One of the Safety Driven signs that line the ATS corporate office parking lot.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — As you pull into the Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) parking lot, you’ll notice black banners on each of the light poles; one side has the ATS logo and the other says “Safety Driven.” 

“That needs to mean something,” said ATS Safety Director, Nathaniel Leis.

It won’t take you long after walking through the front doors to realize it does, in fact, mean something. Leis and the rest of the Safety Team are working to create what they call “safety ambassadors” throughout the company’s St. Cloud corporate office and the rest of the external shops and offices throughout the world.

“It’s really important that all of us approach our jobs from a safety perspective using a safety lens,” Leis said.

Being the country’s 33rd largest for-hire carrier and Minnesota’s largest, ATS feels they have a responsibility to make safety a core company value. That value, they feel, starts with company leaders and flows to their drivers. Like most transportation companies, ATS has safety training in their onboarding process and ongoing courses throughout a driver’s tenure with the company. What separates them are courses like their “Value Driven Driving” class taught by Driver & Fleet Manager Safety Trainer, David Franklin.

Franklin holds his Value Driven Driving class three times a week for both new and veteran ATS drivers.

The idea behind the course is that our values determine how we drive. The values taught in the class are integrity, honesty, responsibility, safety, professionalism and loyalty, which aim to promote better driving. Franklin said they monitor the main causes of accidents, like driver behavior, distractions, tailgating, fatigue and blind spots, and teach ways to avoid them.

“Our ultimate goal is zero preventable accidents,” Franklin said.

ATS also provides securement training through in-person courses and videos sent to drivers. However, securement goes beyond training programs. Depending on the commodity, ATS asks its flatbed/specialized drivers to send photos of their secured load to the ATS Cargo Securement Team to ensure it is properly secured before ever traveling down the road. They are constantly working to find ways to reduce risk for their drivers, customers and the motoring public. That extends beyond those who travel down the road for work.

“It’s important we hold ourselves to the same standards we demand of the drivers,” Leis said.

That is especially important for those that communicate with drivers on a daily basis. Leis and the rest of the safety team have trained Fleet Managers to incorporate safety into their daily conversations.

“It’s not the same for everyone,” said ATS Fleet Manager, Kari Dahlinger.

Dahlinger stands with one of her drivers in the truck parking lot outside the corporate office.

After a decade in her role, Dahlinger knows she can’t just have a canned message to share with all her drivers when she communicates with them. While everyone has the same goal, to get home safe, they all have different motivations to accomplish that goal, so she said it’s important to present the safety message in a way that resonates.

Besides a tailored message, Dahlinger said one of the best ways to get drivers to buy into the safety message is by sticking up for them in situations they feel jeopardize their safety. She said there have been numerous times she’s asked the driver to put her on the phone with the customer to tell them ATS drivers won’t do something the company deems unsafe, even if that means turning down a load.

“It’s important for them to feel like we’re all on the same team,” Dahlinger said. “If that means taking them out of the hot seat with a customer, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Another way she keeps the safety message rolling is through some friendly competition. She has returned many missed phone calls from drivers by mentioning she was busy at another driver’s “Million Mile” presentation.

Million Mile Hall of Fame lines both sides of the hallway near the Drivers’ Lounge.

Million Mile presentations are something ATS does for drivers when they reach one million miles without a reportable accident. Drivers receive a plaque, some new clothing, their choice of a watch or ring and a picture on a wall at the corporate office. Ceremony attendees include fleet managers, operations managers, department directors and senior company leaders.

ATS currently has more than 100 active Million Mile Drivers, nearly 30 of which earned their achievement in 2018 alone. While this may be a sign of success in safety, Leis and the rest of the safety team know there’s plenty of work left to do.