This story appears in the Jan. 16 print edition of Transport Topics.
American Trucking Associations last week selected 20 professional drivers to serve as industry ambassadors on America’s Road Team, a program started decades ago to help educate the public about life on the road and the role trucking plays in the safe delivery of critical goods.
“Nobody can deliver the message or tell the story of trucking better than the fine, talented drivers here today,” ATA President Chris Spear said in introducing the Road Team lineup Jan. 11 at the federation’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters. “They are the blood in our veins.”
ATA Chairman Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express in Dayton, Ohio, also commended drivers for being “our voice on the road.”
Road Team captains serve for two years.
“In this industry, you have every chance to succeed,” said Gary Smith, a driver for Gardner Trucking who had lost his job as a result of corporate downsizing during the last recession.
Charles Lobsiger, who works for Wal-Mart Transportation in Florida, said that after a crash involving a drunken driver left him unable to walk for two years he is motivated to educate the public about the dangers of impaired driving.
The program started in 1986, and this year’s number of captains is higher than in the past, in part, because demand for drivers to appear at schools and civic functions as well as to provide ride-alongs and safety demonstrations for lawmakers and media representatives is growing, said Elisabeth Barna, chief operating officer of ATA.
“We have an increasing number of events every year,” Barna noted. “The number of high schools that Road Team captains have visited has doubled in the last two years. Whereas we reached 5,000 kids three years ago, we reached 22,000 this past year. Where we did three or four state legislator visits in the past, we did 16 in 2016.”
A number of states and private companies also have started similar programs to help meet the need for more public outreach, Barna said.
The new Road Team captains are joined by former Road Team captains to compose a group of about 100 ambassadors.
Gary Helms, a former plumber who drives for Covenant Transport, wants people to know that driving is a safe and rewarding job. “I worked 25 years in construction, and it took a toll on my knees and back,” he said. “I had to do something, and this fit the bill.”
Like many drivers, Rhonda Hartman said she got behind the wheel “out of necessity” and along with her late husband has racked up 34 years as an owner- operator and driver for Old Dominion Freight Line.
The captains make personal appearances in one of two Volvo VNL 780 tractors emblazoned with an American flag and trailers that include a truck driving simulator inside.
“America’s Road Team is one of the most visible groups of professional truck drivers in the country, and we believe their hard work and dedication pays dividends for our industry,” said Göran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America.
The 20 were selected from 33 finalists who collectively had accumulated 77.6 million safe-driving miles and 893 years as professional truck drivers. Drivers were evaluated by a panel of industry officials and trucking news media professionals on their knowledge of the industry, dedication to safety, ability to communicate the industry’s message and overall safe driving record.
FedEx Freight placed three captains on the team this year, while Wal-Mart Transportation and ABF Freight had two each. Three companies are represented for the first time: Garner Trucking, Reddaway Inc. and TCW Inc.
“There are 3.5 million safe, professional truck drivers on our nation’s roads, and every single one of them has a valuable story to tell,” Spear said. “ATA is proud to select these respected drivers as the newest America’s Road Team captains, and we are thankful that they will continue to tell their important stories throughout the country.
“Their companies, friends and families should all be incredibly proud of these drivers for dedicating themselves to spreading a positive message about trucking,” he added.
The 2017-2018 America’s Road Team:
• Steve Brand, FedEx Freight
• Jon Brockway, Wal-Mart Transportation
• John Gaddy, Carbon Express Inc.
• W. Scott Harrison, K Limited Carrier
• Rhonda Hartman, Old Dominion Freight Line
• Gary Helms, Covenant Transport
• Bill Krouse, YRC Freight
• David Livingston, TCW
• Charles Lobsiger, Wal-Mart Transportation
• Timothy Melody, ABF Freight System
• James Moore, Saia LTL Freight
• Chris Outen, FedEx Freight
• Charlton Paul Jr., UPS Freight
• Jeffrey Payne, Reddaway
• Stephen Richardson, Big G Express
• Micheal Sheeds, Werner Enterprises
• Steven Smalley, ABF Freight System
• Gary Smith, Garner Trucking
• Earl Taylor, Penske Logistics
• Tim Taylor, FedEx Freight
Updates on activities about America’s Road Team can be found on Facebook and Twitter and online at www. americasroadteam.com.