Safety Remains Job #1 at Transport America

New Straight Forward Safety Program Takes Safety to a New Level at Transport America

As the professional truck driving industry evolves amid technological advances and shifting industry demands, Transport America remains dedicated to one thing above all else – safety.

Now, it’s taking this core foundational value a step further. On top of hiring a new vice president of safety and security a year ago, Transport America is introducing a new program that makes safety every employee’s business. Not just its drivers.

While Vice President of Safety and Security Lisa Gonnerman has only been with Transport America for one year, her goal is to leverage her 26 years of experience in transportation safety to continue to elevate Transport America’s safety record.

“I want to see Transport America walk the talk,” says Gonnerman. “I want to see us bethegold standard for safety throughout the trucking industry. Because I believe it’s through a total commitment to safety that we’ll see the type of change that many in this industry believe is sorely needed.”

Gonnerman’s interest in trucking goes back to her childhood. She had two uncles who were truck drivers. But it’s what happened to her brother, who was involved in an accident involving a tractor and tank, that set the direction for her passion for safety.

Those two factors led Gonnerman to study transportation logistics at Iowa State University, which launched her into a career in trucking safety at several major trucking firms located in the Upper Midwest.

More than a year ago, she was recruited to join the team at Transport America. One of the first things she noticed that could be improved was the company’s efforts to train drivers on defensive driving techniques. She quickly got to work with her team in developing a solution and that’s how the Straight Forward Safety Program was born.

The program introduces “8 Behaviors of Safe Driving” that create a comprehensive idea of how safety, including safety in and around a truck, as well as safe driving, will be practiced at Transport America. The 8 Behaviors of Safe Driving include:

  1. Be Prepared— Prepare yourself, your equipment, and beginning your day
  2. Look to What’s Ahead— Seeing what is ahead of you so you know how to safely react
  3. Establish and Keep A Safe Following Distance— Following distance creates a safety cushion to the traffic in front of you
  4. Use Your Mirrors— Mirrors allow you to see the space around your truck
  5. Make Necessary Lane Maneuvers Safely— Make only necessary lane changes using proper and safe format
  6. Evaluate The Intersection Is Clear— Understand the traffic situation at the intersection
  7. Ensure Right Speed For Right Conditions— Adjust your speed for the conditions
  8. Avoid Distractions— Eliminate distraction and focus on the task at hand.

These behaviors help a driver understand that safety begins well before entering a vehicle. The first behavior, “Be Prepared”, stresses the importance of a driver’s body and equipment being in top shape for the beginning of a workday. For example, some of the most common injuries experienced by truck drivers occur in getting in and out of a vehicle.

“Safety is always part of the operation at Transport America,” says Gonnerman, “We are always building programs, designing contests, and developing training material that both encourage safety and build relationships.”

At Transport America, decisions are made with the mentality that every decision should be anchored in safety. It is what helps create the culture the company prides itself on.

“Culture is the face of everything,” says Gonnerman. “We want every driver (and every employee) to be intentionally safe – to bring a safety mindset to their work and be proactive in preventing situations that put themselves and others on the road at risk.”

Transport America takes a proactive approach in order to ground their entire process in safety. This helps drivers avoid developing bad habits that need to be corrected and instead, it starts them off with a safe-driving mentality.

In developing the Straight Forward Safety program, the company received substantial input from Transport America’s professional drivers – through one-on-one conversations, input from drivers participating in the company’s Drivers Instructor training, as well as feedback from drivers featured in a series of safety videos.

In addition, the company consulted with a number of its million-mile drivers on how they have driven safely year after year.

“We take great pride in the role that our ‘million milers’ take in safety,” says Gonnerman, referencing the 55 drivers currently with the company who have logged more than one-million miles safely driven on the road, “These drivers have seen both safe driving and risky behavior and know how we can reduce accidents by training new drivers on the front end.”

Everyone in the company, including non-drivers, are now trained with the Straight Forward Safety program. This ensures that no matter what role an employee may have within the company, everyone, at all levels, understands that safety is a core foundational value of the company.

The key is that the Straight Forward Safety program is just the start. While the bar may be raised higher in comparison to previous efforts to emphasize safety, there’s plenty of room to increase safety throughout the company.

“Our goal is to cut the number of accidents experienced by our drivers by at least 10% annually,” says Gonnerman. “I say ‘at least,’ because if it were up to all of us, it would be 100% (in other words, zero accidents, injuries and violations/citations). However, as we all know, it’s difficult to eliminate poor driving behavior by other truck drivers or by four-wheel drivers. We can only control what we can control. But we do know that if we attract talented drivers and that we train everyone in our company to make safety a priority, we can have a substantial and measurable impact.”

That means not just reducing accident rates and violations, but getting more products to their intended destinations more safely and on time.

While new technology being introduced on Transport America tractors and trailers is changing the driving experience, Transport America knows that a safety mindset must always be the #1 priority in the movement of goods. With the Straight Forward Safety program and other influences, including veteran drivers who are interested in becoming safety instructors, Transport America sees safety as both its business, but also, good for business.

“Technology is a tool that can help improve habits but safety will always be in the hands of the driver,” says Gonnerman, “Technology is always changing, but a commitment to safety remains constant.”