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Keep Step Van Drivers in the NTDC

If trucks had patron saints, step vans would claim Rodney Dangerfield as their own. The late comedian’s trademark quip, “I get no respect,” describes how some in our industry view step vans.

They’re wrong.

Step van drivers have proven their mettle. Their skill and professionalism are indispensable to the trucking industry. It’s no exaggeration that step-van drivers are an economic linchpin.

It’s safety, however, that places step-van drivers in a class all their own.

Only a skilled and vigilant driver can navigate a route in all weather and road conditions in a vehicle that’s six to eight times larger than a minivan. Maneuvering through the tight spaces of secondary roads and residential neighborhoods, the step-van driver grapples with traffic situations that could be catastrophic in less capable hands.

Imagine a rubber ball bouncing in front of your vehicle, followed by a small child, followed by the family dog. Wrap up this sequence with Mom or Dad backing out of the driveway with only a quick glance at the rear-view mirror. Only a true professional could navigate such a minefield.

I saw the breadth of this professionalism at this year’s National Truck Driving Championships — only the second time the step-van class was included. It drew 32 state champions, each outstanding.

The trucking industry should be proud of these new competitors.  Instead, they are debating whether step vans should remain in the competition at all. 

Here are the main objections to having an NTDC step-van class:

•    It’s not a “real” truck.
Wrong! A step van meets the U.S. Department of Transportation’s definition of a truck. More significantly, it meets the public’s definition of a truck. A driver’s professionalism on the road can influence how the public perceives that carrier and, ultimately, our industry. 

•    They’re not “real” drivers.   Give me a break.
Step van drivers follow the same DOT regulations as Commercial Drivers License (CDL) holders except for CDL requirements and drug/alcohol testing, but many of them do have the CDL because of the cargo they carry.

•    It’s a FedEx event.
It’s true that FedEx dominates the step-van class. This year, 27 of the 32 NTDC competitors were from FedEx. The winner, Sean Saxon, is a FedEx Ground contractor. FedEx is prominent in this class because the company supports it. We want other drivers to compete, too. But only a few other carriers support the event.  That needs to change.

•    Step van driving challenges aren’t the same as for a tractor-trailer.
You got that right:  Step Vans face their own challenges, as described above.

•    The Step van class will cost more money to include in the NTDC.
Not true. Additional costs have been minimal to nonexistent during the trial period.

Now let’s look at why the Step Van class should remain in the NTDC.

•    Career development: Step vans often are the first rung of a driving career.
As an entry-level position, the step van drivers learn the fundamentals of safe driving and professional behavior. Retaining step vans in the NTDC sends the powerful message that all drivers are expected to achieve high standards from the beginning of their careers.

•    Good driving habits: Our NTDC champions tell us the competition hones their skills and knowledge and makes them more aware of situations where their actions can prevent an accident.

•    A new membership pool: Carriers with step-van fleets are a potential new source of membership for American Trucking Associations, the competition’s sponsor.

For all these reasons, the step-van class should become a permanent class in the NTDC.

Step-van drivers don’t need patron saints, they need the trucking industry to treat them with the respect they’ve earned.

Scott Mugno
Managing Director, Corporate Safety, Health and Fire Prevention
FedEx Express

Comments (19) 

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That's what the NTDC is all about, being able to take your knowledge and experience and pass it along to others. Once we become part of Team FedEx, we all increase our knowledge because we all help one another. Going to the terminal in your local town and making a difference is awesome and very commendable. Congrats, and hope to see yall in Orlando. As I say here in Texas, "Make a safe day!"

Last year my husband, Kailen Bronson, was one of the Lucky Ducks to make it to the NTDC. And it was really a wonderful experience for the both of us! My husband especially, he's been driving a step van for six years going on seven now, and I Know he makes safety a priority every single time he is out there on his route! Infact, every time he is out on the road period! I am very proud to say too that Kailen was so inspired by the NTDC about safe driving that he started a Safe Driving program at his terminal over here in Portland, OR, for just the contractors and their drivers! His managers at the terminal have backed him up 100% on this program and from what I hear its been a big success! I'm so Proud of my husband! And I truly hope that the step van class will be a permanent fixture in the NTDC. That experience has made my husband an even Better driver now than before!

