Missouri likes to refer to itself as the “Show Me State.” True to that motto, two Daseke companies recently demonstrated their excellence by taking home prestigious awards from the Missouri Trucking Association (MoTA). At the organization’s 71st Annual Safety Awards Banquet, Tri-State Motor Transit Co. received first place honors for Fleet Safety: Over the Road, Up to 2.5 Million Miles, while Group One, Inc.’s Safety Director Gaye Banks was honored as Safety Professional of the Year.
“We couldn’t be more proud of these two companies and what they have done to promote safety within their fleets and to the motoring public,” says Don Daseke, CEO of Daseke. “We recognize that best practices are a combination of skilled employees, knowledgeable, proactive management, and commitment to sustaining safety cultures. That’s what makes these organizations the best of the best.”
Tri-State Motor Transit
The Roadmaster Group’s Tri-State Motor Transit Co. has been a leader in the transport of high-security freight since 1931. The cargo back then consisted mostly of dynamite for blasting in area mines. Today, Tri-State continues its legacy of hauling high-security freight by transporting Arms, Ammunitions or Explosives (AA&E), hazardous and radioactive waste, and high-value, sensitive freight. There is no question that safety has to be one of Tri-State’s most urgent priorities.
“Due to the nature of what we transport, we’re heavily scrutinized by regulatory agencies. We go through a lot of audits, and the first thing they look at is always our safety record,” says Donnie Lester, Tri-State’s vice-president of safety and security.
In 2017, Tri-State’s fleet rolled up 1,667,280 miles with zero accidents. Part of what accounts for Tri-State’s impeccable safety record is that most if not all of their professional drivers have acquired Department of Defense (DoD) security clearance. The DoD’s extensive vetting process includes a 126-page application and a complete background check, among other requirements. Not only that — Tri-State also imposes a strict cutoff as far as CSA scores are concerned.
As Lester explains, a strong safety culture starts with hiring drivers with the right attitude and experience, then giving them the necessary training to perform their job well.
“We mold the drivers to fit our needs. Not every driver is cut out for this. It takes a special type of person to be able to do this kind of driving,” says Lester. “We trust that they are already ‘truck drivers.’ We give them the specialized training that they need during orientation, which lasts an entire week. We drill them for hours each day and also provide in-cab training,” Lester continues. “As the drivers advance in the company, they get additional training.”
A prime example of that specialized training is a Hazardous Materials/Hazardous Waste training course. Here, Tri-State’s drivers learn about shipping papers, placarding and marking, compatibility of materials, and dealing with explosives and radioactive material.
Use of Technology
The Tri-State fleet numbers 350 and is a mix of Freightliner, Kenworth, Volvo, and Peterbilt models. Their tractors feature automatic transmissions, collision avoidance, vehicle stability and departure control. Tri-State’s trailers are outfitted with tire inflation level monitors, and, because they utilize oversized brakes, the hubs are equipped with temperature sensors to alert the driver before they become dangerously hot.
Trucks and trailers are also both equipped with tracking systems — a necessary security measure that helps the company maintain its impeccable safety record.
“Tri-State believes that technology helps a driver become a safer driver,” says Lester. “With tracking, we can be additional eyes and ears for the drivers and help make them aware of situations,” Lester adds. “For example, if there is a threat in a certain area, we can geofence that area and keep our trucks out of it.”
Each fleet is assigned a driver manager who monitors a driver’s route progress and maintains constant communication throughout the trip. Because Tri-State is an irregular route carrier, hauling all over the United States, ongoing training is done right in the cab of the trucks.
Each spring, for instance, Tri-State posts a short video to remind drivers that, with the nicer weather, more people will be out and about. With that additional traffic comes a greater need to stay vigilant on the road.
“The videos are more effective than simply a text or email,” explains Lester, “because they actually bring the subject more to the forefront.”
Depth of Experience
It goes without saying that Tri-State’s strong safety culture also stems from the depth of experience of the safety department’s leader. Lester has been with Tri-State since 1980. He was a driver himself for 13 years, so he knows firsthand what his teams are dealing with on the road. That experience also gives him credibility with the drivers.
“I’m very pro-driver — sometimes a little too extreme,” Lester says with a laugh. “We educate our drivers to make their life less complicated. It all goes back to safety being first and foremost and fostering a culture wherein everyone is thinking about safety regardless of the situation,” Lester says.
“Safety is a mindset, and you need to have a total buy-in throughout the company for it to be successful,” Lester adds. “Once you reach that point, you’re going to have a record that reflects that the entire company is both safety-conscious and aware.”
Group One, Inc.
At Group One, Inc., a Steelman Company and member of the Daseke family of carriers, the key to an outstanding safety record is not simply a set of dos and don’ts.
