Bill West

Interview by
Published on
June 13, 2022

In this episode...

Delivering excellence means driving safely - protecting yourself, your cargo, and other motorists on the road. This is especially challenging to someone, like a truck driver, who spends countless hours facing various challenges on the road like bad weather conditions, other motorists, or even battling drowsiness or emergency situations. This is why Bill West’s voice is important in the trucking industry - he has logged over 3 million safe driving miles without a preventable accident while operating a commercial motor vehicle for over 30 years, is experienced in CMV Driver training, a new employee (Driver) onboarding and road testing, orientation, and ELD training, and continues to do highway safety demonstrations. Safe driving for Bill is not just a skill, it is a mindset. Listen to the latest episode of Life By The Mile featuring Bill West, and join the conversation by leaving your thoughts in the comments section.

Bill West

ABF Freight Road Driver


the first key is aim high in your steering what does that mean don't look right down at your front bumper you know look down the road so you can see what is going on you know what hazards may be ahead of you see the big picture you need to be aware of your surroundings everything going on around you also keep your eyes moving as you know as a professional driver we're supposed to check our mirrors every five to eight seconds always keep your eyes moving and welcome to life with a mile delivered by breakworks one of america's fastest growing podcast actually produced by trucks indicted to tell stories compelling drivers i need to do something bigger drivers all here right now

this is life by the mile delivered by freightworks i'm butch malte your host it is just a delight every time we're here to bring somebody else on who is an expert in the field of trucking and logistics and today our guest is bill west and bill uh you're down in the atlanta area aren't you yes sir thank you for having me uh yeah i'm about an hour west of atlanta out in west georgia what bill you know what i i looked at your beta your resume it is so long i'm not going to take all the time it would take can you just tell us what you do and who you do it for

currently i drive for abf freight i'm a road driver for abf and some some folks refer to us as line hall drivers and i've been with abf 22 years um and i right now my regular run is from atlanta to shreveport louisiana 624 miles and i do that as often as i can but it's hard to to run three trips a week the way we we're set up on three trips a week but it's hard to do that uh with hours of service yeah well bill let me let me ask you this question we asked of many of the guests that come on life of the mile delivered by freightworks and real quickly folks i want to make sure you remember subscribe to the youtube channel we're on all the podcast platforms become part of a growing community here at life of the mile delivered by freightworks so bill let me ask this question how did you get into trucking

yeah a lot of folks asked me that and to be honest with you i did not plan on becoming a truck driver i was fresh out of high school and i was working for a moving company just as a helper and uh i was there for about a year but one day the the regular driver did not show up and the company asked me i wasn't driving a tractor trailer then they'd ask me if i would drive it's like a big u-haul truck i said well sure and i got a taste of it then and as the company continued to grow every time they bought a bigger truck they'd ask me to drive it and one day they bought a tractor trailer and i thought surely the goodness they'd hire somebody with some experience to drive a tractor trailer and uh things were a little different back then we didn't have cdl it was a class five license in georgia but i got my learners and that that got me started in trucking uh working at a moving company now do you remember the first time you backed up an 18 wheeler

yeah at the moving company imagine trying to back a back then i think there were 48 or 45 foot moving vans they weren't 53 trying to back in someone's driveway with pine trees all over the place it took forever it was embarrassing but only job training for sure yeah now bill let me ask you this because you are someone who's clearly distinguished in the area of safety and of course every company talks about the importance of safety can you talk a little bit about what it was early on in you that you just took hold of this safety arena in such a dramatic way you've gone what over three million miles with no reportable incidents or something like that so where did all that come from in you well i think it started with back when i first learned how to drive an automobile to be honest with you i mean i know that might sound a little funny but my mother stressed safety and so i i had she instilled that in me at a young age and also uh this is one of those careers if you have a bad day out on the road you might be out of a job so i i took my time and i always approached work with a safety mindset and that's that's one thing i was going to tell the beginners or anybody knew the industry i mean i thought you may ask that later but if you approach this with a safety mindset from day one and when you get in that truck and we have a lot of distractions now it takes our money to take our mind off safety but you have to go back to the basics and i got some things i want to share with you in a little bit but that was it that i just had a safety mindset every single day it's not just a slogan but for me safety is a way of life when it comes to my work and really anything that i do well that and that is so important and you know when you look at it bill over three million safe driving miles no preventable accidents while operating a commercial motor vehicle that that is testimony and credibility in and of itself but you know the other thing that i've realized in doing a little research on your life and background is you also have extensive knowledge and and training of all the fm uh csa safety regulations including hazmat and the like let me ask you this when you talk to new drivers about safety assume for a minute i'm one of them what kind of conversation do you have

