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Wellness ambassador encourages truck drivers to remain ‘Fit to Pass’

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Wellness ambassador encourages truck drivers to remain ‘fit to pass’
Bob Perry says that a few simple lifestyle changes can make the difference between passing a DOT health exam or risk losing a CDL. (Courtesy: Bob Perry)

Bob Perry didn’t think he had a choice. Born in northeast Ohio, trucking was in Bob’s blood. Between his father and two brothers, the Perry family has 60 years of driving experience—or 61 if you include Bob’s one year behind the wheel.

In 1972, family tradition called for Bob to climb in the cab of his first (and only) truck. He did as was expected. For about a year he drove… and thought… and thought… and drove some more. All that thinking allowed Bob to reach a swift conclusion.

“Trucking just wasn’t for me,” he said. And so ended Bob Perry’s career on the highways. But fate had the final word. He might have been finished driving a truck, but he was far from finished with the trucking industry.

“I soon became involved in health and wellness,” he said. By 1975, Bob had worked in the healthcare industry and for several years after managed and owned fitness centers. But being so close to the trucking culture, he knew drivers as people, not just anonymous faces he passed on the interstate, and he understood the truckers’ lifestyle.

“I realized my experience in the personal health arena could be applied to improving truckers’ lives,” Bob said. “Drivers don’t have opportunities to train, join a fitness center, or even shop at health food stores.”

Shifting gears

About 20 years ago, Bob combined his knowledge of personal health and trucking to provide information to medical clinics with substantial numbers of truck driving patients. But it was a brief encounter in 2008 that set Bob’s wheels turning. The connection between driver health and the trucking industry’s needs became clear.

Bob stood outside a Georgia truck stop chatting with a couple of drivers. The subject turned to lifestyles on the road. The drivers weren’t particularly satisfied with their health status, so Bob provided a few tips they could put to immediate use. They followed Bob’s lead and later told him those tips led to notable health improvements.

“A couple of drivers for Covenant Transport out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, caught wind of the advice I offered and asked if I could help them as well,” Bob said. “They convinced Covenant to let me work with a couple of other drivers. Before long I was working with all Covenant drivers.

Bob built on his strong start and grew his list of clients. Sherwin-Williams, Greyhound Bus Lines, and Hogan Transportation soon signed on.

“The growth really validated what I was doing,” Bob said. His understanding of truck drivers and their families also helped him realize the payoff of his efforts.

“Drivers’ families depend on them,” he said. “When parents can’t pass a DOT exam, and the family loses a source of income, it impacts both adults and kids.”  He noted that truck driving is a unique occupation and lifestyle. When a driver can no longer work, adjustment is difficult.

“Not just any job is going to provide satisfaction to someone who has been on the road for years,” Bob said. Even without fear of job loss, the lonely life of driving takes its toll in the form of depression and other mental health issues, conditions Bob is incorporating into his programs.

In 2009, Bob founded “Rolling Strong,” an initiative encouraging drivers to become health-conscious. Rolling Strong worked with travel centers to install self-administered “StayHealthy” stations where drivers could check weight, BMI, blood pressure, and vision. As the stations became widely available, Rolling Strong developed the first truck driver-focused wellness app for the iPhone. By 2012, Freightliner took note of Bob’s work and asked him to join them in developing the first in-cab gym, “The Fit System.” He soon became in great demand as an advocate for trucker wellness.

One thing Bob has learned when presenting health information to a group is to keep the message simple and speak in terms that hit home with his audience.

Rather than a narrative about the importance of wellness, for instance, Bob may tell a group to take a “peek under their personal hoods,” suggesting drivers should “check their personal oil and gauges” just like they do those in their trucks. Or, he may compare drivers’ awareness of truck maintenance needs to that of their health. “If a light is out on a truck,” Bob said, “the driver will see that it is fixed quickly. On the other hand, if a health-related warning light is going off, chances are they’ll ignore it.”

“My job is to help drivers make the best choices while on the road so they can get home safely each and every trip,” Bob said.

