Tips from the pros
With more than 83 years of safe driving under their belts, these women have a unique perspective on avoiding at-risk behaviors and what the everyday nonprofessional drivers can do to protect themselves and others on the roadways. Their tips align with the Arizona Trucking Association’s top ten tips for sharing the road with trucks.
Sylvia Ochoa, Sherry Curry and Renee Garcia, each with more than a quarter of a century on the road, wear their Circle of Honor patch with pride. The patch, awarded to employees who have delivered packages for more than 25 years without an accident, signals they belong to an elite group of professional drivers at UPS. Here are their thoughts on this achievement and the challenges of being a woman in a predominantly male profession, along with a few of their favorite tips for novice drivers.
“Don’t hang out next to a semi-truck on the freeway,” says Sylvia. “I see it every day; and it’s the most dangerous place to be.”
She says even with all the sensors on the new trucks, drivers who hang out next to or directly behind a semi on the freeway, put themselves at risk. A gust of wind, a tire blowout or a quick lane change can put that driver in danger.
“If you’re going to pass, do so quickly, always using your signals, and making sure you can see the driver in your mirror and they can see you.” She explains, “You have to be able to see the entire front of the truck you’re passing in your rear view mirror before you complete the lane change.”
On her first day, she was challenged as to her ability to do the job, and 37-years later, she’s silenced her naysayers. “Don’t let anyone discourage you,” says Sylvia. “Push through and stay positive.”
She chuckles as she recollects her experience being one of only two female drivers at the time. “The men always have more bathrooms than us,” says Sylvia. “I could never get them to separate my uniforms, so they always ended up in the men’s locker room.”
She says never be complacent. Always keep your eyes moving looking for other drivers. “You’re the captain of your own ship. It’s up to you. Make sure you come home safe every day.”
In Arizona, minimum speed limits aren’t posted on the freeway. Sylvia says if you can’t move at the pace of traffic and must drive well below the speed limit in normal weather and traffic conditions―put on your hazard lights. “It’s about making sure they see you, and understand how fast you’re driving.”
Her final tip―Adjust to weather conditions. “If you see ice building up on your mirrors, it’s building up on the road.”
“Don’t assume, always communicate with lights, signals and eye contact to make sure other people know what you’re doing,” says Sherry.
Driving in a metro area for more than 8-hours-a-day for 30 plus years, she says, “It’s so frustrating when people don’t use their signals.”
Sherry explains that when other drivers make quick erratic moves without signaling they’re putting others at risk. “Be patient,” says Sherry. “It’s a bad deal when you let another person’s bad day, or inconsiderate actions make you angry.”
As a woman truck driver, Sherry says her biggest challenge is maneuvering the heavy and oversized packages. “Use your tools,” says Sherry. “I learned how to maneuver the packages and use my handcart, instead of lifting them all the time.”
Her final tip―Conditions change. “Always check the perimeter of your truck before leaving after a stop.”
She once found two young children on her back bumper after pulling over to sort packages. “Luckily, I checked,” says Sherry. “I was heading out onto a very busy road from that stop.”
“On the freeway, always pass on the left and avoid blind spots,” says Renee. “The right side is a merging lane. Other cars may try to merge while you’re attempting to pass and avoid merging in front of a semi-truck.”
She says she goes out with the attitude that others on the road are distracted. “It’s defensive driving every day. Drivers constantly cut you off.”
She says there have been a couple times when other drivers cut in front of her so close she thought they would clip her front bumper. “The average person doesn’t comprehend how long it takes us to stop.”
“Give semi-trucks a space cushion,” says Renee. “If a driver is trying to make a turn, the tail swing can be up to 6-feet. Not a good time to race to squeeze in.”
She says high beams at night are another issue. “Sometimes people flash their high beams because they want to get by, but when they do that it blinds us. Because of the glare in the mirrors, we can’t keep an eye on our surroundings.”
At 5-feet, 1-inch tall, some might think she’s not up to the job of driving a big rig. Early in her career, she came up against fellow male drivers who would try to discourage her―telling her this job is not for females. “Put your mind to it, you can do it,” says Renee.
A safety co-chair for UPS, Renee wanted to help other women. “I want others to feel comfortable that might have been intimidated by the job.”
She says keep a routine and follow your safety protocols.
Her final tip―Stay calm. When she was a new semi-truck driver, she found herself in a haboob. She was driving north of Blythe by Chiriaco. “When they tell you to pull off into a safe area, they’re not kidding. It comes so fast and there is no visibility.”
She says the hardest thing was staying calm. “You have to think quickly, pull far enough off of the road and turn off your lights. It goes against human nature not to keep going and try to drive yourself out of the storm. It’s too dangerous. If people see your taillights, they’ll try to follow and won’t be able to tell how fast you’re driving.”
She says from the time she saw the dust wall in her rear view mirror, it engulfed her truck within five minutes. “I was pulling a long box that was empty.” If I wouldn’t have pulled off the road, the wind could have easily flipped the truck. “You have to be calm, so that you can keep a clear and level head to make safe choices.”
“I do my job safely not only for myself, but for everyone else around me,” says Renee. “If I react quickly to someone coming in my lane, for instance, without clearing the lane next to me, I could hurt an innocent person. Always expect the unexpected, stay calm and follow your safety methods.”
UPS is proud of the women above who are among the 10,779 total members of the Circle of Honor. They bring a unique perspective from behind the wheel.