“Safety is at the core of our company values,” says Safety Director Gaye Banks. “Safety is a team effort, and we work to create a culture where everybody wants to work in a safe environment and travel safely.”
A Passion for Promoting Safety
Banks has been with Group One since its founding in 2011. Group One provides a wide variety of services, including customized trailers for cargo transportation, drive-away services, and trade show and event management. Group One operates 45 company trucks and employs 150 drivers, including their contract drive-away operators.
Banks grew up in a trucking family and even drove over the road with her husband as an owner-operator. Throughout her 30-plus years in the industry, she has worked in nearly every role. Her passion is ensuring the safety of both truck drivers and the motorists with whom they share the road.
Because of her commitment to safe operations, Banks was MoTA’s choice for Distinguished Safety Director of The Year.
“Gaye is a very dedicated safety professional. Wherever she has gone throughout her career, she has improved the place where she’s worked,” says MoTA President Tom Crawford. “Over the years, a number of Group One drivers have won our Driver of the Month award. It’s a very competitive program, and so that says a lot about the leadership of the organization and the safety culture that they promote.”
Along with her regular job duties, Banks is also a member of the MoTA Council of Safety Supervisors, participating in many of the association’s outreach programs. As the safety director for Group One, she’s afforded the opportunity to participate in events such as Ford Driving Skills for Life (Ford DSFL), which teaches teens the skills they need to be safe on the roads. Banks has also helped mount “No Zone” displays where the public can get a look at what a driver actually sees from behind the wheel of their rig.
“A lot of people get in a truck for the first time, and they look in that mirror and see that there really is an area around the trailer where the driver isn’t going to see them, and they’re just like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know that!’” Banks observes. “You know they’ll never pass another truck without thinking about that moment.”
“Essential to road safety is reducing the severity and frequency of accidents and injury loss. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate all accidents and injury loss,” Banks adds. “Only through ongoing continuing education and training will we achieve these goals.”
“Our drivers are professionals and have many miles behind them, but they have to be able to travel with the motoring public and be aware of things that can potentially turn bad,” Banks says. “In today’s world, it seems like everybody does everything but drive when they’re behind the wheel of their cars, which presents our drivers with that much more of a challenge.”
For Banks, meeting that challenge requires a highly proactive approach.
“We instill safety in our drivers from the get-go. You’ve got to connect with them as to how safety benefits them directly so that they understand its importance,” she says. “We put all our drivers through extensive online and video training on a monthly basis. There’s also a whole library that employees have to go through when they first walk through the door.”
Tri-State’s “show trucks” represent what is perhaps Banks’ most unique challenge. The trucks are basically rolling billboards for motorsports clients such as Yamaha, transporting motorcycles and ATVs to trade shows and events from Daytona, Florida, to Laguna, California, to Sturgis, South Dakota.
Even though the show trucks see the lowest miles in the fleet, safety is still a top concern. This is especially true where work habits and injury prevention are concerned, as Group One’s drivers do a lot of work outside of the truck helping to set up, break down and reload the precious cargo.
“I’ve never had an issue with one of my show truck drivers — knock on wood,” Banks says. “Once they make it to that level, they are drivers with 3 million to 4 million accident-free miles behind them. They understand the program.”
Dedication and Teamwork
When Group One started, they only operated 35 company trucks, and their drive-away division was still small. Banks served as a one-person recruiting and safety department. Now, she’s supported by a recruiter, auditor, and a staff assistant.
Along with being Commercial Vehicle Safety-certified, Banks stays current on safety topics through industry seminars. She also furthers her knowledge by taking online college courses in related subjects, such as human resources and compliance.
“You never stop learning and reviewing so that you can implement more effective policies,” Banks points out.
Continuing education is a huge benefit of being part of Daseke. With 16 operating companies, Daseke represents the most experienced and knowledgeable management and operators in the business.
“Daseke provides us with great information and resources,” Banks says. “Each month the safety directors share their scores, and one of the biggest benefits is being able to network and discuss issues impacting the industry.”
Serious about Safety
As the industry has grown — and the number of trucks sharing the road has increased — companies are more and more obligated to take safety seriously.
Banks recalls that, 30 years ago, safety was still a matter of interest, but that management didn’t push their drivers hard on that front. Now, smart, successful companies like Group One and its Daseke sister fleets are focused on investing in safety.
“Safety was always looked at as a non-revenue generating department. Operations was seen as the division making money. You’ve got to refocus and see that while safety may not be a revenue generator, it is definitely related to cost control,” Banks says.
“That’s why you have to have a good safety department, and everyone from owners to employees has to buy into the safety culture. That’s where you get into the core values of your business.” As Banks advises, “priorities can change, but values never should.”