Truckers stay awake and aware, add a little prayer

Just a little patience. That's what is needed to learn how to ride a bike, drive a standard transmission, sing a Guns N' Roses tune, and outlast a sixth century castle siege.

Apparently, it also is what is needed to drive a quarter of a century in modern America without a preventable crash.

Just ask Michael Kobiela and James Shileikis. The two valley residents were recently honored by their bosses at the delivery giant FedEx for exemplary driving records over the past 25 years.

I had a chance to talk with Mike and Jim about their time on the road and how they have avoided trading paint with area motorists.

(First a personal disclaimer: I worked for FedEx for a couple of months more than seven years ago. My stint there was short but memorable. I'll never forget standing in the back of a putrid tractor trailer loading boxes for a steamy five hours a night. I recall having the ability to ring out my T-shirt without ever dumping liquid on it. And I was able to drink a gallon of water and not have to use the bathroom. While I learned and maintain a respect for those who worked for companies like FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service, I was happy -- actually thrilled -- when I found another job.)

Back to Mike and Jim and what they can teach us, or at least me, about good driving. Mike's had a clean record for 24 years. Jim's been clear for 25 years.

My driving record is not so clean and, to be honest, not so long.

I figure there's got to be a lot of luck that goes into a good driving record -- as tends to be the case with a number of other things in Las Vegas, especially those Wheel of Fortune slots -- but both drivers said there's more to it than that.

Mike and Jim lug those triple trailer trucks many drivers curse at on the highways.

The truck and trailers are about 105 feet long and they don't exactly stop on a dime.

Mike has a direct route he drives for FedEx. He hauls his load to Ritchfield, Utah -- about 263 miles -- and back, five times a week. With stops, it takes him about nine to 10 hours. Once in Ritchfield, Mike trades trailers with another driver and heads home to Las Vegas.

Jim doesn't have a set route, but often finds himself heading up to the big FedEx hub in Salt Lake City.

Mike starts his day with two cups of coffee. He'll usually take two Red Bulls with him on the road for the extra dose of caffeine.

Jim prefers iced tea, coffee and chewing gum to Red Bull.

But when you feel tired, there's no substitute for pulling over and stretching, both agreed.

Jim will often stop and take a 20-minute rest when sleepiness comes on. "That is usually enough to keep me up and going," he said.

In addition to caffeine, both drivers turn to outside stimulus.

While Mike will listen to music or talk on the CB radio, "you have to be aware of what's around you and pay attention at all times."

Chatter on CB radios can really prepare drivers for what is coming up. If there is a wreck, drivers with CB communications usually are ready to stop, if they can verify it, he said.

In the cab of his truck, Jim likes to whistle and listen to country music, the news and weather stations.

The important lesson, kids, is that meth isn't the only way to stay awake.

Most motorists don't look at driving from a professional point of view, Mike said. "It goes back to what you've been taught. Basic driver education."

Being a little patient and slowing down are the keys to safe driving, Jim said. "People get into a hurry."

So does that mean I should end the rolling California stops and the running of yellow-turning-red lights?

Jim said he sees many folks not using their turn signals. That may seem a little hard to believe, but believe Jim, it's true. Using turn signals helps other drivers know what you are doing so they can adjust, Jim said.

But Jim has grown accustomed to watching the way motorists are maneuvering to tell if they are going to cut him off.

Drivers should show more respect to trucks, Mike said. "I try to give trucks as much room as possible," he said.

There's at least one advantage to driving that extra-long rig. "I think they (other motorists) are a little more cautious," around it, he said.

But motorists need to show more respect for everyone else on the road, not just the big rigs, Jim said.

"I don't feel I depend on luck," Jim said. "I say my training and staying aware of my surroundings and keeping a cushion" of space between his vehicle and other vehicles keeps him safe.

Mike concurred. Staying as far away from every other driver around you helps, he said.

Another tip Mike shared is driving in the right lane when there is no need to be motoring in the left lane.

Jim added: "Stay alert. Take an extra-long look down the road, and you should be able to adjust to any situation you come into."

While Jim shies away from the idea of luck, he mentioned a little help he gets from God.

It's funny how that never works at those Wheel of Fortune slots.

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