Give Ps a chance

| January 03, 2006

Patience, professionalism, planning, predisposition, prayer and providence can make you a safe million miler.

Ducks in a row, act together, all cylinders firing, bases covered, on the ball, etc.: Pick your favorite cliché. They all describe what a trucker must have to reach million-mile, accident-free goals.

“You have to be a driver from every angle,” says Mid Eastern Transport company driver John Vinson of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Vinson, with 18 years of experience, doesn’t mean only for this trip, this month or even this year. Million-mile, accident free drivers maintain the highest performance standards every day for at least seven years: probably closer to nine.

That’s a long, tough row to hoe, and even with improved training, equipment and safety techniques, reaching the million-mile, accident-free goal is getting tougher. “There are a lot of changes out there, and every day it gets worse,” says Victory One Transport company driver Robert Vandenburg of El Paso, Texas. Vandenburg has about 15 years of experience. “New laws, construction, traffic and the price of fuel: it all adds up to more stress,” he says.

“With them changing laws all the time, I don’t see what that’s doing for truckers,” Vinson says. “Now some states chase trucks from the on and off ramps, and they won’t let drivers sleep in the rest stops. They allow troopers to wake up tired truckers and put him on the highway.”

“It seems to me that they’d want a tired trucker off the road, not back out on it,” says Wendell Rouse, who also drives for Mid Eastern and lives in Roanoke, N.C. “We all pay the price for drivers who don’t drive safely.”

That’s partly because unsafe truckers smear the entire trucking industry. But it’s also because one driver’s mistake can ruin another’s accident-free record, even if the mishap is unpreventable. At some trucking companies, accident-free means accident-free.

“That’s how I see it,” says Fred Thayer, vice president of safety and operations at R.E. West, Inc. in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Thayer was a truck driver before getting into management, and his father was a driver, too.

“I look at what it takes for a driver to be in a state driving championship,” he says. “The only accidents they allow are if you have the vehicle properly parked or if it’s under the control of a law enforcement officer. Any other accident will disqualify you.”

That means R.E. West’s accident-free million milers have earned their badges, but not all carriers have the same policies. Some say an unpreventable wreck doesn’t mar a perfect safety record. “You can talk to five different safety directors, and you’ll get five different ideas,” Thayer says.

But experts agree that drivers dramatically improve their chances for joining the accident-free, million-miler elite by faithfully observing the six Ps.

Patience might be most important. “Yeah, patience is the big thing,” says Rouse, who has 18 years of experience.

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