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January 11, 2011 8:00 AM, EST

Opinion: Enlarging the ‘Circle of Safety’

By Aryn Pittaway

Step-Van Driver

FedEx Express

This Opinion piece appears in the Jan. 10 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

I have been a courier for FedEx Express for 11 years, currently based in Fort Worth, Texas. A couple of years ago, I started adding “professional and safe driver” to my personal profile. That’s because something happened that made me realize there was more to my job than just driving around and dropping off boxes and letters. It was the annual truck driving championships, and it is because of them that I am a safer driver.

I’ve been competing in the truck driving championships’ step-van class for more than two years. In most state competitions, the step-van contest was for only a two-year trial period. Likewise, it was never certain if American Trucking Associations would continue to support the step-van championships nationally. That’s why I am very pleased by the recent decision to keep the step-van class competing in the National Truck Driving Championships.

Step vans have tremendous potential to make America’s roads even safer. More trucks on the road being driven safely means more lives are saved.

Step-van drivers usually are less experienced than tractor-trailer drivers, so this event promotes safety to the truck class needing it the most.

The “Super Bowl of Safety” — as we call the National Truck Driving Championships and the National Step-Van Driving Championships — are where the best of the best demonstrate what we do safely day-in and day-out for America. Drivers are evaluated based on a written test, pre-trip truck inspection and a driving skills course. The encouragement and cooperation of companies and organizations have given us the opportunity to take safety to the step-van level.

By sponsoring the national championships, American Trucking Associations gives thousands of drivers the opportunity to show the nation how safe truck drivers can be on the road. Various other organizations do their best to teach everyday drivers the rules of the road as well as how to share the road and keep us all safe.

These objectives and goals are best reached with the involvement of everyone, so including the step-van competition will be a major leap toward encouraging driver safety, injury prevention and, ultimately, fewer driving-related fatalities.

In the bigger picture, drivers also see safety as the “big ticket” to their success on a personal level and with their company.

Safety is contagious — it benefits everyone. In 1990, I earned my Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts of America. But long before that, as a young Boy Scout, I learned that being safe always was a top priority.

I can’t recall a time when I rappelled down a rock cliff without wanting the safety rope, and safety was always a topic when adults taught teenagers how to use rifles and shotguns.

Now that I’m an adult, I don’t have the Boy Scouts to remind me to be safe, but I have my family, my parents, my employer and ATA all stressing safety. When everyone is involved in safety this way, a “circle of safety” is created.

Including the Step-Van Class in NTDC enlarges that circle.

As a courier, I see hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people every day, and with the economy struggling, I hear a lot about budget cuts. I even hear disturbing talk about saving money in ways that affect truck and driver safety.

The drivers of tractor-trailers on freeways and step vans on residential streets have hundreds of obstacles to avoid, albeit on a different scale and at varying speeds.

Step vans now can make a difference by showing America the importance of truck and driver safety when it literally affects the streets in front of their homes. Let them know that even smaller trucks are held accountable to a high standard of safety and that professionalism is encouraged for step-van drivers as well. That will enlarge the reach of our circle of safety and increase the public’s positive perception of these vehicles.

I don’t have statistics showing how many miles are driven daily and safely by step-van drivers. Nor do I know the number of lives saved by step-van drivers daily. I do know, however, that as the second-place 2010 National Champion in the Step-Van Class, I affect these numbers every day I spend behind the wheel.

It’s important to note that ATA gave step-van drivers the opportunity to succeed. The driving championships and my driving job have helped me to become an accomplished and defensive driver. I like having a goal to strive for as a truck driver, so what ATA has given me on a personal and professional level has been invaluable to my career. I enjoy the behind-the-wheel challenges of safely making 100 stops a day, but I also enjoy the excitement and enthusiasm involved with the Texas Motor Transportation Association, ATA and NTDC.

As a step-van driver, I look forward to continuing to demonstrate my skills and professionalism. I would love the chance to help promote the Step-Van Class and safe driving in any way needed to expand the circle of safety. Now that the step-van class will be a permanent

feature, my new goal at the “Super Bowl of Safety” is to become the NTDC National Grand Champion from the Step-Van Class.

Thanks for your support, everyone.

Aryn Pittaway, Arlington, Texas, drives for FedEx Express and is the 2010 Texas Step-Van Champion. He has logged 175,000 consecutive safe miles.