well it's good that you mentioned that because uh recently i finished a stint out in colorado as one of the instructors out there for our tmap program which is where we train transitioning army soldiers how to uh drive a tractor trailer and so i had a chance to talk to a lot of entry-level drivers and during that process you know i'm thinking what what piece of advice can i give them other than a safety mindset and i'm gonna tell you the system i use right here and i don't mean to plug anybody no you can plug whatever you want okay the smith system are you familiar with the smith system i'm not so there yeah yeah five keys to the smith system it all has to do with defensive driving the first key is aim high in your steering what does that mean don't look right down at your front bumper you know look down the road so you can see what is going on you know what hazards may be ahead of you see the big picture you need to be aware of your surroundings everything going on around you also keep your eyes moving as you know as a professional driver we're supposed to check our mirrors every five to eight seconds always keep your eyes moving and also leave yourself and out you'll find yourself sometimes in a situation where you're boxed in you may have a truck in front of your vehicle may not be a truck you have too many vehicles around you and you sometimes people do some crazy things out there so you the way i look at it if they're gonna crash i don't wanna be part of that crash so i will back out of the throttle and let them go on until that situation resolves itself um and then the last one here is make sure they see you the other motors for example at our company we run with our headlights on a lot of companies do it's not so i can see during the daylight it's so individuals other motorists can see me if you follow those five keys of the smith system and have a safety mindset every day when you get in here remember this is 80 000 pounds going up and down the highway you can't drive a tractor trailer like you do your little honda civic and if you keep that in mind you'll have a long safe career in the trucking industry that is so helpful so solid and it and it's something that people can use as really a daily kind of reminder of the different benchmarks and and touch points of how to be safe now let me ask you this is there anything unique about the military driver can you talk a little bit about any of the unique vagaries of what they do and how you coach them oh absolutely a lot of the service personnel the army soldiers they were 88 mikes that's their occupation their mos and the military basically they're a truck driver in the military and so that those skills transition over to the truck and industry really well even though if you've seen uh any of these large military vehicles they're they're bigger and heavier than what we drive out here in the saline world but the soldiers are already familiar with a large vehicle they're they're not intimidated by a large vehicle and it was actually easy process to train them and they were very thankful for the opportunity and obviously we had invested interest as a company we're not the only one um but the thing is we need drivers as you know there's a driver shortage in this country and we thought look you're getting out of the army or whatever branch it's available to any branch the military you need a career not just a job a career but the service personnel the army soldiers marines airmen that we dealt with all make excellent employees because they're used to a crazy work schedule you know driving a truck is not monday through friday nine to five and uh they're just very disciplined and there's really easy to train them because they were willing to listen they were eager to learn so it was a very rewarding experience you know some of the military drivers that we have the veterans at freight works uh you know we and we love vets as drivers they also tell us that they're used to following authority having a mission you know achieving a goal doing it in a timely fashion understanding that they've got to overcome obstacles so it seems like a lot is it true that a lot of those things just make themselves ready for somebody that's a professional driver it does it really does they're goal-oriented and like said mission oriented you know they want to know what what is expected of me what what's the end result here that you're looking for and they want to do a good job as well and they're trust me if you've been in the military which i haven't and i want to thank all the military personnel or service members or veterans are listening thank you for their service i never had anybody shooting at me i was never in harm's way like that so they know about safety is what i'm trying to get to they they know safety better than most of us so that's why they they transition over very well with all their experience from the military bill let me ask you this as well uh because i want to take advantage of the fact that safety is really something that's a unique value proposition of your capabilities and the like when you look at the major factors that create safety problems in america today for professional drivers can you lay out for people that aren't part of the industry what those things are in other words what are the forces conspiring to create a lack of safety on the roads well i think we all can see it whether you drive a truck or not everybody is distracted now um we have a lot more distractions in the industry than when i started 30-something years ago the trucks themselves can be distracting but all the electronic devices that we have and so most motorists are not paying attention i shouldn't say not paying attention but they have more distractions i don't that's what i'm trying to say and um that that carries over into the trucking industry so i see that more than anything uh and i just want to make another point here distracted driving is not something new people think oh since the cell phone i have myself on right here that that's when distracted driving started no distracted driving has been around since the vehicle was invented and your own mind can be a distraction if you've got a lot going on at home and you're not focused on the task at hand you know driving that truck down the road safely how many admit that i mean most of us admit how many times are we driving our personal vehicle that we traveled maybe 20 miles on a long trip and we can only remember the last 20 miles because we were thinking of something else um so that to answer your question all the distractions that are out there whether electronic devices or just thing going on our life everybody's so busy now everybody wants to stay up to date with their phones um all that really takes a toll on the industry and uh it's challenging for for new drivers for anyone let's talk for a few minutes about just the different uh generational cohorts in driving younger drivers older drivers do you find differences in the way they approach safety and if so what

