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Editor's Notebook: I Flew to Dallas One Day ...

Sometimes, the things we dread the most turn out to be the best times we have.

by Sandy Smith

Some 3 months ago, I received a call from Teryl Woods, of Frito-Lay. Frito-Lay was planning to honor its Million-Miler drivers at a dinner on May 9 at the company's annual safety conference in Dallas. He asked me to give the keynote address during dinner.

I have to admit it: The call made my blood run cold. The thought of speaking in front of 300 or 400 people people who would rather be eating their dessert made me nauseous.

I told Teryl I had a conflict with the date. He was very gracious and expressed disappointment, telling me about the impact that the safety efforts of the Million-Miler drivers have on the company's overall safety record and why the dinner was so important. By the end of our short conversation, I knew I had to go to Dallas.

I landed at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport , Powerpoint presentation in hand. My plan was to discuss the overall quality of the safety process at Frito-Lay the company was honored as one of America's Safest in 2005 and the contribution safe drivers make to the company's safety program.

Motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of occupational fatalities and approximately 400 Frito-Lay drivers have at least 1 million miles without an accident. Frito-Lay's 1,700 drivers drove 141 million miles in 2005 with a reportable crash rate of 0.46 per million miles, placing Frito-Lay in the top quartile of fleets with more than 1,000 trucks.

When I arrived at the event, I was blown away. Huge banners celebrated safety and the company's inclusion in America's Safest Companies. As the Million-Miler drivers and their wives entered the ballroom where the dinner was held, they were given a standing ovation. The drivers appeared to be slightly embarrassed by the commotion, but proud. Many of the wives became emotional, watching as their husbands were treated like heroes.

And that's when it struck me: They are heroes. They "walk" the safety talk every day and, as a result, make our nation's roads safer.

These men, many of whom have driven 20 or more years without an accident, set an example for us all. They climb into the driver's seat of an 18-wheeler, drive millions of miles and never have an accident.

Safe driving is something many of us take for granted. We allow our eyes to wander from the road as we gaze at passing scenery. We think about the day ahead rather than the cars whizzing around us. We fiddle with a CD player or cell phone. We carry on animated conversations with passengers, turning to look at them as we speak.

Safe driving doesn't happen by accident. It happens because drivers are well-educated about hazards and risks; obey traffic signs, signals and laws; pay attention to the road and the other vehicles on it; keep their vehicles well-maintained; wear their seatbelts; and don't drive when tired or impaired. That's a lot to keep in mind while you're trying to keep to a schedule, navigate through interstates that are in a perpetual state of reconstruction and find your destination.

But Frito-Lay's Million-Milers manage to keep safety in mind every day, and we are all safer because of it.

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