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Knights in shining iron

GUELPH, Ont. - Becoming an ambassador for the Ontario Trucking Association's Road Knights program, was a great opportunity for Doug Ladds to learn effective public relations skills, such as speaking i...


INDUSTRY PRIDE: Road Knight Doug Ladds (centre) has spread the road safety message far and wide, including to politicians such as MPP Monte Kwinter (left) and former Transport Minister Donna Cansfield (right).
INDUSTRY PRIDE: Road Knight Doug Ladds (centre) has spread the road safety message far and wide, including to politicians such as MPP Monte Kwinter (left) and former Transport Minister Donna Cansfield (right).

GUELPH, Ont. –Becoming an ambassador for the Ontario Trucking Association’s Road Knights program, was a great opportunity for Doug Ladds to learn effective public relations skills, such as speaking in front of a crowd, becoming relaxed in front of a camera, and responding to questions at public gatherings.

But more so, the truck driver who works for MacKinnon Transport in Guelph, Ont., has appreciated the opportunity to promote the trucking industry’s stellar safety record, and its own safety initiative -the OTA’s ‘Sharing the Road,’ outreach program.

He particularly enjoys talking to young people who are about to get their licence, and are eager to start driving.

The professional driver realizes that he has a captive audience, and he willingly advises about courtesy on the road, patience, and risky traffic situations.

“That’s the rewarding part to me,” says Ladds, who has been recognized in Canada and the US, for logging over 3.2 million collision- free kilometres in 23 years on the road, and is enthusiastic about spreading a message about the merits of safe driving.

“If one person gets this message and it saves one life, that’s proof positive that programs like this are working.”

The Road Knights get a variety of questions from the non-commercial driving public, about “sharing the road” with trucks. A common theme is how to pass a commercial vehicle.

It can be an intimidating process for a new driver, especially on a rainy day when there’s a blinding spray from the truck’s 18 wheels, indicates Ladds.

“Just keep going, because you’re going to run out of it, just as soon as you get to the front of the truck,” he advises.

Ladds also discusses the four major blind spots on tractor-trailer: the front, both sides and the rear. The Road Knight recommends that when passing, “pass with intent,” after pulling into the left lane for a passing maneuvre, and subsequently “complete the action,” a process that may take another two seconds to follow through on.

This not only gets the passing vehicle out of the blind spot, Ladds suggest that there may be other unexpected safety considerations.

“If you come out halfway and stop, mid-section; it really puts more risk into that task than anything,” he says.

“You may not be seen (by the truck driver) if a deer jumps out, and it (requires) an evasive maneuvre. The driver checks his clear spots right away, but if you’re in a blind spot, that’s going to be harder to pick up.”

When visiting schools, the Road Knights often take a tractor-trailer for younger students to explore and learn about the danger of playing near large commercial vehicles.

The PR specialist/truck driver also talks to adults in various service clubs, sometimes on the same topic, but with extra vehicles to prove his point, including, on occasion, a seemingly hard-to-miss yellow school bus.

“I’ll show them blind spots,” he says. “I’ll put cars (or the bus) behind the rigs, and they won’t be able to see them from the perspective of the driver. It really hits home.”

The transport spokesperson gets the same level of curiosity from the adults as he does from the younger students that he meets on his speaking tour, only with more educated and sometimes romanticized queries from the former.

The adults often ask about CB radio use, onerous long-haul schedules, and road safety situations that involve the motoring public -all questions that Ladds appreciates.

“It’s a genuine interest in the lifestyle of the drivers,” he says, adding that some questions are frequently posed, such as whether it’s advisable to follow a truck during a snow storm.

“They all want to know if that’s a practicality, if it’s safe to follow a truck driver,” says Ladds, who initially warns about tailgating, but he can understand why somebody would want to follow a commercial vehicle in foul weather.

“We have a lot of professional drivers who know what they’re doing. They know when to stay on, and when to come off the road. It’s a personal decision for everybody. If they’re not comfortable in a snow storm, then they shouldn’t be out there risking their well-being,” he says.

One fact that Ladds frequently emphasizes, is the stellar safety record of the trucking industry. He points to statistics that indicate that only 3% of all accidents in Ontario have involved the trucking industry.

Yet, he notes that a trucking incident will typically cause a media sensation, because it may disrupt traffic for an entire day and cause a spill.

Ladds indicates that the greatest problem on the road today is a lack of courtesy and patience, an unnecessary way of operating a vehicle, considering that he has been driving a truck that’s restricted to 100 km/h, for the past 14 years. Yet despite this speed restriction, Ladds says he has never had a problem delivering his load on time. He suggests that other drivers should plan ahead to arrive at their destination on time, and without haste.

“People are impatient,” he says. “They just need to sit back and relax and do the job that has to be done.”

The veteran truck driver also talks about the expensive consequence of aggressive driving: lower fuel economy, extensive wear and tear on brakes, and higher overall maintenance costs.

“It’s a domino effect, right down the line,” he says.

Challenger Motor Freight based in Cambridge, Ont., has been a supporter of the Road Knights program since its inception in 1995, and is represented on the Road Knights team by one of its own truck drivers, Mike Hahn. Dan Einwechter, chairman and CEO of Challenger Motor Freight, indicates that the transport industry has been very good to him, and his longstanding support of the Road Knights program is an appropriate way to return his good fortune.

“I think that the Road Knights is a wonderful way for us to give back something,” says Einwechter.

“At the same time as we’re giving back, we get something significant. Our drivers individually get recognition. Our company gets recognition, for obviously playing some role in his safe driving, his performance and appearance. We get recognition from our peers, the general public, and our clients.”

Einwechter also appreciates the positive public relations benefit that the trucking industry earns from the Road Knights’ service.

“We have so many issues that are negative between the motoring public and trucks, that it’s just one small way for us to try and help dispel any negative opinions or beliefs that people have,” he says.

“These guys do such a good job. If you watch them when they go out to service groups, to schools, they’re as passionate as I am about the message. They’re great ambassadors for the industry, they’re great ambassadors for the company and it helps put a different perspective on what the industry is all about when people have a chance to face these guys.”

The 10 members of the Road Knights’ team are all professional truck drivers who compete for the position based on their driving and safety record, and ultimately are appointed by the OTA.

The team members are all employed as full-time transport drivers and step out of the cab several days each month to meet the public. During the two-year term, Road Knights meet with community groups, business associations, driving schools, seniors organizations and service clubs, to help improve highway safety and increase awareness of the trucking industry’s contribution to the provincial economy.

In addition to educating community organizations about road safety, Road Knights promote career opportunities within the trucking industry.

The Road Knights also meet with truck driving schools, to emphasize the importance of safety, professionalism and courtesy.

The OTA provides training on public speaking and media relations and also provides any required materials.

The OTA is currently seeking Road Knights for its 2009-2010 team.

If you are an OTA member and know a suitable candidate, nominate them at the OTA Web
site (www.ontruck.org)or contact Rebecka Torn at 416-249-7401 ext. 224 or by e-mail at Rebecka.torn@ontruck.org.


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