Alex Debogorski, of History Channel series Ice Road Truckers, has seen the trucking industry through some of its darkest periods before reaching where he, and the industry, are today.
At 18 years old, an unexpected opportunity came around. “With a wife and a baby on the way, no one was going to pay my bills. Some contractors working at a coal mine came into the shop and were looking for a driver, and asked if I could drive a truck,” Debogorski recalls, then making a few dollars an hour at a tire shop. “Whatever you had to do, you did, so I ended up driving trucks.”
Years later, Debogorski ran into the man that originally hired him for the coal mine. They mused on how far the safety standards and expectations have progressed. “We were pretty wild because we were the youngest,” says Debogorski, but he was fortunate his crew did not have any fatal accidents.
In 2017, the safety conversation is “all about risk aversion.” With technology like satellite tracking and dash cams, drivers are protected physically and legally from potential repercussions.
“With the dash cams you can see what’s going on – which makes the general public safer,” he explains. “The company knows if you’re falling asleep at the wheel or having other problems,” so they can step in and get that driver the assistance he or she needs and off the road. These cameras also help drivers prove if they weren’t at fault in a given incident.
The trucks themselves vastly improved to make trucking easier, more functional and safer. “They’re warmer now and more comfortable,” Debogorski says, “with better suspension, better steering, more power, and all sorts of traction features.”
However, there is still room for improvement. “The big thing that has been overlooked forever is the cab. Compared to where we’ve gone with automobiles over the last four years, the truck hasn’t seen the same improvements,” he emphasizes. The cabs of trucks aren’t as structurally engineered and safe compared to cars. This change, he says, “could really increase the chances of survivability in trucks” in the face of serious accidents.
Mental and physical health
Debogorski also recognizes that it is up to each driver to operate in the safest manner possible. Personal care is a priority for staying aware and cautious. “I’m very conscious of my health,” he says, and does what he can to eat well and exercise regularly. “If I don’t think I did enough exercise, I’ll even do some sit-ups or push-ups. You have to experiment with your own health.”
Patience and determination are the top traits of Debogorski’s list necessary for the success and safety of drivers. “Patience with yourself, other drivers on the road, and your family,” he says, improve skills in problem solving and management; particularly when dealing with hurdles like delays due to mechanical problems, plows, and dispatchers.
“Get an education,” he adds. Whether self-taught or in an institution, education allows the time to build communication, can further your technical skills, and improve safety awareness and understanding on the job. “Express yourself and give advice,” he suggests. “Being a truck driver in America is a lot more important than people think. Can you think of another profession that moves around so much that it can change the country in one day?”