Road School
Live & learn
Three veteran truckers share their secrets on how together they've logged 143 years of safe driving

By Reed Black
staff writer

OOIDA recently honored 52 members by presenting them with the Association’s Safe Driving Award – and some of those truckers have valuable tips on how to stay safe.

The awards went to dues-paying members with between one and 62 years of operating a commercial vehicle without being involved in a preventable accident.

Between them, three of the winners have 143 years of safe driving under their belts.

Jack Adams of Oklahoma City received his award for 43 years of safe driving. He started driving for his uncle behind the wheel of a six-cylinder, B-61 model Mack truck.

“For the first two years he would not let me drive that truck forward. He would pull into wherever we were going to and he would jump out,” Jack said.

“He’d jump out and he’d tell me, ‘Now, you wait right here. I’ll find out where they want that backed up to (and) you back that up.’ ”

Jack’s uncle told him that his life depended on not scratching the paint.

“For two years that’s all I did was back a truck up,” Jack said.

Two years after he started driving for his uncle, Jack finally got to drive forward. The pair was up on Soldier Mountain Pass in Idaho. His uncle had driven all he could that day. He told Jack he had gone as far as he could go safely.

“Do you think you can drive this thing forward?” Jack’s uncle asked him.

That’s all it took. Jack took over the wheel while his uncle crawled into the sleeper. Despite his uncle’s firm doubt that Jack would make it to their destination in Bakersfield, CA, by the time he woke up, Jack had made it.

“About mid-morning I had already fueled the truck up, parked it and was waking him up and we were sitting in Bakersfield,” Jack said with a laugh.

Jack credits his safe driving to a lesson he learned from his uncle early on.

“He told me there are five people you have to look for, and asked me if I could tell him who they are,” Jack said.

Jack told his uncle you have to watch out for the person in front of you, the one behind you and the one on each side. But, he couldn’t name the fifth.

“That’s my point … you don’t know, you’ve got to pay attention. That’s the key,” Jack said his uncle told him.

Jack has a cell phone but screens his calls when he is driving – and only talks if it’s important.

His pet safety peeve is being passed by another truck then having that truck pull right in front of him.

George Hanlon doesn’t like that either.

George, who lives in Barefoot Bay, FL, got an OOIDA Safe Driving Award for 49 years of accident-free operation.

“My secret is, number one, I don’t rush unless I have to. Normally I’m considered one of the slower drivers out here because my handle is ‘Putt-Putt,’ ” George said.

Primarily, George runs in Georgia and Florida where the speed limits are usually 70 mph on the interstates.

“I’m lucky if I’m doing 65 mph, especially if I’m loaded,” he said. “I go by the 4-second rule – which for me I really like to keep 12 and a half seconds between me and the vehicle in front of me. I pull a tanker with no baffles in it.”

George has a healthy respect for braking distances and allowing space between his truck and the vehicle in front of him. In fact, it irritates him when other truckers don’t leave enough space between their trucks and the vehicles in front of them.

“I just can’t believe they can go down the road 70 to 75 mph and be less than 20 feet apart from each other and they’re just having a ball,” he said.

George credits much of his nearly half-century of safe driving to the man upstairs.

Ernest Chavira out in Hacienda Heights, CA, has George and Jack both beat on years of safe driving. He has 51 years on the road with no accidents.

“I would say I credit (the 51 years of safe driving) by staying alert and always thinking about the safest way to run,” Ernest said.

Doing the things necessary to stay safe isn’t a short list for Ernest by any means. He makes sure he stays alert and awake; he knows where he is going and what terrain he will be running on; his truck is in good working order with good tires and his engine running like a top.

The 5.5-million-mile safe driver said rest is a big part of making sure he’s ready for his time on the road.

“By the time I drive 11 hours, I’m tired and I’m ready to go to bed,” Ernest said. “And, I do take my rest and that’s what keeps me alert and awake the next day.”

Ernest shares the philosophy of Jack and George in that it’s very important to leave plenty of space between your truck and the vehicle in front of you – or even the one you’re passing.

“I keep my distance when I’m following traffic,” he said. “There are a lot of drivers out there who don’t have that experience, especially at night. They will be passing a truck and cut in. (They should leave) at least 100 feet and then come on over.”

There seems to be a consensus among the OOIDA Safe Driving Award winners that they don’t crowd other vehicles and don’t like to be crowded. They believe in concentrating on the road and, in at least one case, keeping it under the speed limit.


Editor’s note: The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Safe Driving Award Program is designed to recognize and reward members for their safe, accident-free years while operating a commercial vehicle.

All OOIDA members whose dues are current are eligible to request an award. You must have no preventable accidents and must actively drive a commercial vehicle as your primary occupation during the year(s) for which an award is requested.

For more information, call OOIDA Membership Department, 1-800-444-5791.