Well it's a great day for FedEx and the trucking industry. The decision is final and the ATA/NTDC Committee approved the Step Van Class today as an official class in the NTDC!!! They met in Orlando this morning and did the right thing. Now we can just be safe and wait for all the details. Way to go everyone!!!

Well I believe the decision will be made this week on whether the step vans stay or go..The following letter will arrive tomorrow on their desks, before 10:30 ofcourse, why?....because FedEx is that good!! Please allow me to have a few minutes of your time. My name is Aryn Pittaway, I am 36 years old, married and have 2 children. I am a 13 year courier for FedEx Express based in Fort Worth, Texas. Just a couple of years ago, I started adding, "Professional and safe driver" to my personal descriptive profile. I did that because there was a point in my life that I realized there was more to my job than just driving around and dropping off boxes and letters. That time period and yearly event is known as the Truck Driving Championships (TDC). It is because of the TDC that I am a safer driver. I have been competing in the Step Van class of the TDC for more than two years. It has always been my understanding that this class of truck was under a 2 year trial period. I am writing this letter today to encourage you to support the Step Van class by keeping it in the National Truck Driving Championships. There are several reasons why I feel so passionate about allowing this truck class to continue competing. Step vans have such a tremendous potential to make America's roads even safer. The more trucks on the road that are being safer means that more lives are being saved. Since step van drivers are usually less experienced as a whole than tractor trailer drivers, this event promotes safety to the truck class needing it the most. The "Super Bowl of Safety", the NTDC and NSVDC, that's where the best of the best go to demonstrate what we do safely day in and day out for America. Through the encouragement and cooperation of both companies and organizations, this opportunity allows us the ability to take safety to the next level-the step van level. The Truck Driving Championships are still fairly new to me. I had heard of them before, like most people, but never fully understood its purpose. Now, its purpose is very clear to me. The American Trucking Associations gives thousands of drivers the opportunity to show America how safe truck drivers can be on the road. Various organizations try and help educate everyday drivers on the rules of the road. Not just the rules of the road, but the way in which we share the road is what helps keep us all safe. These objectives and goals are best reached with the involvement of everyone. Including the Step Van Class can be a major leap toward encouraging driver safety, injury prevention, and ultimately less driving related fatalities. The bigger picture, so to speak, is reached when others see the importance of safety as the big ticket. This is the ticket to their success on a personal level, with their company and a change in that driver’s safety mindset. Safety is contagious because it benefits everyone. In 1990, I earned my Eagle Scout Award in the BSA. Beyond the numerous skills I learned as a young Boy Scout, being safe was always a top priority. I can never recall a time when I was rappelling down a rock cliff that I didn’t want the safety rope. Safety was always a topic of discussion when the adults would give teenagers rifles and shotguns and say, “Be safe!” I don’t have the Boy Scouts any more to remind me to be safe. But, now I have my family, my parents, FedEx, and the ATA telling and encouraging me to be safe. When everyone is safe, it creates a circle of safety. Those whom have been in the trucking industry know this very well. Without the awesome efforts put forth by all ATA companies, safety would not be where it is today. In an effort to do the right thing, we as responsible motorists need to make the “circle of safety” much larger by bringing in the Step Van Class full time to the ATA, NTDC, NSVDC, and the general public. Safety still continues to be the daily topic of discussion in the workplace. As a FedEx courier, I see hundreds of people, if not thousands on a daily basis. With the struggling economy I hear a lot about budget cuts with other companies. Unfortunately, I hear them talk about cutting money that pertains to truck and driver safety. If the step vans were included into competition this would increase the public perception in a positive way. On the freeways, there are the tractor trailers, and on the residential streets there are the step vans. For both drivers this proportion is similar, both have hundreds of obstacles to avoid on a different scale and at varying speeds. Step vans are still “real” trucks and require skill to operate. So, let’s make a difference by letting America know how important truck and driver safety is especially when it impacts the streets in front of their homes. Let them know that even the smaller trucks are held accountable to a high standard of safety and professionalism is encouraged to the step van driver as well. Through all of these efforts the circle of safety can be increased. I don’t have the numbers and statistics showing how many miles driven daily and safely by step van drivers. Nor, do I know the number of lives saved by step van drivers daily. I do however know that, as the 2nd Place 2010 National Champion in the Step Van Class, I make an impact to these numbers every day I get behind the wheel. I would love the opportunity to help promote the step van class in any way necessary. I also know that I am not the only one trying to be a safe driver and that by molding and creating a safer driver we can promote success. The TDC and FedEx have helped me become an accomplished and defensive driver. It’s very important to note that the ATA was the one that gave the step van drivers the opportunity to succeed. Truthfully, I personally would like to have a goal to strive for as a truck driver. What the ATA has given me on a personal and professional level is invaluable to my career at FedEx. I enjoy the challenge behind the wheel making 100 stops a day-safely, but I also enjoy the excitement and enthusiasm involved with the TMTA, the ATA, and the NTDC. As a step van driver, I would miss not being able to have the opportunity to demonstrate my skills and professionalism at the “Super Bowl of Safety”. Maybe even one day allow us to vie for the title of National Grand Champion. Thank you for your time and consideration it means a lot to me and many others. Let’s all help one another to help the trucking industry. Sincerely and Respectfully, Aryn Pittaway-2010 Texas Step Van Champion

