Shannon Newton wants to change the image of truck driver in Arkansas and she is using 11 good men — and one woman — to do it.
Newton introduced the 12 members of the Arkansas Road Team at the Arkansas Trucking Association’s annual conference in Little Rock last month. One team member, Loren Hatfield of ABF Freight in North Little Rock, was named the Arkansas Trucking Association’s Driver of the Year at the conference for his more than 2 million accident-free miles.
“Loren’s leadership and contribution to the industry set a high bar and have earned him this recognition,” said Newton, the ATA’s president. “He represents the best trucking has to offer, and his commitment to safety is personal and evident in his excellent driving record and extraordinary volunteer efforts.”
Hatfield isn’t unique among Arkansas truck drivers, a fact that Newton is using to promote the industry as well as safe driving. Hatfield and 11 colleagues were chosen in October from among 30 candidates to form the inaugural road team.
The road team functions as sort of goodwill ambassadors to the public. The first year of the group was more about training and organizing, but Newton said the team began to have a positive effect with its visits to local schools, community groups and even state legislators.
“The goal of that is to put a face, a person and a story with your perception of what a truck driver is,” Newton said. “We are now able to go to certain events and not send me or the guy who owns 400 trucks. We are broadening and extending our umbrella to include representatives from the commercial driver community as part of our advocacy team.”
The road team members are not paid for the efforts, although the ATA picks up their expenses. The team members also haven’t quit their day (and overnight) jobs, so they still log their weekly miles and make their deliveries.
Managing the heavy workload has relied on cooperative scheduling by the team members’ employers, who have rearranged the drivers’ routes to ensure their availability for ATA events. The program was made possible by a grant from the Arkansas Commercial Truck Safety Education program, money raised by an increase in registration fees by the ATA.
The investment isn’t a major expense; Newton said it will cost $350,000 for two years. That money includes the hiring of David O’Neal as director of safety services, the road team and a Share the Road safety program.
It’s part of a recent effort by the association — Newton was promoted to president two years ago — to raise the profile and respectability of truck drivers.
“Everything we are doing — every event, every article, everything we’re pushing out — I am thinking in the back of my mind, ‘How is this shaping the image we want to have versus the image we do have?’” Newton said. “The road team is a critical piece of that. They are not what you typically think of when you say, ‘Hey, Mr. Truck Driver.’ They are very, very professional individuals who treat their job with respect.”
Newton believes the road team’s effectiveness will only improve as more and more groups become aware of its availability. During the first year, the 12 members were sent to media training and then helped create an eight-minute video for use during their appearances.
The members of the Arkansas Road Team and their employers are:
- USA Truck of Van Buren: April Coolidge and Tom Miller;
- Conway Freight of Jonesboro: Danny Fuller;
- ABF Freight, North Little Rock: Loren Hatfield, Otto Schmeckenbecher and Walter J. Stanley;
- Walmart Transportation: Gary Jaworski (Clarksville), Robert Kelley (Searcy) and Gary Mars (Bentonville);
- FedEx Freight: Larry Rhein (Harrison) and Mark Rook (Little Rock); and
- Stallion Transportation of Beebe: Jerry Whittenburg.