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July 8, 2016 9:45 AM, EDT

Schneider Truck Driver Wins National Award for 51 Years of Safety on the Road

Schneider

Bob Wyatt likes the smallest truck stops, the biggest rigs and the widest spaces.

There's nothing like piloting his Freightliner and a 53-foot trailer across the Dakotas, Montana and on to Seattle.

"Beautiful drive," Wyatt said. "Nice country."

In 51 years at the wheel of a truck, he has rolled through every state in the lower 48.

He's been cut off by countless speed-first, safety-second motorists from one end of the country to the other.

He's driven nearly 6 million miles — or about 1,400 round trips between Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

And he's never had a preventable accident.

Which is why Wyatt, who works for Schneider, the Green Bay firm that is among the largest trucking companies in the United States, is being honored by an organization of motor vehicle law enforcement officials from across North America.

Wyatt is the 2016 winner of the International Driver Excellence Award conferred by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

"It was a little bit of a shock," Wyatt said July 5 from the Kwik Trip on Highway 20 in Racine County during a stop on his latest run. "There's a lot of people out there who deserve this as much as I do. And it's kind of humbling, to tell you the truth. I mean, it's nice to be nominated. I just hope I do it justice."

Sixty-eight years old, Wyatt is Schneider's most-decorated and longest-tenured driver.

Schneider ranks No. 7 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

He's soft-spoken, but with a sly sense of humor.

Many truck drivers find that the rigors of the road and the long stretches away from home hurt their marriages.

Wyatt, if you take him at his word, says his experience has been just the opposite.

The evidence supports his theory: He and his wife, Linda, will mark their silver anniversary in November — thanks in part to longhaul trucking.

"If I was home every night, I don't think we'd still be married," Wyatt said.

Linda stayed home — the couple live in Springfield, Ill. — and raised three children. She's active in church, works part time taking inventories in supermarkets and enjoys her responsibilities, Wyatt said.

"Then when I go home, we can be together, but we always know that I'm leaving again, and it's just worked out really well," he said.

Wyatt was a teenager when he started trucking in the mid-1960s. Since then, the typical trailer has grown from 40 feet long to 53, deregulation has reshaped the industry and motorists as a group, Wyatt said, have changed for the worse.

"It's their attitudes," he said. "It used to be, 'Well, I'm going to try and stay safe on this trip across country.' Now it's get there as fast as you can, cut off as many people as you can and be the first one there."

"You have to watch out," he said. "In my lifetime, I could have run over probably thousands of people if it wasn't for slowing down and braking and trying to guess what they're going to do next."

At Schneider, Wyatt is known as a meticulous trip planner and someone who won't be rushed on the road — a positive characteristic some truck drivers find difficult to embrace given the pay-per-mile system that is widespread in the industry.

Wyatt has about 5 million miles with Schneider, and he drove trucks for seven years before joining the company.

"So with all of that I'm probably closer to 6 [million] than I am to 5 [million]," he said.

He admits to getting a few tickets — "You don't drive out here that many years and not slip up once in a while," he said — and he's had motorists hit him "or done something they shouldn't have done, and I was there and involved."

But his record is strong enough to merit just the second annual driver award from a group made up largely of state and provincial highway patrol agencies.

"We always focus on the bad as law enforcement," CVSA Executive Director Collin Mooney said, "and it's time to also recognize that there are a number of professional truck drivers out there who need to be recognized for a job well done that they do each and every day."

Wyatt plans to keep doing it. He still likes trucking, and Linda — again, taking him at his word — is "not too excited" about him retiring.

"I'm going to stay out here at least another couple of years," Wyatt said. "Or until I get too old to bother her anymore."