yeah i don't want to throw any group under the bus but i think it's just due to lack of experience sometimes the younger drivers whether it enter car or a truck um i don't think they realize the risk and danger they might maybe putting themselves in and other individuals in i see a lot of drivers driving fast to a parking lot you know parking lots you whether you're in your car or a tractor trailer you need to slow down just think about it you don't know when somebody's going to jump out or somebody's walking through there and and i just i see that a lot and you're done by the older individuals know we've been around a while we've experienced things so i probably did some of those things when i was younger too and i just got lucky and was never involved in an accident but as you get some time in the seat and you live a little while you you know we think differently as we get older um and so hopefully the younger generation and the inexperienced drivers will listen to some of this and and and take heed you know you can't once again do not go flying through a parking lot like in a tractor trailer like you would a car you need to stop that all together and get back to the basics everything goes back to safety the smith system all that if you stay focused on safety um you'll be all right but i see it on on both ends there you know every now and then you see an older driver doing that as well so like you have a lot of older drivers that are new to trucking yeah maybe i'm 58 59 years old you may uh they may be the same age as me but they just they they started a new career recently because there's so many opportunities in the trucking industry and they have to be reminded as well let's talk a little bit about companies that take safety very seriously we know that you're part of one of those and again without disparaging any company in particular tell us what you think makes for a safety culture

well obviously it starts with the training and also the hiring that there's two different ways to look at that if you're hiring uh if you're training a driver obviously you gotta get that embedded in the brain early on from day one of the training and you can't be trainee one day trainer the next and thank goodness yeah i started to stay away from anything controversial but this is not really controversial there's entry-level driver training that took place that went in effect uh february 7th or 14th of this year and now you have to have held a cdl for two years before you can become an instructor or trainer i think they use the word trainer and that's a good thing you can't you know i like so i mentioned any companies you can't be trainee like i said training one day and trainer are the next that's that's bad business right there bill i can't tell you the number of drivers uh that i've spoken to that have come to freight works where we take safety very very seriously who told me that they felt like they were in companies where where they came out of a a training program and were thrown in the truck and they had to learn the hard way that that seems scary to me

yeah but this is one of those jobs even we could give you all the training on a closed course so you can ride with me for six weeks eight weeks whatever it is but you have to have your butt in the seat and you will get better uh just excuse extreme caution uh we can't you can't ride you know company can't afford to have a new hire ride with an experienced driver for months on end right it's like a pilot you have to get out there it's like it's like a pilot a pilot has to solo so eventually they have to solo absolutely and and it's scary i i remember when i started i was scared to death i didn't want the radio one just the sound of the radio would unnerve me um but eventually after about a year i think it took me about a year before i really felt comfortable and even at a year you still don't know a whole lot but you get your your skills are getting better your confidence level is increasing and then you don't you build off of that so that's what i did my father was an airline pilot and they used to say they're old pilots and they're bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots and that may be true for the trucking industry as well bill let me let me also ask you this talk a little bit about some of the pla you've gone coast to coast obviously many times right

not necessarily elaborate on that yeah okay well talk a little bit about the places yeah talk a little bit about the places that you've gone and and what you've seen