I would hope and/or encourage everyone to write a letter to all parties involved. To Whom It May Concern, 12/05/2010 Please allow me to have a few minutes of your time. My name is Aryn Pittaway, I am 36 years old, married and have 2 children. I am a 13 year courier for FedEx Express based in Fort Worth, Texas. Just a couple of years ago, I started adding, "Professional and safe driver" to my personal descriptive profile. I did that because there was a point in my life that I realized there was more to my job than just driving around and dropping off boxes and letters. That time period and yearly event is known as the Truck Driving Championships (TDC). It is because of the TDC that I am a safer driver. I have been competing in the Step Van class of the TDC for more than two years. It has always been my understanding that this class of truck was under a 2 year trial period. I am writing this letter today to encourage you to support the Step Van class by keeping it in the National Truck Driving Championships. There are several reasons why I feel so passionate about allowing this truck class to continue competing. Step vans have such a tremendous potential to make America's roads even safer. The more trucks on the road that are being safer means that more lives are being saved. Since step van drivers are usually less experienced as a whole than tractor trailer drivers, this event promotes safety to the truck class needing it the most. The "Super Bowl of Safety", the NTDC and NSVDC, that's where the best of the best go to demonstrate what we do safely day in and day out for America. Through the encouragement and cooperation of both companies and organizations, this opportunity allows us the ability to take safety to the next level-the step van level. The Truck Driving Championships are still fairly new to me. I had heard of them before, like most people, but never fully understood its purpose. Now, its purpose is very clear to me. The American Trucking Associations gives thousands of drivers the opportunity to show America how safe truck drivers can be on the road. Various organizations try and help educate everyday drivers on the rules of the road. Not just the rules of the road, but the way in which we share the road is what helps keep us all safe. These objectives and goals are best reached with the involvement of everyone. Including the Step Van Class can be a major leap toward encouraging driver safety, injury prevention, and ultimately less driving related fatalities. The bigger picture, so to speak, is reached when others see the importance of safety as the big ticket. This is the ticket to their success on a personal level, with their company and a change in that driver’s safety mindset. Safety is contagious because it benefits everyone. In 1990, I earned my Eagle Scout Award in the BSA. Beyond the numerous skills I learned as a young Boy Scout, being safe was always a top priority. I can never recall a time when I was rappelling down a rock cliff that I didn’t want the safety rope. Safety was always a topic of discussion when the adults would give teenagers rifles and shotguns and say, “Be safe!” I don’t have the Boy Scouts any more to remind me to be safe. But, now I have my family, my parents, FedEx, and the ATA telling and encouraging me to be safe. When everyone is safe, it creates a circle of safety. Those whom have been in the trucking industry know this very well. Without the awesome efforts put forth by all ATA companies, safety would not be where it is today. In an effort to do the right thing, we as responsible motorists need to make the “circle of safety” much larger by bringing in the Step Van Class full time to the ATA, NTDC, NSVDC, and the general public. Safety still continues to be the daily topic of discussion in the workplace. As a FedEx courier, I see hundreds of people, if not thousands on a daily basis. With the struggling economy I hear a lot about budget cuts with other companies. Unfortunately, I hear them talk about cutting money that pertains to truck and driver safety. If the step vans were included into competition this would increase the public perception in a positive way. On the freeways, there are the tractor trailers, and on the residential streets there are the step vans. For both drivers this proportion is similar, both have hundreds of obstacles to avoid on a different scale and at varying speeds. Step vans are still “real” trucks and require skill to operate. So, let’s make a difference by letting America know how important truck and driver safety is especially when it impacts the streets in front of their homes. Let them know that even the smaller trucks are held accountable to a high standard of safety and professionalism is encouraged to the step van driver as well. Through all of these efforts the circle of safety can be increased. I don’t have the numbers and statistics showing how many miles driven daily and safely by step van drivers. Nor, do I know the number of lives saved by step van drivers daily. I do however know that, as the 2nd Place 2010 National Champion in the Step Van Class, I make an impact to these numbers every day I get behind the wheel. I would love the opportunity to help promote the step van class in any way necessary. I also know that I am not the only one trying to be a safe driver and that by molding and creating a safer driver we can promote success. The TDC and FedEx have helped me become an accomplished and defensive driver. It’s very important to note that the ATA was the one that gave the step van drivers the opportunity to succeed. Truthfully, I personally would like to have a goal to strive for as a truck driver. What the ATA has given me on a personal and professional level is invaluable to my career at FedEx. I enjoy the challenge behind the wheel making 100 stops a day-safely, but I also enjoy the excitement and enthusiasm involved with the TMTA, the ATA, and the NTDC. As a step van driver, I would miss not being able to have the opportunity to demonstrate my skills and professionalism at the “Super Bowl of Safety”. Maybe even one day allow us to vie for the title of National Grand Champion. Thank you for your time and consideration it means a lot to me and many others. Let’s all help one another to help the trucking industry. Sincerely and Respectfully, Aryn Pittaway-2010 Texas Step Van Champion

