Gridlock Guy: How truck drivers achieve millions of miles crash-free

Truck driver Terry Hines poses and smiles in front of his XPO tractor trailer.

Trucks and the drivers that manhandle those beasts are often unheralded. Despite their being a vital cog in the machine that gets products from factories to homes, many people get frustrated with large, slow-moving big rigs. Many usually only pay them mind when they are upset in traffic, taking for granted the lengths to which many truckers go to be safe.

Unbeknownst to much of the public, the trucking industry celebrates and constantly champions safety.

Trucking company XPO has a group of elite drivers who have achieved an impressive milestone: one million miles or more without any crashes.

Terry Hines is one such driver and he has done this twice - in 2008 and 2023, but not consecutively.

“I did have a little spill in the parking lot, because a driver in a four-wheel parked in the tractor lane. And I scraped him because I sat so high up and didn’t see them. So that happened and I had to start all over again,” Hines, a truck driver of 31 years, told the AJC and 95.5 WSB.

This kind of freak instance was more the result of someone else’s mistake than Hines’, but goes to show just how hard driving unscathed in big rigs is.

Despite that, Hines said there are several people in XPO’s Atlanta division that have achieved two million crash-free miles consecutively and one who has gone over three million miles.

Hines does shorter runs than his fellow drivers, so his trek to a million takes longer. But he has a process that keeps him between the ditches.

“First thing I do when I get in that truck is a proper pre-trip [inspection],” Hines said of the check inside and outside the truck to make sure all equipment is in order. “Every time I roll off this yard, I say a prayer.”

Once behind the wheel, Hines’ head is on a swivel and constantly calculating his surroundings. “I do offensive and defensive driving, to anticipate what a driver may do or may not do.” Hines practices his company’s five-step safety protocol behind the wheel, leaning on the training he and his cohorts constantly receive. The training includes weekly Monday morning meetings, persistent safety courses every other week, and even hazmat training every five years.

That training conditions Hines’ alertness, proactivity, and patience. “I keep my eyes open and my eyes moving. I make sure they see me and make sure there is a way out.”

Hines also imparts arguably his greatest wisdom, besides prayer. “I try to take my time and never be in a hurry. That’s what gave me my first million miles and my second.”

Hines’ high big rig perch means he has a bird’s eye view for all the dangerous, annoying things drivers around him do: applying makeup, phone-use, eating, and drifting out of their lanes. “So I anticipate [what a distracted driver may do] when I look down and see what they are doing.”

Hines also braces for the worst when he sees cars on the side of the road that may be preparing to reenter traffic. “When I see someone is on the shoulder, I get over one [lane],” Hines said, noting Georgia’s “Move Over Law,” which requires drivers to slow below the speed limit when passing emergency responders or to get over one lane. He said that stopped drivers on shoulders will often not even check the traffic before darting into it.

Hines said that XPO has what it calls the “Hall of Fame” for drivers that reach the one million and two million-mile crash-free benchmarks. He said around 20 drivers have reached at least a million miles out of the 150 or so drivers at his terminal.

The Georgia Motor Trucking Association holds the annual Georgia Truck Driving Championships at Lake Lanier, a competition that includes written tests and driving course skills to measure driver acuity and safety. Winners of various divisions in Georgia then compete nationally, all with the idea of promoting safety behind the wheel of these precious loads and large trucks. Small mistakes can be very costly in many ways.

Hines has never competed, but XPO has drivers that do.

When asked what he wants other drivers to know about truckers that he thinks they forget, he shared something that every commuter should remember of one another.  “We are humans, too. And be patient with us.” Hines said he constantly gets the middle finger from surrounding drivers who don’t like his speed, not realizing he needs more time to get up to speed merging on a highway or needs longer to stop. And Hines wants people to remember that without tractor trailers, there is no food on store shelves or fuel at gas stations. And, most importantly, Hines wants surrounding drivers to know that they share something important in common.  “We just want to get safe and sound home to our families, as well.”

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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