okay well i was hoping you would ask a question like that the thing is by three however many over three million accident free miles the majority of that was within about a thousand mile radius of atlanta georgia really okay about a six to eight hundred mile radius because i'm more of a regional driver yeah good some drivers may say you're not a real truck driver no i never had to live in the truck and stay in a sleeper i never did any of that but with some of the other organization organizations i'm involved with i was fortunate enough i've driven across the country a few times in the past a few years and that was very rewarding experience to me uh i enjoyed that quite a lot yeah quite a bit so yeah so my perspective is from the ltl regional driver but i have friends they've been driving as long as i have that they do the five days out or whatever and sleep in their truck every night they have issues with truck parking they have issues you know getting a shower all of that and and there's so many different elements or sectors in the trucking industry we all play a role but i'm not saying one is better than the other but some guys may think the ltl industry we've been pampered a little bit because i i drive from point a to point b i get out and i go to a hotel is what i do but still the schedule is very demanding exactly and but i yeah but now i've i've been all over the southeast i can tell you everything about the southeast up to dayton ohio actually chicago down to miami uh and out west as far west as we go the company i'm with streetport louisiana little rock and down the way south of there is over to dallas down uh to um houston uh but it kind of all look looks the same really in this part of the it's that's plenty of miles plenty of metropolitan areas play and you know what as an asset based carrier we have people that are on designated routes and one thing that they tell us bill you can comment on this is that you got to be careful that familiarity doesn't breed indifference like oh i know this like the back of my hand right i mean if you're driving the same route you know every exit you know where everything is it can if you're not careful you can start to assume you'd you could do it with your eyes shut right okay that's right that's uh you let your guard down by the time you get that comfortable let your guard down that's when it can bite you in the butt um it's funny you mentioned that my a brief story kind of ties i'll make it short as possible my son raised more stories when he was little yeah he raced motocross from the time he was five years old all the way through high school and just think about that maybe you rode a dirt bike when you were a kid when you get that feeling i got this bike i can really handle this bike i don't have anything to worry about that's when it'll throw you off and next thing you know you find your butt on the ground that that translates over to driving a truck same thing you can't let your guard down you you can't you have to be on top of your game every day so we cannot have an off day in the trucking industry and you're right the complacency i have that same problem running i20 624 miles like you said i know every exit i know everything out through there uh but you have to be on top of things because they can things you go bad real fast if you're not careful okay bill here's the most important question when you're driving on these routes that you know so well tell us uh a couple of places that you love to pull off and eat at do you ever do that or do you eat in the truck or what do you do no of course we i drive a single axle day cab uh we don't have a passenger seat in in our trucks we don't need one okay yes i've got my older places uh when i leave can you imagine yeah can i mention them oh please

yeah i think it's the second exit when you're headed west uh there's a little uh what is that a bp gas station there and a fuel stop it's a small fuel stop they just building big gloves across the street but this little beef they always have good food in there and so okay i like stopping in there and it's easy to get in easy to get out and then i usually don't stop again it all depends on what time of day it is which direction i'm headed but over in mississippi exit 68 there's a marathon once again it's a it's a small fuel stop but my god they have some of the best food in there and yeah that on this particular run that's my regular like what i didn't hear you

oh like what my favorite is what kind of food they have spaghetti then they have this chicken pasta and that's usually on tuesdays i believe it is uh but it's real spicy that and but they have ribs in there barbecued chicken it's all in a daily type setting right you just walk up to the case and tell them what you want but every every day it's something different but you know it repeats itself the next week yeah i like the spaghetti but the thing is you have to watch it now i think we're leading into something else i hope we're talking about health and wellness yeah absolutely you have to be careful you ask me do i eat in the truck i tell you what only thing i bring with me to eat i bring plenty of water that's all i drink right here water no energy drinks and i bring a can of soup the reason why why do you bring a can a soup well one i can't eat it going down the road because if i brought a cooler full of food and i know a lot of guys do that live in their trucks and or st have to stay in their trucks i don't have the willpower i would be reaching over there getting bored and i would eat that food up before i got to my destination so you have to be careful with that stuff a lot of times ask yourself are you hungry or are you just bored in my case i'm bored probably or or a little bit of both but you have to watch it because we all have healthy issues there's a lot of major issues facing truck drivers when it comes to their health