It's events like this which promote a friendly dose of competition, incentive for those who compete, and yet creates a win win for all parties involved!! I've never won this event, but at the end of the day, this event represents so much more than "winning" a competition. It's about promoting a mind set that values professional drivers "staying" professional. There is alot of risk in driving, as roadways become "more" crowded and congested, this event provides the opportunity to showcase our best drivers who repesent standards of excellence throughout the nation. The Step Van Class "is" what "all" of America sees coming in and out of our neighborhoods, workplaces, and roadways. This "class" represents the billboard of our company and while "all" the classes are important, it is both the conviction of this 23 year vet courier and privilege to be a part of the Step Van Class. Please keep the Step Van Class "alive" for years to come, it is well worth the investment and it brings "families" who's impact on safety we are making which is what this competition is all about!!

Scott Mugno's comments about the Step Van class being included in the NTDC are great! As a competitor this year in Columbus, I had the chance to meet many of the other champions from around the country. After talking to them I was surprised to find that a lot of other drivers liked the step vans in the competition. It shows that drivers of trucks in the US are not just pulling trailers but also driving through neighborhoods, and doing it safely everyday. I shared this with drivers I work with and any other step van driver that I can slow down long enough to listen to me since I've been back. These are the Uniform, Potato chip delivery people and even my companies competition. They all liked the idea of having a chance to being a part of the "best of the best" and having an opportunity to meet the challenges of getting to compete. Safety is very contagious when you start to bring it to others attention, and I think I have got other drivers more focused on being safe for 12 months so they can have a chance to compete next year. This was an experience I will never forget. I hope the Step Van class stays and does get as diversified competitors as the other classes. In the mean time I'm gonna remain focused and try to have a chance to compete again next year!

Please keep the step van drivers in the NTDC! I attended my first truck driving rodeo 2 years ago because the step van category was added, and I had a Blast! Now, I'm hooked on the NTDC! I am a FedEx corporate trainer. I teach Defensive Driving classes in step vans. Step Van drivers are as serious about safety as any other professional driver. These competitions promote safety, team work, and camaraderie among all the drivers. My knowledge about the trucking industry has been greatly enhanced as a result of my involvement at these rodeos. I have even incorporated some of the NTDC obstacle courses into my classes. The drivers LOVE the challenge and I get them excited about possibly competing in next year's NTDC in Florida. Please don't take away this much anticipated event. It is quickly becoming one of the most exciting events of the year!!! Long Live NTDC and the Step Van Category!!! Thank you!

