Schneider driver Bob Wyatt has driven for 51 years and logged almost 5 million miles - all without a preventable crash. Does he have sage advice to pass along to other drivers?
Yes and no.
"I could tell them [new drivers] the working habits that I’ve developed over a lifetime, but it wouldn’t mean anything to them. They’re not going to get in their truck and say, 'I want to do it the way that truck driver told me to do it.' Everybody’s going to do their own thing. They’ll take their training and if it’s good training, that’s where they’re going to learn most of it. And the rest of it they’re going to learn by experience."
Still, when pressed, the winner of the 2016 International Driver Excellence Award from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance offers this advice:
"Most important is to be aware of your surroundings. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it's a good thing. Get in the truck, sit down, look around. Don’t be afraid to get out of your truck and look around. There's no shame in getting out of your truck and walking around – as many times as you need to."
He adds: "If you’re pulling away from a dock or you’re backing into a spot at a truck stop, get out and look. A lot of companies emphasize that. They even put a sticker under your mirror that says: It’s a GOAL [Get out and look]."
The long haul driver – he's been married for 49 years and has three children - doesn't let the stress of the job or other road users weigh on him. "There's a lot of pressure out here. Everybody wants you to get out of their way. Don’t let any of that bother you. Just do your own thing and let them do what they want to do." One way to accomplish is not to run with others. "Stay back. Don’t try to run with the pack. Don’t try to be the first one. Let them go. There's less pressure that way."
Wyatt gets frustrated at many truck drivers he sees on the road compared to those he saw several decades ago when truckers were called 'knights of the road' and motorists admired them for their independence, skill and hard work.
"There’s a whole class of drivers out here, and I don’t know where they got their training, but they’re all about aggressiveness, being a bully. 'Get out of my way.' Stay away from those guys. Ignore them. Don’t get caught up in that."
He adds that driving at its core hasn't changed but people have. "You didn’t pass another truck if it was broken down. The first truck that came up would stop and help. It's a busier world now. Everybody thinks they need to be in a hurry and be first." Another thing has changed: traffic congestion. "It adds a lot more stress to the job."
His biggest gripe? Drivers on phones.
"The one thing that aggravates me is everybody with a cell phone in their lap. You get in the car or a truck, and you're ready to start off on your trip, and here’s what you do: Leave your cell phone at home. I’ve seen a lot of wrecks out here [because of people using their phones].
Springfield, IL, resident Wyatt is somewhat of an anomaly, staying with the same company for so long when OTR driver turnover can often be over 90% at some carriers.
"I had offers to buy my own truck several times. But I like the idea of not having to worry about paying the bills for a truck. Schneider has always been a good company to work for. You can jump from one to the other, but there's not that much difference in a lot of them. The years just kept going by and I raised a family, paid the bills, and the money was always there - steady. I guess I found a home."