The Trucking Industry’s Commitment to Driver Safety: Interview with Harold Sumerford, Jr.
As part of our burgeoning partnership with the trucking industry, Mike recently spoke at J & M Tank Lines, Inc. 2022 Managers Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. J & M Tank Lines. is a family-owned business specializing in dry-bulk transportation. After the talk, J & M decided on a program to distribute the co-branded lanyards and keys to all their employees during Distracted Driving Awareness month in April. Their dedication to service and driver safety aligns with our 43 Key Seconds initiative.
The CEO of J & M Tank Lines and Chairman of the American Trucking Associations, Harold Sumerford, Jr., graciously accepted an interview with us. He discussed the trucking industry’s current safe driving initiatives and his thoughts on the foundation’s mission.
You started your career with J & M Tank Lines in 1976 and became CEO in 2002. Since then, J & M has grown to become a leader in the bulk transportation industry. Can you tell us more about J & M and how you achieved this growth?
Our motto is to treat people like you want to be treated. We bring on talented people and empower them to do their job – to the best of their ability. Along with this, safety continues to be the cornerstone of our organization. Recently, we were ranked 3rd in the National Tank Truck Carrier’s (NTTC) North American Safety Contest in our peer group. This contest is open to any NTTC member and reviews a company’s overall safety record each year, including FMCSA, DOT, and other transportation-related safety scoring programs. Carriers are grouped with their peers based on the number of overall miles covered by the carrier within the last year. So, our growth has definitely been achieved by our people and our commitment to safety.
J & M Tank Lines’ core values are Integrity, Respect, Safety, Empowerment, and Teamwork. How did J & M arrive at these values, and what do they mean to you?
Our core values are based on the Ritz Carlton Gold Standard which is focused on nurturing and maximizing talent to the benefit of each individual and the company. We bring in quality people and continue to have a high employee retention rate by focusing on these core values. We have one driver who has been with us for 40 years and just celebrated a massive career milestone, four million safe miles driven. For us, it always comes back to striving for excellence in safety.
You have recently been named Chairman of the American Trucking Associations. With “safety” being one of J & M’s core values, what steps is the ATA taking to improve highway safety? How do you think it has evolved since the pandemic?
Since the pandemic, the roadways have been neglected. And due to the labor shortage, it is important that we focus on building safer roadways and ensuring new drivers are getting the experience they need to drive safely on the roads.
We are working with the Department of Transportation on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to repair and build safer roadways for all drivers because we all use roads and bridges, not just the transportation industry. For instance, potholes can be very dangerous at high speeds. We are also working with Congress on passing the DRIVE-Safe Act. This addresses the labor shortage problem by promoting opportunity and enhanced safety training for this growing workforce. The DRIVE-Safe Act creates a two-step apprenticeship program to ensure drivers are safe and prepared. Drivers must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and another 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver.
Also, driver assistance technology is continuing to evolve. Standard semi-truck safety features include:
- Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Mitigation,
- Side Object Detection,
- Lane Departure Warning,
- Lane Keep Assist, and
- Torque Assisted Steering.
We have additional technology and safety features that we include with all of our trucks such as the Bendix Wingman System and Netrodyne two-way camera that serves as a coaching system for professional drivers, alerting them to any potential errors in safety protocols. This includes recognition of any distracted driving, with audio alerts or seatbelts.
Recently, J & M Tank Lines invited Mike Lutzenkirchen with the Lutzie 43 Foundation to be a guest speaker at the annual Managers Meeting and purchased co-branded keys for their employees. J & M’s core values align perfectly with Philip’s legacy and the 43 Key Seconds mission to end impaired and distracted driving. What are your thoughts on the mission and how the foundation can best partner with J & M and the trucking industry on driving safety?
To me, it is very important to partner with an organization focused on driver safety that is not only credible but willing to work with others toward a common goal – safer roads. I find Mike and the Lutzie 43 Foundation to be both.
Mike spoke at our annual manager meeting, it was received well and made a lasting impression. I recommend the foundation connect with state trucking associations across the US to schedule speaking engagements at their own annual meetings. Mike’s talks and the 43 Key Seconds mission will have even more of an impact the further [the foundation’s] reach becomes.
The 43 Key Seconds key holds you accountable behind the wheel of a vehicle. What are your thoughts on having a symbol to remind your employees to practice safe driving? What kind of impact do you think it will have?
Having a symbol to remind drivers to practice safe driving is invaluable. I think the keys and the vehicle decals are a great start. It is also important to make sure the drivers do not become desensitized to them.