THE STAGE lights may have faded, but Robert Weller is still very much in the spotlight. That is especially true when he is around other tank truck drivers.

As the 2014/2015 National Tank Truck Carriers’ William A Usher Sr Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year, Weller says he welcomes the attention from his peers. It has given him a greater opportunity to be a mentor and to promote safety in the tank truck industry.

“When I returned from the award ceremony, I got a great reception from drivers at my own company, as well as those I meet at the loading racks,” says Weller, a petroleum transport driver for Hahn Transportation Inc in  New Market, Maryland. “This award was a great honor, and people have been so kind. This shows what can happen when a driver does what he’s supposed to, follows the rules, and operates safely on the highway.

“I really see this as an opportunity to be a better mentor to other drivers and promote tank truck safety. If I can help seasoned or less experienced drivers do their jobs better, I’m glad to do that. I recently met a driver at the loading rack, who needed some help on the equipment, and we talked through it.

“On the safety side, safety must come first in this business. It must be a constant all day, all through the shift. A truck driver has to believe in it, and he must believe in the importance of protecting himself.”

Great record

Weller brings more than 40 years of petroleum transport driver experience at Hahn Transportation to his mentoring effort. During that time he accumulated nearly four million accident-free miles of driving. He was a finalist for the Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year Award in 2014, the inaugural year for the program.

Weller has received numerous company and industry driving and safety awards including Maryland Motor Truck Association Driver of the Year (2012), and he was an American Trucking Associations Road Team Captain. He has served as a new driver trainer and safety review board member at Hahn Transportation, trainer with the Maryland State Police hazmat division, and has worked extensively with the local volunteer fire department.

“Bob Weller brings a distinctive resume to the NTTC Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year Award,” says Dean Kaplan, NTTC executive committee chairman and chief executive officer of K-Limited Carrier Ltd. “He says he never set out to do any of this. He just wanted to be the consummate professional, represent his company and his industry, and take care of his family. This is a driver who personifies our collective efforts to advance safety and success throughout the entire tank truck community.”

Weller says he learned his respect and enthusiasm for the industry from many other people. Most importantly, they taught him that a driver’s actions on the highway speak louder than words.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentors in my life,” he says. “One of those was Robert Windsor—who with his wife, Rebecca Hahn Windsor—ran Hahn Transportation. One night during a safety meeting he told all of us that our actions spoke volumes. He said we not only represented Hahn Transportation; we represented the entire tank truck industry every time we went out on the highway.

“I’ve spent 41 years working with his daughter, Barbara, another great mentor. As president of the company today, she has been an excellent boss. She goes all out for safety. I owe her a lot for putting me up for the NTTC Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year Award and other honors like the Maryland state road team and the Americas Road Team. She got me involved in a number of projects with NTTC, including the wetlines issue. She has pushed me to do better in my career.”

Dairy farm

Weller adds that he grew up on a dairy farm that was just down the road from the Hahn family dairy farm near New Market. He started driving trucks at an early age. “We had a tank truck on our farm, and two of my uncles drove tank trucks,” he says. “It is something that just kind of gets into your blood.”

From the very start, he made safety his number one goal. “To me, that means being able to drive around others without bringing harm to them or myself,” he says. “I really gained a greater respect for highway safety during the 46 years I’ve been in the fire service in Frederick County (Maryland). I’ve seen a lot of accidents on the highway that could have been avoided if drivers simply practiced good safety habits.”

He adds that he has seen steady improvement in tank truck safety over his decades of driving. “This is one of the safest modes of transportation today,” he says. “When I started, we were still doing top loading of petroleum products. Now we bottom load fuels, and that keeps drivers off the tops of the tanks. Today’s overfill and bottom loading sensors are much more accurate. Petroleum terminals are very automated today. All of this has improved safety in this industry.”

Tank trucks truly are a vital part of the US economy, according to Weller. “We haul everything from petroleum and chemicals to foodgrade and dry bulk,” he says. “This industry has created thousands of jobs across the country.”

Driver tips

So what would Weller tell a truck driver considering the tank truck industry? He says the top three things are: Have a good attitude, put safety first, and have a willingness to do the job.

“If you are just doing the job for a paycheck, you shouldn’t even get in a tank truck,” Weller says. “You must have a passion for this business.”

Safety must be at the forefront every day for a truck driver. He must stay focused at all times on doing the job in the safest possible manner. To be successful in his job, a driver must be supported by his family and his company’s management team in dispatch and operations. The general public also needs a better understanding of the tank truck industry.

Weller says distracted driving is a very serious issue that needs more attention. “A driver needs to carry a cell phone today, but he needs to take responsibility and turn it off when he is driving,” he says. “Drivers need to concentrate on the traffic around them and stay focused.”

Driver wellness

Weller also addresses driving wellness issues, saying that the industry needs to do a better job of educating drivers on the importance of eating right and getting proper rest. “I would like to see every trucking company with a fitness room at the terminal,” he says. “Drivers would use them if they were there. I know of only one in Maryland.”

Developing the next generation of tank truck drivers is another concern. “We need vocational-technical schools with tank truck driving programs,” he says. “We need to reach out to more youth with career days. We need to get to young people earlier. We need to understand that college isn’t for everybody. We need to offer more options like truck driving.”

After all—as Weller has shown—driving a tank transport can be a very rewarding career, even an award-winning career.    ♦