Long years of driving expertise lead to ATA Road Team honor
Jun 1, 2009 12:00 PM
Ronald Hawkins Jr, now 50, wanted to be a tank truck driver for as long as he can remember — a goal that eventually led him to a long career in back of the wheel, culminating in the past 12 years at K-Limited Ltd in Toledo, Ohio.
With such a strong penchant for truck driving, it's no surprise that Hawkins was named this year to the prestigious American Trucking Associations (ATA) America's Road Team. He was a featured speaker at the National Tank Truck Carriers Safety Council meeting April 1-2 in Savannah, Georgia, and was honored with a standing ovation from the group at its annual banquet.
“My father drove a truck for 36 years and never had a violation,” says Hawkins. “He was my role model.”
As a child, Hawkins rode with his father as often as he could, as as soon as he was old enough, he began driving.
However, things didn't get off to a smooth start because the fledgling driver managed to collide with a police car on his way home from the license office. His dad knew exactly what to do. He insisted his son go to driving school. “Taking those classes was probably the single most important thing I ever did,” Hawkins recalls.
Today, Hawkins holds a record of having driven over two million miles without a violation, but despite all his plans, the truck driving career didn't begin at once. He spent three years in the Army driving a fuel truck in Germany and then returned home to work at a gas station. The same year his son was born, he lost his job and was unemployed for a year.
After seeking advice from his dad, who was then a petroleum hauler, he decided to join the same company. It was there he met Kim Kaplan, who with her husband Dean, would eventually become the owners of K-Limited. By 1997, K-Limited was in operation and Hawkins was at the wheel of one of their trucks to eventually become one of their veteran drivers.
“You can be a safe driver if you have the right attitude and are dedicated,” he said. “I also got a lot of help from other drivers when I was just starting. Being a driver trainer at K-Limited also is a plus. I have to help other drivers to be safe and that reinforces my training.
“We have terrible distractions on the road. When I first started driving, we didn't have cell phones or computers in the cab. There are challenges every single day. We have to watch out for product surge — and deal with heavy traffic where you really have to pay attention. You have to always be thinking to be prepared for anything that might happen.”
He pointed out that drivers must never forget they are handling an 80,000-pound vehicle that takes 100 yards to stop if traveling at 55 miles per hour. “You have to respect the vehicle you are driving,” he said.
Hawkins' driving expertise also gained him the honor of being named the 2007 Ohio Trucking Association Driver of the Year. His combined 23 years of driving with over 1.7 million-miles of accident-free miles garnered him the title.
The Ohio Driver of the Year is selected by a panel of judges who represent personnel from safety regulatory agencies, such as the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, and Columbus office of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Drivers are judged on a composite of experience, such as years in the industry, miles driven safely, attitude, any incidences of bravery/heroism/courtesy, and activities outside of driving (including any leadership capacities).
In addition to the state award, Hawkins was named K-Limited's Driver of the Year in 2006 and is a certified driver trainer who has trained more than 100 company drivers since coming to work for the company. In addition to his driving duties, Hawkins is a volunteer for the Komen Race for the Cure Foundation and an active member of Epiphany Lutheran Church.
To win the ATA Road Team membership, Hawkins was among 1,000 drivers who were nominated. He now is one of 18 drivers with million-mile, accident-free records that holds the title this year. The current Road Team will spend the next two years representing the trucking industry and delivering its highway safety message to the motoring public.
Hawkins also has a message for trucking companies to improve their recruitment and retention efforts. He agreed that encouraging young people to choose truck driving as a career is difficult. “A lot of it is that they don't want to be over the road,” he says. “Drivers need company support. They need to be proud of their work. Listen to them and give them a lot of support.”
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