Casey Driggers’ father was a truck driver, hauling oversize and overweight including wind turbine blades. But Driggers decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, which he did for 12 years before being recruited by the owner of Custom Commodities Transport in Gilmer, Texas. He's currently executive VP of safety — and an HDT 2023 Emerging Leader.
“My predecessor was getting ready to retire, and they needed some young active folks to kind of lead us in the right direction," he says. That was more than five years ago.
Since then, he says, “we have made some very strong headway.” Custom Commodities was recognized by the National Tank Truck Carriers association the past two years as one of the safest fleets.
“I don’t take credit for all of it,” he adds. “It’s a team effort. I get a lot of backup from upper management.”
The company operates 10 terminals, with more than 300 employers, about 265 company drivers, hauling dry bulk with pneumatic tankers as well as smooth-bore liquid tankers.
Spec'ing the Safest Equipment
“The owner prides himself on safety, so we have anything and everything as far as technology goes,” he says, including air disc brakes on all wheel ends and the Bendix Wingman and Fusion advanced driver safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure, and crash mitigation with automatic emergency braking.
Regarding the recent proposed AEB mandate, Driggers says, “I would be for it. We get a lot of complaints from drivers because it does occasionally read offramp signs, so they’ll cruise along at 69 and it may hit a 40-mph sign on the offramp and kick it out of the throttle.
“But on the other hand, I’ve seen where it saved us,” he says, as well as help from the air disc brakes, adding that he would be 100% for mandating AEB.
One of the changes Driggers made was new dual-facing camera safety systems from Samsara, as well as adding rear-facing cameras looking back.
“One of the problems we were having was low-speed, low-impact crashes,” he says, which were often unfairly blamed on the truck. With the new camera system, he says, “we have been able to mitigate those false claims by that alone.”
The company’s most recent trailer order added fall protection to the top of the trailers.
Drivers Key to Safety
But what he’s most proud of isn’t the high-tech safety technology, but changes made in driver communication, coaching, and training.
He implemented weekly Microsoft Teams safety meetings with all Custom Commodities drivers, holding it on two days in order to try to get all drivers to attend. They have paid off not only in improved safety but also in better driver retention.
“You get these guys that are out there for months at a time, nobody to talk to,” he says. The hour-long meetings are about half safety meeting and half an open forum where each driver is asked how things are going, if there are any problems with payroll, equipment, near-misses, and so on.
The company also is using the Workhound platform, which allows drivers to provide anonymous feedback. “And we get the good, the bad and the ugly sometimes,” he says. “But one thing that we preach on is if we don't know, we can't fix it. And we are horrible, horrible at reading minds. I've tried, it does not work,” he says with a chuckle.
About a year ago, the company invested in a state-of-the art driving simulator. New hires get on the simulator and all drivers get refresher training annually.
“it wasn't cheap," he says. "But if a guy has an accident that was preventable, I can recreate that accident and put him on a simulator.”
The changes have reduced both accident frequency and worker’s comp claims, saving the company money on false claims and by preventing accidents.
Striving Toward Zero Crashes
Asked about goals for the future, Driggers says, “ultimately, the goal is zero,” while acknowledging that it’s virtually impossible to attain, due to human nature. If someone does achieve that goal, he jokes, “They need to get out of this business and write a book on how it's done.”
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still striving. Driggers is constantly monitoring the company’s CSA scores and working to improve them. He just moved to an electronic driver vehicle inspection report, which helps in communicating that there are equipment problems that need to be fixed.
His law-enforcement background has helped drive his attitude toward safety and regulations. “When I first came aboard here, I was getting some pushback,” he says. “There was a constant battle between safety and operations.”
Unfortunately, he says, it took a major accident to change that attitude.
“Now, if we have an ABS light out or a flat tire, then trailer or truck’s out of service, that's all there is to call a customer and tell them, ‘Sorry, we're going to be a little late, but this is what's going on.”
“We still have some kickbacks, if you will, but we're moving in the right direction.”
Driver hiring standards today are also stricter.
“We get up to 100 applications a week, and we may bring in three or four folks,” he says. Many applicants tell him the hiring standards are ridiculous. “And I'm like, It's not ridiculous. I'm sorry that you think that way. But in the long run, you will thank me.”
Sky-High Safety Standards
How dedicated to safety is the company? It’s gotten a trademark on the phrase, “Meeting an Aviation Standard of Excellence.”
Pre-trip and post-trip inspections that are often overlooked or done sloppily aren’t uncommon in trucking. But as Driggers explains, “Pilots, they do the same thing” as far as conducting pre-trip checks. “But what happens at 40,000 feet, at 600 miles an hour with 200 people whose lives depend on you? What's going to happen if you don't do a proper pre-trip in an airplane? Same song and dance on the highway. There might not be 200 people around you, but you may affect people's lives with what you do or don’t properly. So, we bring that up a lot.
“Honestly, we have a great group of drivers. They make my job easy. Five years ago, yeah, it was a struggle. I asked the boss why the hell he even come and got me. But today, I wouldn't trade it for the world.”