The 90-day window

Bob’s company, Health in Transportation, has launched a new initiative, “Fit to Pass.” The program’s goal is to provide drivers information to remain healthy year-round. If they do remain healthy, when it comes time to renew their CDLs and pass DOT medical exams, they won’t have to worry—something creating more stress and adding to health problems. “Fit to Pass” was largely inspired by a former Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) driver of the year who visited with Bob, noting his poor health had resulted in his being issued a 90-day card.

“Here is a national driver of the year—he’s been driving for 47 years with over 5 million accident-free miles—and he’s stuck with a 90-day card,” Bob said. “The industry can’t afford to lose drivers with his level of experience and skill, especially with the problems carriers have in recruiting and retaining new drivers.”

Bob coached the driver to make some simple changes in his lifestyle over the 90 days he had before his renewal would be reconsidered. The result? A loss of 35 pounds and a new one-year card.

“Fit to Pass” capitalizes on the driver of the year story, and while the program doesn’t encourage drivers to wait until crunch time to get healthy, it is designed to put on a “full press” as exam dates approach. To increase his program’s effectiveness, Bob has teamed up with Espyr, a nationwide company conducting Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for many organizations.

“Espyr has the large call center, professional coaches and counselors and ability to touch base with drivers throughout the year,” Bob said. “Drivers can call any time they need advice or assistance.” Espyr’s services are available to fleets at the cost of one dollar a month per enrolled driver.

“Based on experience, I know that we’ve saved carriers hundreds of thousands of dollars in driver turnover costs alone. A dollar a month is insignificant compared to a lawsuit resulting from an accident in which driver health plays a role,” Bob said. He also notes that regardless of how much money a carrier invests in technology to increase safety, it is the driver who makes the difference. Espyr also provides mental health services, something Bob sought as he looked for a partner.

Mental fitness—silent key to wellness

“There is so much depression in the industry,” he said. Espyr has provided mental health services for over 30 years; in fact, Espyr personnel were on-scene at the El Paso, Texas, Wal-Mart on August 3 following the shooting that killed 22 people and injuring dozens. The staff offered immediate counseling to employees, customers and first responders, helping them process what they had witnessed and preparing them for what they might expect in the months and years ahead. But drivers don’t need to witness a traumatic event to develop mental health issues; sometimes the loneliness of the road is enough. Solutions may be as simple as driving with a pet companion, usually a dog.

“If I ask a group how many in the room travel with dogs,” he said. “usually about 40% of the hands go up. Then I ask them if they fed their dogs that morning. The same hands go up. Finally, I ask if they fed their dogs a donut and a cup of coffee for breakfast, then lit up a cigarette for them.” Bob’s point hits home. “Drivers are more concerned about their pet’s health than they are their own wellness,” he said.

While Bob Perry hasn’t driven a truck in nearly 40 years, he remains on the road—or at least in the air—logging over 125,000 flight miles a year. He conducts orientation sessions and classes across the country up to three weeks out of each month. And he remains active in promoting driver health and wellness within the industry. Bob served two years as vice-chair of the American Trucking Associations’ Health and Wellness working group followed by four years in the chairman’s slot. He remains active with the organization and is also involved with the American Bus Association Safety Council (after all bus drivers face the same long hours on t the road, and they carry the nation’s most precious cargo).

OTR health in an industry taking notice

After being featured on many national television and radio broadcasts as well as in the nation’s largest newspapers and magazines, most recently, TravelAmerica Centers (TA) named Bob its “wellness ambassador.”

“TA requires all of its locations to provide some sort of fitness area for drivers,” he said. “A walking trail, a basketball court, even a horseshoe pit—anything encouraging exercise is great.” TA also provides health clinics at about 20 locations, with more being added. And access to healthcare while on the road is problematic for truckers and leads them to put off seeking the care they need.

“CVS has about 1,500 locations where offering health care services ranging from DOT exams to access to doctors,” he said, noting that at this time the chain is probably a trucker’s best choice when needing immediate health care.

So, the question is, as a driver, are you fit to pass? If today is the deadline for your DOT medical exam, can you walk in worry-free, or would it be best if you just didn’t show up? If your answer is the latter, that’s why The Trucker and Bob Perry are joining forces.

