You could say Jeff Thompson of Olathe is a safe driver. During his 38-year career, the trucker has logged 5.3 million accident-free miles while traversing each of the lower 48 states.
He’s never even had a close call, he says.
In recognition of that remarkable record and his community involvement, the Kansas Motor Carriers Association recently named Thompson its 2015 Driver of the Year.
These days, Thompson’s job with the FedEx Freight team allows him to spend each night at his home in Olathe. During the day, he hauls a double trailer west along Interstate 70 to WaKeeney, Kan., where he meets his counterpart traveling east from Denver. They trade loads and return to their respective homes.
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Growing up on his family’s farm in Oklahoma, Thompson said, he took to driving early, operating farm machinery and trucks there. That led him to a job driving professionally, the last 30 years for FedEx. He moved from Joplin, Mo., to Olathe in 1990, when his son enrolled in the Kansas School for the Deaf.
“It was a good move for us,” Thompson said. “My two daughters went to Olathe schools, and my son went to the Kansas School for the Deaf before he was integrated into the regular school system. Now he’s graduated from college.”
Even before the advent of modern safety technology, Thompson said, he cultivated habits that reduce the risk of accidents.
“I call it the three Cs — caution, courtesy and common sense,” he said. “I don’t put myself in a bad situation.”
During the past decade, Thompson said, FedEx has installed technology in his Kenworth tractor much like that found in high-end automobiles.
“Lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation and anti-rollover devices are on all our trucks,” Thompson said.
Adaptive cruise control means that even if he sets his speed to 65 mph, the truck will automatically slow down if it comes up behind a car doing 60 mph. The anti-rollover system automatically hits the brakes if it detects the truck moving too fast on a tilted on-ramp loop.
Even so, that hardly absolves the driver of responsibility for safety, and Thompson has gone above and beyond in that regard.
He has competed in 15 Kansas Truck Driving Championships, winning nine times in four different classes, advancing to compete in nine National Truck Driving Championships, including in 2015. The contests involve a written test, a pre-trip safety inspection and maneuvering a truck around an obstacle course.
“FedEx provides a lot of help for the state championships,” Thompson said. “It makes us better, safer drivers.”
“We are extremely proud of Jeff’s accomplishments and the recognition he has received from the Kansas Motor Carriers Association,” said John Smith, senior vice president of operations at FedEx Freight. “It is well deserved.”
The Kansas Driver of the Year is selected from among 12 Drivers of the Month. Drivers of the Month are nominated by their companies for years of safe driving, community involvement and acts of heroism. The winners are chosen by a panel of judges from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Kansas Corporation Commission and the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Thompson has spoken about safety and given safe-driving demonstrations at area schools.
Thompson’s advice for safe driving applies to anyone operating any vehicle: “Don’t let yourself get distracted, whether that’s the cellphone or the stereo or women putting on makeup,” he said. “Reduce your speed and increase your following distance, especially in adverse weather.”
And trust your gut instinct. “You can tell when people are going to do things they shouldn’t,” Thompson said.