AMTA selects new Road Knights team

by Jim Bray

CALGARY, Alta. – You could almost think of them as the Snowbirds of Alberta’s trucking industry. Not that they’re a bunch of senior citizens running to points south and warm for winter, but rather they’re more like the RCAF’s elite demonstration crew that wows audiences around the continent with their feats of aviation derring-do.

The Alberta Motor Transport Association’s Road Knights aren’t hot shot pilots, however; they’re a team of hot shot professional truckers who take some time off the road each month to engage in outreach on behalf of the trucking industry at large, putting human faces on a sector much of the public just doesn’t get and helping change misconceptions about it while extolling its potential as a career of choice.

This particular “demonstration team,” the third batch of Alberta Road Knights, was named on Jan. 30 after a rigorous session at the AMTA’s Calgary headquarters that saw the candidates speak in front of a hand-picked audience of judges who’d then interview them right afterward.

The judges, like the driver candidates themselves, came from different areas and perspectives, including AMTA brass such as executive director Lorraine Card as well as Jacquie Daumont, Deputy Chief, Alberta’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement branch, and Rebecka Freels, who was responsible for rolling out Canada’s first Road Knights team in Ontario about 20 years ago before heading home to Alberta and establishing the AMTA’s version.

There must have been an extra seat open on the panel as well, because I was asked to participate on behalf of this magazine.

We six “adjudicators” received an info package in advance of the date, to give us time to do our due diligence and dig into the backgrounds of the candidates, then on the appointed day we assembled in the AMTA’s boardroom at 8:45 a.m. to ensure all the I’s were crossed and T’s dotted – or something like that – before the first victim was marched before the assembled strangers poised (the candidates undoubtedly thought) like vultures waiting to swoop down on any misstep they might make. Some appeared more nervous than others – or perhaps some hid their nervousness better than others –
but each gave a short presentation on a trucking-related topic near and/or dear to his heart.

Not surprisingly, safety was a big theme that ran through all presentations (and, afterward, in their
spontaneous oral responses to our probing questions), but other rationales for competing to be a Road Knight included paying it forward (becoming a mentor or industry spokesman) and a general, overall love for the
industry – especially as it pertains to the perspective from behind the wheel. All the candidates clearly love driving and want to help pass along that love to a new generation that may not be looking in the industry’s direction – yet – when it comes to choosing a career.

I can’t divulge the questions we asked, apparently under threat of torture, but they were wide-ranging and meant to help the judges learn how a candidate believed he’d handle himself under certain conditions (such as dealing with the public
and/or media), what his opinions are on a variety of “industry perception” issues – and of course to see how well he thinks on his feet. The candidates handled themselves well and each brought a different perspective based on his
own experience, from city P&D to long-haul and off-highway, and from relative youth to well-seasoned veterans starting to think about retirement.

In the end, five new Road Knights were chosen and they come from locations across northern and southern Alberta. After a celebratory lunch, they headed off to be measured for their Road Knights suits.

This was my second time on the Road Knights panel, which put me one up on Lorraine Card, the AMTA’s recently named executive director.

Afterward, we spoke briefly about the experience and what happens from here.

“I thought it was a very professional, well-organized process we went through and the calibre of candidates was tremendous,” Card said, reiterating the candidates’ “huge support for safety” and their varied perspectives on the industry.
“They all brought something different to the table, so I’m very pleased with the process as well as the candidates.”

Card said the Road Knights program is significant to the AMTA and to the overall trucking industry because “it brings another face to the AMTA – actual drivers that are out promoting the organization as well as trucking as a career.
I’m very confident that we’re going to be using them as much as we can.”  She noted that the variety of home bases of the new Road Knights should ensure the province is covered well and said that, after having taken part in the selection process and spent time with the new ambassadors afterward, “I think they’ll bring so much value to the program as well as to the industry.”

The new crew, which is scheduled to serve a two year term, consists of: Calvin Briggs, Grimshaw Trucking, Leduc; Harminder Dhaliwal, Trimac Transportation Services, Calgary; Marsh Duncanson, Bison Transport, Calgary; Curtis Mann, Bison Transport, Calgary; and Harvey Wardill,  Gibson Energy, Grande Prairie.

All these drivers brought plenty of experience behind the wheel with them, and they also brought driver’s abstracts that showed clearly their success and commitment to safety.

And now they have the opportunity to become teachers as well as drivers, as they meet with various community groups, schools, trade shows and the like, helping raise awareness not only of the importance of the
trucking industry to the overall economy and the wide variety of careers available, but also of things civilian drivers can do to share the road safely with trucks.

To help them in their task, they’ll receive training in public speaking and media relations, skills they can take back to the job with them during and after their time as Road Knights. While the program runs under the AMTA banner, Card was quick to note that it’s supported by the member companies for whom the Road Knights work.

“We certainly appreciate and thank them for their support because without them there would not be a Road Knights program,” she said. Some engagements are booked already, and the new Road Knights will begin making their public appearances in the next couple of months.

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