In future issues of The Trucker, Bob will write a column providing tips you can put to immediate use to improve your health along with information and stories to inspire you to remain focused on wellness

As you read, remember, simple lifestyle changes can be the difference between losing your CDL and being “Fit to Pass.”

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The Nation

Stretch of Highway 22 in Oregon closed after tanker crash, diesel spill

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tanker crash on highway 22
Highway 22 between Idanha and Santiam Junction is unlikely to reopen until Friday or Saturday as crews remove contaminated soil in a roadside ditch and rebuild a 600-foot section of roadway, the Oregon Department of Transportation said. (Courtesy: Oregon State Police)

IDANHA, Ore. — A stretch of Highway 22 will be closed for much of this week as crews clean up gasoline and diesel fuel that leaked out of a crashed tanker truck near Idanha along the North Santiam River, state transportation authorities said Monday.

The highway between Idanha and Santiam Junction is unlikely to reopen until Friday or Saturday as crews remove contaminated soil in a roadside ditch and rebuild a 600-foot section of roadway, the Oregon Department of Transportation said.

An oil sheen was visible on the North Santiam River downstream of the crash site, but officials said most of the tanker’s oil seeped into the ditch, where it was absorbed by the soil. It’s unclear how much entered the river, the Statesman Journal reported.

The city of Salem said Monday that its drinking water is safe and the oil from the spill has not reached its water treatment plant near Stayton, which is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) away from the crash. The oil will take several days to reach the plant, the city said, and teams will test the river water at multiple locations this week. Crews have set up absorbent berms to capture the oil on the water.

If any fuel is detected in the river, the city will close the water intake gates as it did in a similar situation three years ago.

The crash on Sunday closed Highway 22 near Detroit and Santiam Junction. The truck was carrying 10,600 gallons of fuel total — 6,500 gallons of gasoline in a tanker trailer and 4,100 gallons of diesel in the truck’s tanker.

About 7,800 gallons of fuel emptied into a roadside ditch and the rest was recovered, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials.

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The Nation

FMCSA final rule lowers annual registration costs for motor carriers

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truck driving down road
The reduction of the current 2019 registration year fees range from approximately $3 to $2,712 per entity, depending on the number of vehicles owned or operated by the affected entities. (iStock Photo)

WASHINGTON — Motor carriers will now see a reduction in the price they must pay to register their vehicles. On February 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released a final rule that realigns the fees for the Unified Carrier Registration Plan.

According to the document posted on the federal register last week, this rule establishes reductions in the annual registration fees the states collect from motor carriers, motor private carriers of property, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies for the UCR Plan and Agreement for the registration years beginning in 2020.

“For the 2020 registration year, the fees will be reduced by 14.45% below the 2018 registration fee level to ensure that fee revenues collected do not exceed the statutory maximum, and to account for the excess funds held in the depository,” the document reads. “The fees will remain at the same level for 2021 and subsequent years unless revised in the future.”

The reduction of the current 2019 registration year fees range from approximately $3 to $2,712 per entity, depending on the number of vehicles owned or operated by the affected entities.

The UCR Plan and the 41 States participating in the UCR Agreement establish and collect fees from motor carriers, motor private carriers of property, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies. The UCR Plan and Agreement are administered by a 15-member board of directors; 14 appointed from the participating states and the industry, plus the Deputy Administrator of FMCSA or another Presidential appointee from the Department, according to the final rule.

Revenues collected are allocated to the participating states and the UCR Plan. If annual revenue collections will exceed the statutory maximum allowed, then the UCR Plan must request adjustments to the fees. In addition, any excess funds held by the UCR Plan after payments are made to the states and for administrative costs are retained in the UCR depository, and fees subsequently charged must be adjusted further to return the excess revenues held in the depository.

Adjustments in the fees are requested by the UCR Plan and approved by FMCSA. These two provisions are the reasons for the two- stage adjustment adopted in this final rule.

“While each motor carrier will realize a reduced burden, fees are considered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A–4, Regulatory Analysis as transfer payments, not costs. Transfer payments are payments from one group to another that do not affect total resources available to society. Therefore, transfers are not considered in the monetization of societal costs and benefits of rulemakings,” according to the document.

