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Remarks at The 2nd Annual "Salute to Women Behind the Wheel" Mid-America Trucking Show, Louisville, KY
Deborah A. P. Hersman
Mid-America Trucking Show, 2nd Annual "Salute to Women Behind the Wheel", Louisville, KY

Thank you, Ellen [Voie], for what you do for women professional drivers. You are truly the visionary leader behind WIT's [Women In Trucking's] wheel. More importantly, for what you are here to celebrate today … and that is your commitment to safety and recognizing the Million Mile Award Winners. As professional drivers, you contribute to our economy and to our quality of life, but more than that, you care about what you do. You make the roads safer for all of us. And, for that, I thank you.

There's another reason I came to Louisville … and it's more personal. Some of the women in this room, especially those who are celebrating three million and four million miles of safety, have been behind the wheel for a long time. You were driving when it was really, really rare to spot another woman driver. You overcame obstacles. You did your job. You did it well. But it's still pretty rare to see a woman driver. Women make up fifty percent of the population but only five percent of drivers. So, everyone here is a pioneer, and you continue to pave the way for generations of women to come.

If you want to see more women on the road, in the truck stops, and making decisions at trucking companies, we need to bring more women into this industry.

When I rode with one of the five drivers, Angela, she told me about a great female trainer that she had when she started in the trucking business. This trainer taught her not just how to drive a truck but how to live out on the road. How to be smart, how to take care of yourself, and how to survive on the road. So pay it forward, and each one teach one. I'd like to see more women in the million mile clubs when I come back.

I work for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). We investigate accidents. We find out what happened and make recommendations so that they won't happen again. Let me tell you about some of the great women who work with me at the NTSB, who are in the audience and focus on highway safety.

Deb Bruce is currently working on an effort to improve the design of interstate median barriers. Jana Price has been working on fatigue issues since she was in college when she spent her time at rest areas and truck stops to understand crowding and how the time of day affects a driver's ability to rest. She continues to advocate for improvements to help drivers get a good night's sleep and avoid drowsy driving. Jennifer Russert is our grease monkey; she is vehicle specialist. She has worked on reducing rollovers and loss of control accidents by encouraging more widespread use of stability control systems on commercial vehicles.

It is hard to know from a federal office building in Washington, DC what it is like for you in a commercial vehicle. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to spend time with WIT, here in Louisville and on the road. As was mentioned, I have a CDL, but I think my biggest contribution to safety is not to drive a commercial vehicle. I leave that up to the professional drivers.

I know it's all in a day's journey for you. I also recognize that two days on the road doesn't a trucker make. My trip was just a small glimpse into your world and I don't understand everything about your lives. But I definitely have a lot more respect for the hard working professional truck driver.

Let me tell you about the 632 miles I traveled, with five different drivers, through four states, and what I learned, which is a lot. I had five remarkable teachers. All five drivers were different but they had three things in common: they want to get their load there safely and on time; they want to earn a good living; and they love their XM.

My first driver was Stephanie Klang. Stephanie has been driving for over 30 years; she's been with Con-way since 1987. Stephanie is a complete professional -- totally unflappable. We left Washington, DC at 5:00 PM Wednesday in rush-hour, navigating through city traffic with all of the commuters. She was patient and courteous and, after driving four hours, we ended our journey in terrible visibility, fog, snow, slush and darkness.

Stephanie said she welcomed the EOBRs [electronic on-board recorders]. When we talked about the challenges of complying with hours of service, she said the rules are there to protect you. Even when they're not in your favor, you have to respect them. And yes, she said, I have stopped 50 miles from home. When I asked her what her favorite part of the country was, she said 'home.'

Jill Garcia was my second driver. Jill, who has been with Schneider National for 15 years, is a trainer and had a student driver with her, David. I thought I was riding in an airplane, not a truck – we were on the top of the mountain, driving in the clouds, in poor weather conditions. She told me that the fog that we rode in that night was the 2nd worst fog that she'd been in during 15 years on the road. We arrived in Morgantown, WV at 1:00 AM. Jill and I talked about Schneider's sleep apnea program, which is one of the best in the industry. Jill was diagnosed with sleep apnea ten years ago and, before the diagnosis, she slept ten to twelve hours a night and took a two hour nap. Now, she sleeps six to eight hours; she has gotten six hours back in her day. Her quality of life has so improved that with those extra hours in her day, she said she needs a hobby. As some of you probably know, Jill's a regular guest on a number of radio shows and has 2,000 followers on Twitter.

Thank you, Jill, for helping me put a face on the sometimes anonymous truck driver. Tomorrow is Jill's 50th birthday, and her parents, Jim and Alice Pederson, and her sister, Lesley, are here to celebrate with her. Her mom Alice was a school bus driver for 35 years.

The next morning, at 7:00 AM, I met my third driver, Clarence Jenkins. Wait, I was on my way to WIT, who was this guy? But … Clarence is an excellent and highly experienced professional driver for UPS Freight. And, he has accumulated nearly four million accident-free miles.

Clarence works with the WV Trucking Association, going into driver's education classes to help teenagers gain an appreciation for sharing the road with truckers. Clarence was a gem and a real gentleman, but he was a gentle reminder that yours is a male-dominated industry.

Next, I got on board with Angela Jordan, who drives for US Xpress. Angela has had her CDL [commercial driver's license] since she was 18 years old. She has driven school buses, passenger bus, trucks, and she was one of the youngest 1 million milers. Now, Angela is the straight talk express - she had an EOBR and really wasn't a fan of the big brother that trucking is becoming. She doesn't want to have people telling her what to do … when to stop, where to rest, etc. She told me that the driving is easy; the learning to live out here is hard.

One thing that I heard from all of the drivers is that it's hard to find safe and secure parking areas … you know the areas you want to avoid. This trip definitely sensitized me to that issue, and I will carry the message of improved parking facilities back to Washington.

My last driver was Mary Jo Carty, who drives for Wal-Mart, and who has 2.74 million safe driving miles. Anyone who knows Jo knows that she is a huge Kentucky wildcat fan, and today is an important day for big blue fans. GO CATS!

Jo must be the best aunt! She took her nieces for a three week ride in the summertime, and she made sure that they learned their states and capitals.

Jo and all the ladies here, you deserve the accolades you are getting today, but you also deserve to be recognized for your work by the public every other day! I know I feel safer driving on the road next to big rigs – when I know that professionals like you are behind the wheel. I challenge each of you, over the next year, to take another girl or another woman out on the road with you, on a road trip. Whether it's your niece or daughter or neighbor or a new trainee. maybe they'll find their career behind the wheel too.

Thank you, Ellen and WIT ... and Stephanie ... and Jill ... and Clarence ... and Angela ... and Jo ... for making it possible. For getting me here safe and sound. And, for teaching me so much.

You see tough things out there on the road. You've seen some terrible accidents and some sad situations. Some of you have been threatened. And over the years you've surprised a lot of people. Some of the receivers might have even told you to have your husband back the truck up.

To all you barrier breakers ... let me close my remarks by recalling Rosie the Riveter. Remember Rosie? She was the symbol of the thousands of American women who took on male-dominated trades to help the war effort during World War Two. I'm sure you have seen the poster, the t-shirt, or the coffee mug with Rosie flexing her arm under the slogan, "We Can Do It."

Women in this industry tend to stand in the background. Maybe that's one way to survive in this industry. Stay in the background, not be noticed. Now is the time to be like Rosie. Get noticed. Flex your muscle. Well, ladies in safety red - to all women who hold a CDL and drive safely - after my trip this week, all there is to say is: "Yes, you can."