
Florida trucker Amy Sparklin says that makes it more dangerous for everyone -- from drivers of 18-wheelers to compacts.
Amy Sparklin: Forty-six years I've been in commercial driving, and it's getting worse -- there's a lot of road rage and discourteous drivers.
Sparklin suggests government provide an educational CD with every driver's license. It wouldn't hurt, she says, to add lanes and fix roads and bridges. But with the economy in such trouble, she doesn't hold out much hope.
I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.