The rule states that the total state revenue target is more than $107 million.

For more information or the read the rule in its entirety, visit https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/rulemaking/2020-01761.

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The Nation

Rhode Island DOT looks to hike trucks-only tolls amid court battle; public input sought

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Rhode island dot wanting to hike rates on trucks-only toll system while court battle continues; public comment sought
A truck passes through one of Rhode Island's six operating toll gantries. (courtesy: Providence Journal)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the Connecticut legislature prepares to vote this week on Gov. Ned Lamont’s controversial and long-debated “trucks only” toll proposal, a similar system in Rhode Island continues to operate while legal action to overturn the tolls is underway.

The original Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) proposal to charge tolls on trucks only included 14 locations, all bridges RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient. Tolls collected at each bridge would be used to repair and upgrade the specific location.

RIDOT is accepting public comment through March 1 on a plan to increase the toll on a newly installed gantry at the Oxford Street Bridge in Providence, a bridge crossing Interstate 95. The original toll for the bridge was set at $2.25 per trip; however, RIDOT is studying the cost-benefit ratio of doubling the rate to $4.50. RIDOT representatives requesting comment on the proposed increase claim the increase is really no increase at all; it is simply an effort to maintain the revenue forecast from the 14 gantries included in the original tolling proposal.

Currently, Rhode Island has constructed toll gantries at six of the originally planned locations; however, as the program has moved forward, two locations have been temporarily or permanently delayed. Rather than adjusting anticipated total revenue based on 12 locations, Gov. Gina Raimondo has instead directed RIDOT officials to study and request rate hikes at specific bridges. The toll hikes will allow Rhode Island to collect the same $45 million forecast from the 14 original gantries. This new twist on a toll program already challenged as unconstitutional by the American Trucking Associations, and one which an appellate court has ruled Rhode Island must face in a lawsuit, is leading the trucking industry and toll opposition to question RIDOT’s language in press releases and discussions on the issue.

Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, said, “This should serve to reinforce concerns over the unbridled power and discretion given to RIDOT and further feeds the suspicion and skepticism of Rhode Island’s business owners about the end game of this scheme.”

Maxwell’s comments come on the heels of an already approved increased toll rate at another location in Providence. The Route 6 bridge over the Woonasquatucket River was increased from $2.00 to $5.00 last fall.

Maxwell also expressed concern about changing the still new tolls program when original approval was based on environmental impact studies. “From a legal standpoint,” he said, “these ‘on the fly’ changes would seem to undermine and violate the purpose and extent of the environmental impact assessments.”
Other opponents to the Oxford Street bridge toll increase note that the bridge does not fall into the criteria RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient, meaning revenue from the toll would be used at other locations, a provision not included in the tolling plan.

From RIDOT’s perspective, not only is the proposed toll rate increase not really an increase, it is also going to save the state money. RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said that the infrastructure costs of eliminating two planned toll locations will result in lower implementation costs.

“Our thinking is we’ll forgo building [a gantry] at the viaduct in Providence, or at least while the viaduct is being built,” Alviti said on WPRO radio. “We’ll assign the toll amount we were going to collect there to the next nearest location, which is Oxford Street.”

Chris Maxwell believes he has a full understanding of RIDOT’s intent. “[They] deliberately chose the most densely traveled tool location in the who scheme to further their insatiable appetite to soak businesses, consumers, and taxpayers,” he said in an interview with Transport Topics.

RIDOT is justifying its proposed action based on the original toll proposal’s expectation of generating $45 million in revenue. In any event, Peter Alviti says, truckers traveling I-95 through Rhode Island will still be paying $20.00 per trip.

When is an increase not an increase? It depends on what your definition of increase is. For those wanting to comment, emails can be sent to Dot.BridgeRepairTolls@dot.ri.gov or comments can be submitted in writing to Jay McGinn, P.E., Project Manager II RIDOT, 2 Capitol Hill, Providence RI 02903. Following cutoff date for comments on March 1, the new rate will be implemented on March 5.

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