It's plain and simple! Instill safety in minds of drivers on a personal level and your accident rates will decrease dramatically. Get a driver "hooked" on competing in state and Nationals TDC's and this is what happens to competitors. If I have a close call while driving, the first thing I think of is "I wouldn't be able to compete next year". Is this what a non-competitor thinks of?? Now imagine all Step Van drivers, not just FedEx drivers, with this "safety mentality". This program single handedly would reduce accident rates through out the nation if every company would embrace the ATA's NTDC. The question shouldn't be "Can we keep the Step Van Class?". It should be "How can we get all transportation companies involved?"! Roland Bolduc

Sorry it has taken me a week or so to get on this blog. My name is Aryn Pittaway, I have competed in the Truck Driving Championships for over 2 years now in the Step Van class. I still cannot figure out why the ATA would not want to promote safety to such a large trucking class. Regardless of all the dynamics and logistics of bringing the step vans on board, more truck drivers being safe means more lives saved. Including the step vans into the "Super Bowl of Safety" would be huge!!! The impact that the ATA could have on the futures and careers of thousands of drivers nationwide is huge!!! The chance to be one of the best in your company and compete at the State and National level is huge!!! And then, at Nationals, to have the opportunity to take home a trophy, cash prizes, recognition and respect, and most of all the satisfaction of knowing you are one of the safest drivers on the road is huge!!! There are many of us that have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. There are those of us that have been awakened by a near accident that still scares us. Recalling memories of an accident that we learned from whether at fault or not makes us better drivers. Every situation that we as step van drivers are propelled into daily makes us better drivers. Many of us truly understand the responsibility, skill, determination, desire and effort it takes to get the job done safely. There really isn't any point to being unsafe. A bad day behind the wheel isn't an option in a crowded neighborhood. The risks are far greater than the benefits of driving safely. However with those points in mind, it is just in saying that we all know some unsafe drivers, maybe even some that we work with daily. It is for that reason that we must all come together as a united voice and let the ATA know that we recognize the negative points brought to the table in Scott Mugno's proclamation. "Its not a real truck, they're not real drivers, FedEx dominates the class, and we aren't the same as tractor trailer drivers." I can see their viewpoints, but for the sake of our nation they have an opportunity to make us as step van drivers care more and own up to the challenge of being the safest of the safe. I say for the sake of a nation because, somebody needs to get some totals and do the math...How many step vans are there in the US operating daily? How many miles are step vans driving daily in comparison to larger CMV's? These totals alone ought to be astonishing. If someone was to make the claim that step vans aren't as hard to drive, don't take any experience, and aren't in the same caliber as a 52' tractor trailer, or a fuel tanker, I would have to agree with that. For that reason, the step van class should remain as the others do in its own class. Driver versus driver doing the same skills daily. As it has been in the past the class can be left open, let the others try and compete against us. They might have pre-trip skills and written test skills, but they don't drive a step van daily and know how it handles. I think that at some point however, it would be possible for the step van division to produce higher points scored in competition than the other classes. I believe this is why the Grand National Champion is figured based on a percentage of class distinction. In order for the step van class to remain as highly competitive as the other classes the skills course would need to remain modified, if not totally separate from the others. Maybe it would be possible to incorporate step van and straight truck on the same course since there is no fifth wheel. Step vans do turn on a dime and we have the advantage of seeing closely in our mirrors to make adjustments quickly for a new setup or a rear axle turn. But these are advantages shared by all step vans drivers and this keeps us all on the same playing field. I am sure I will have more to say at some point until the decision is made whether to keep the step van division under the ATA NTDC format. But until that time, I will be driving 100 miles a day doing 100 stops a day and striving for 100% customer satisfaction with a "0" accident and incident record. Even if the ATA doesn't support us on this issue, FedEx can. Especially with the introduction of CSA2010, safety is going to be at the top of every drivers list, or else that driver may not need a list. Be safe and develop the passion that I have, tell yourself daily that there isn't an accident that you can't avoid. By focusing 100% of your attention on driving and avoiding distractions we can all go home safe. By the way, I already miss those of ya'll that I met in Indy and Columbus, let's do it again soon.

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