Truck drivers: keeping the country rolling
“Without their sacrifices and diligence driving these large trucks through America, the world as we know it would be so much different,” noted Kevin Otto of Otto Transfer in Delano.
Sept. 15-21 is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, a time to recognize the contributions of the 3.4 million men and women who have chosen truck driving as their profession.
“It’s a demanding job,” said Jim Koch of K-Way Express in Winsted. “Driver shortages are the main challenge at the moment. Some of our best drivers are baby boomers who are starting to retire.”
According to a May 2013 article in the Portland Press Herald, the average age of a commercial truck driver in the US is 48. Fewer than eight percent are ages 25 to 29.
Otto said one reason younger people may be shying away from truck driving is the travel.
“Being away from home can be hard, but many drivers have children, and they make it work. It’s just a little different routine,” he said.
Jeff Pike, for example, is a father who has been driving for MBE in Delano since 2006. During the warmer months, he hauls dirt and gravel throughout the metro area. In the winter, he has another job hauling shingles, lumber, and other freight in a five-state area.
“There’s nothing else I’d rather do,” Pike said.
Pike, a 1995 graduate of Chaska High School, got his commercial drivers license at 18. Before working for MBE, he served as a hired driver.
Otto also got his commercial license at age 18, and drove truck in the summers, while earning a college degree in business.
“It’s a great business to be in,” he said. “I’ve been to just about every state in a truck.”
One of Otto’s most exciting trips was to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
“It’s a completely different world,” he said. “I went in September, and there were wild blueberries everywhere.”
In a truck, the perspective is much higher than a car – more like riding in a train, Otto added.
Otto’s interest in truck driving began as a young boy, riding with his father, Charlie. Otto Transfer was formed in 1946, and its first freight was livestock and beer bottles.
Safe, responsible, and essential
Otto enjoys being involved in the Minnesota Truckers Association (MTE), which recognizes professional truck drivers as “safe, responsible, and essential.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, truck driving is safer than ever. In 2009 (most recent available), truck-involved fatalities dropped 20 percent from the prior year – the lowest number recorded by the US Department of Transportation in history.
At the same time, the number of trucking miles continues to rise. In 2007, truck drivers logged more than 431 billion miles in 2007, more than double 25 years ago, the American Trucking Association noted.
K-Way’s drivers alone put on 3.5 million miles per year, according to Koch.
“You have to pay a lot of attention in traffic, and be aware of everything at all times,” Pike said.
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By Starrla Cray