Over the years there have been some hard words and even harder feelings between the trucking industry and safety advocacy groups, but last night something new happened.

Last night the Truck Safety Coalition, a partnership between Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers, presented a Distinguished Safety Leadership award to a trucking executive.
From left, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, Don Osterberg, Dawn King and Jeffrey Burns.
From left, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, Don Osterberg, Dawn King and Jeffrey Burns.

The award went to Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety at Schneider National.

It was presented by Dawn King, the daughter of a man killed two days before Christmas in 2004 by a Schneider National driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel.

"Dad would have approved," King said, noting that Osterberg's characteristic of looking for ways to solve problems reminded her of her father.

Osterberg's achievements in safety are well known to the trucking industry. His pioneering efforts in fatigue control, driver wellness and the use of safety technology, as well as plain old safety management, have yielded impressive statistics. Since he's been at Schneider, fatigue related crashes have dropped by 27 percent and the fatal crash rate has dropped by 59 percent, said Jeffrey Burns, an attorney on the board of CRASH and PATT.

"To top it off, he's done this while he's saved the company money," Burns said. "Through his leadership there is now absolute, hard solid proof that safety need not be sacrificed to promote productivity."

Burns added that the award is extremely important to the Truck Safety Coalition. "We've never done what we're doing tonight," he said. "I hope it's a watershed (in relations between the advocacy groups and trucking)."

Osterberg said he would not want to overstate what the award might mean to industry-advocacy group relations, but he is optimistic. "I believe there is a quiet majority in trucking who recognize that this could represent the dawning of a new era of collaboration and civility between organizations that have often been at odds with one another," he said.

"I'm not naïve enough to believe that we would agree on everything but if you think about it there's a higher calling here to be served. If we can work together on the topics we agree on I believe we can be very powerful and accelerate the improvement."

Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, was on hand for the event and expressed a similar sentiment.

"There's a strong commitment to safety in the trucking industry," she said. "And there's a strong commitment to safety among the safety coalitions. It's a matter of listening for that common ground. But I also think it takes real leaders, (like) Don Osterberg."

The presentation was made at the opening ceremonies of the Sleep Apnea & Trucking Conference, which is being held near Baltimore, Md., through today.