Shaping a Culture of Safety Through the Eyes of a Professional Driver Turned Field Safety Specialist

“Through these doors pass the safest drivers on theroad.”reads a sign outside the gate of Transport America’s Eagan Support Center.

It’s a quote that reflects the company’s goal of building a fleet of drivers dedicated to safety. And it’s a mission that Craig Hunter fully embraced as a professional driver for Transport America and now, as one of the company’s field safety specialists.

In his new position, Hunter works each day as part of a company-wide effort to improve the driving techniques and safety measures of the more than 1,500 Transport America drivers nationwide.

Craig sees his role as an opportunity to train the next generation of drivers while constantly improving the habits of those with more experience. To him, safety isn’t about being chastised after making a mistake; it’s about awareness of both a driver’s surroundings and the vehicle they are operating.

“These are massive machines,” Craig says, “It takes the length of two football fields to stop an 80,000 lbs. truck going 65 mph. With that kind of power, drivers must continuously evaluate what they’re doing while driving.”

As a former OTR solo driver for Transport America, Craig speaks from experience.

“The reason I joined Transport America was because of the company’s dedication to safety,” he says. “Now I get to take what I’ve learned from driving across the country and help our drivers be the safest drivers on the road. If I was attracted to this company because of its dedication to safety, I know other drivers will be, too.”

In many ways, field safety specialists at Transport America approach their jobs like coaches. Specialists such as Craig work with drivers to help them understand what they can and can’t control. While a trucker may not be able to change how four wheelers or other truck drivers behave, they can control their own following distance and what is ahead them.

To gain a greater sense of control over their driving, Craig works with drivers to help them better understand how to take advantage of the technology that is built into their trucks. For example, onboard sensor systems help monitor vital information for a driver such as following distance and stability to prevent rollovers. Those sensors also report mistakes or possibly dangerous driving maneuvers to the company’s field safety specialists, who can use that data to teach drivers safe driving behaviors.

“We have a choice, we can use this data to punish a driver, or, we have another option – to use this data to help drivers see what they’re doing now and suggest changes that will make them better drivers,” says Craig. “It comes down to treating drivers as the professionals they are and want to be. I want to be the kind of field safety specialist who coaches our drivers to not just be better, but to be the best on the road. When I was a driver, that’s what I would have wanted from my safety guy.”

Interest in making America’s roads safer isn’t just limited to trucking companies. Recently, for example, the leaders of Transport America: President Paul Simmons, Vice President of Safety Lisa Gonnerman and Vice President of Maintenance Phil Reynolds, had the oppornity to help the Minnesota State Patrol better understand the new technology being used in today’s 18-wheelers. The Safety team gave a presentation to Colonel Matt Langer, who heads the Minnesota State Patrol, and then Craig drove Col. Langer for an hour through the Twin Cities east metro to demonstrate the technology that Transport America uses on its trucks.

To Craig, it comes down to mindset. Technology can be very useful, but technology can never replace a safe, alert driver.

“We have to intentionally want safer roads for ourselves and everyone else,” says Craig. “The technology is only a tool.”

“Do you want to be a driver who learns from his or her mistakes?” asks Craig. “Do you want to be the type of truck driving professional who is open to learning and growing in their skills and professionalism. Will you work with your safety specialist and be open to their suggestions to become a better driver?”

“To me, this all boils down to respect for yourself as a driver and respect for the truck driving profession,” says Craig. “If you respect yourself, you’re open to continuously learning. You bring a mindset to your work that there is always something new to learn about being a safe driver — regardless of how many years of experience you have behind the wheel.”

“This culture of respect extends to respect for your loved ones, for family, for other Transport America drivers and for those driving alongside you on the road.”

While Craig’s work is centered on drivers primarily assigned to the company’s Eagan Support Center, Craig and the field safety specialists are trying to build on a company-wide culture that supports a healthy lifestyle for its truck drivers wherever they may be.

“As a driver, I understand that safety isn’t just about operating a truck correctly while on the road,” Craig says. “You have to look at everything – the amount of quality sleep a driver is getting, the stress their experiencing, their home time, their eating habits, etcetera. We want our drivers to know that we’re thinking about all of these things, because they all affect driver safety.”

That top-to-bottom approach to safety education manifests itself with Transport America’s “Straight Forward Safety” program.

Everyone in the company attends and drivers help shape the curriculum so that even those who aren’t driving have a grasp of truck safety. Further showcasing the company’s dedication to driver safety throughout the entire company.

Safety concerns may be a barrier for those looking to join Transport America as a driver, but with field safety specialists such as Craig, who bring real-world experience to their job, the company is looking to not just erase those worries, but put safety front and center with everything they do.

“I wouldn’t drive a truck for a company that didn’t have the same safety record as we do,” says Craig, “It’s not worth it for me to work for a company that doesn’t take safety seriously. At Transport America, safety is a support system and our number one core value which really sets us apart from other trucking companies.”