no question no question you look at the you know the the cdc the mortality rates for drivers you know it it there's serious issues there and of course that also relates to safety doesn't it i mean you got people with uh issues related to diabetes or or other chronic conditions that they've got to manage while they're on their own absolutely as you know blood pressure is a big thing i've got it if we have time i got a few things here you know blood pressure 140 over 90. if you look at me i'm 5 10 190 pounds most people know man he's in pretty good shape for driving a truck all those years uh i don't mind telling you i struggle with blood pressure i sure do um the doctor told me my doctor told me that bill you wouldn't need blood pressure medication if you would just exercise a little bit okay i drive all these miles every week but i need to make time to exercise well you have to we have time to you know surf the internet on our phone or whatever but if you exercise just 15 minutes a day it will help bring all those numbers down you have to get active you know we have to take a 30 minute break anyway that's the regulation within the first eight hours of coming on duty well right a lot of guys well i don't want to get out and walk i want to take a break i get that you required to take a 30 minute in my company we can take an hour break we're entitled to one hour um so 30 minutes to rest whatever 30 minutes to walk or 15 to 20 minutes make sure you walk but you know we have uh stress all of us have stress there's stress built in to everything that we do so we have those issues obesity you know like we're talking about weight gain um all those things bring you certain if you get overweight you got blood pressure you got cholesterol then they bring their friends uh diabetes and all this stuff starts coming along sleep apnea um but once we're talking about physical inactivity if you just exercise a little bit it will help cut down on those things but here's the one most people overlook i think it's getting the proper rest the proper rest we have time to get the proper rest but exactly the industry says we need you know the average uh person needs seven to nine hours of sleep a night and that's hard to get you know but when i look at let's get quality over quantity if i can get six to seven hours i'm good but that we shouldn't

you know bill one of the things i've enjoyed about this conversation and we're we're rounding the home stretch here in just a couple of minutes is i love the fact that you're an experienced driver you're sharing your wisdom kind of things you've learned from the road you know it's obvious to me that you you still care about your profession and you're a professional uh at it if if you could just for a minute or two talk about your company you know freightworks is very collegial we love partnerships we love being in this industry so we we're not at all remiss and telling people to give a quick commercial about your company

we're 99 years old this year 99 not many trucking companies can say that not especially union companies that's where union company if you remember with deregulation back in the 80s a lot of union carriers went out of business but abf rate headquartered out of uh fort smith arkansas we're still flying the same flag that we were back in the day um ltl company growing like crazy we need drivers but what i like about them yeah is if i have an issue any type of issue at all we don't have to go the union route and file a grievance and do all that they have abf has an open door policy and i go to my manager and if i can't get the answer if he can't get the answer we go up the chain and our company president gives out his phone number all the time seth runs her and you can call directly and talk to him and we have many channels of communication within the company um but i will tell you this yeah i mentioned my son earlier they said you asked me what i think about my company uh my son went into the military here's the military connection out of high school he went into marine corps for five years um when he got out he was transitioning out he was looking for a job and i knew a little bit about that t-map program back then it just started and i got some bad information they said well that's only available for the army well i know that's not true now it was so new we didn't realize somebody didn't realize but abf said because we support our veterans abf said uh have your son give us a call and so my son gave him a call uh talk to someone next thing i know he went into a management trainee program and now he's operations manager in atlanta georgia one of our biggest distribution centers we have in the whole country and he's 29 years old so i say that to tell you this if i didn't think a lot of abf i surely goodness would have brought my one and only son to this company

well you know what that is that's a wonderful endorsement of the company and folks here at freight works uh we we're committed to delivering excellence being on time safe innovation excellence and integrity guide what we do and bill it's been a joy to have you as a guest today and you probably didn't know this but you get a little gift we're going to send you for being on life of the mile delivered by prateworks i'm going to seem like i'm on a home shopping channel here and i'm going to tell you what your gift is for today and you tell me what you want the first opportunity is this life by the mile hat this one over great at mats by the way it's got um that red white and blue on the back it's got the leather patch that says life of the mile that's option number one option number two is a genuine met a yeti mug it's got the life by the mile logo there it's got the freightworks one logo right here that's a yeti and option number three is a freightworks one cap so you tell us which one you want

that's okay

great you know what that puts you in put you in great company so folks we're going to send this along to our new friend bill west and we have just enjoyed this conversation today again this is life of the mile delivered by freightworks please subscribe like share and comment it's how we grow this community and uh you can find great episodes and shorts on the youtube channel so make sure that you go there thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to the channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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