Out On A Limb
Ex-dispatcher finds success as owner-operator after pushing for clearance to drive with one leg.
Billy Best, 34, of Mountain Home, N.C., seems at first glance like any other short-haul truck driver. He works four or five days a week, eight-hour days and gets home every night.
Best, however, had to overcome a major physical hurdle before getting to where he is now: He was born with no right leg.
Eventually, though, thanks to supportive parents and personal determination, not to mention the modern marvel of automatic transmission, Best has served as a trooper dispatcher and now as a successful owner-operator. He’s leased to BlueSky Enterprise, hauling plastic drink bottles from Southeastern Container to Coca-Cola.
“I see life as a challenge I will conquer,” he says.
Best started his conquest before his first birthday. At 9 months old, he was fitted with his first artificial leg. Doctors said he probably wouldn’t walk before he turned 2, but three months later, he was walking.
His father, Bill Best, remembers an incident during Billy’s first-grade year. “Billy came in and asked if he was handicapped,” Bill Best recalls. “He said a classmate told him he was. So I asked him if he was. He said no, and I told him, ‘Then you’re not.’”
Billy Best hasn’t stopped there in his quest to avoid being labeled as handicapped. He has never accepted a handicapped parking decal or parked in a handicapped space.
When he asked his mother if he could play Little League baseball, she responded, “Why couldn’t you?” His mother gave him the same response whenever he posed similar questions while growing up.
“I had very good parents,” Billy Best says. “They pushed me, but not to the point of discouragement.”
At 19, Best became a dispatcher for the North Carolina Highway Patrol in 1989. He worked with the agency until 2002.
At his 10-year high school reunion in 1998, Best ran into former classmate Nick Black, who was working as an owner-operator. Best, who had wanted to drive a truck all his life, was excited when Black invited him to ride with him. When he wasn’t dispatching, Best went on dozens of runs with Black.
“The more I was around it [trucking], the more I enjoyed it, and the more discontent I had for what I was doing,” Best says.
Best began to research whether someone with one leg could become a driver.
“I talked to DOT examiners and weight scale operators, but none of them had any answers,” he says.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules allow those missing a foot, leg, hand or arm to take the Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate Program. If passed, it allows the driver to qualify by use of prosthetic devices or equipment modifications. In Best’s case, that means the use of his prosthetic leg, automatic transmission and an adapter that puts the gas pedal on the left.
When Best went to take the written portion of the North Carolina commercial driver’s license test, which would permit him to drive with a CDL holder, he was told he couldn’t get the permit because he was missing a leg.
Black then wrote a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles saying he would hire Best if he got a permit, and Best eventually was allowed to take the written test, which he passed, though he was restricted to driving with an automatic transmission. He went on to earn his CDL, which again restricted him to an automatic truck, as well as in-state driving. The latter restriction was lifted after he passed DOT testing.
Bill Best says he originally discouraged his son from pursuing a career in trucking since it would be difficult, but now that Billy is driving he could not be any prouder.
“No one would have anything without truck drivers,” Bill Best says.” I have a lot of respect for them.”
Even though Billy Best has had a few obstacles getting a job as a trucker, he now owns a 1992 Peterbilt 379, which he bought in June 2002, and has been driving for BlueSky Enterprise for more than a year. Best also credits another driver, childhood friend John Cannon, for helping him with a down payment on his truck.
Best says when he gets a new leg every six years, the advancements of the technology are remarkable — and reflected in the price. In 1970, his first leg cost $150; his leg acquired in 2000 cost $14,000, about 80 percent of which was covered by his health insurance.
Best says the physical aspect of driving is not hard. He does not load or unload the trailer; he only pulls it to its destination and backs it in to be unloaded.
“There’s some headaches in trucking,” he says, “but a bad day trucking is better than a bad day dispatching.”