Increasingly crowded highways; densely trafficked city streets; more distracted drivers in cars everywhere: There’s not much room for error handling a big rig these days--and even less so for truckers hauling tankers loaded with petroleum or hazardous chemicals.
“When you’re transporting the hazardous commodities we do, a collision or a rollover is a completely different situation than if you’re pulling a van load of paper towels,” said Jim Anderson, vice-president of safety and risk management at Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc. “We’re incredibly proud of our drivers’ abilities and safety efforts, but even the most skilled person at the wheel can’t control everything that happens around them, so we support and complement their talents with the best safety systems available. And I can’t even begin to put a number on how many potential incidents Bendix technologies have prevented over the years.”
Founded in 1962 as a dump truck hauler of raw sand and aggregate materials, Florida Rock & Tank Lines is currently a tanker-only fleet, delivering mostly petroleum and chemical products across the southeastern United States. The safety award-winning carrier complements its extensive driver safety and training programs with advanced technologies from Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, including its flagship collision mitigation system, Wingman Fusion.
Florida Rock & Tank Lines has made Fusion standard on all of its tractor orders since 2016, and recently added 70 Wingman Fusion-equipped units to its fleet. The company also specs the BlindSpotter Side Object Detection System.
“I can remember when we didn’t even have antilock brakes,” Anderson said. “But back in the early 2000s, when roll stability systems started coming into the marketplace, we were an early adopter of the technology. When [Fusion predecessor] Wingman Advanced was available, we equipped that, and then we transitioned to Fusion and added BlindSpotter. They’re all effective complements to our drivers’ skills, and I wouldn’t want to go back to the way it used to be, the safety technologies available today are reducing crashes and have made us a better company.”
Florida Rock & Tank Line’s fleet consists of 406 tractors--a mix of Kenworth and Mack models. The company employs more than 700 people at its headquarters and 20 terminals, including 600 drivers. In 2011, they earned an Outstanding Performance Trophy in the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) Tank Truck Safety Contest.
“That was a huge achievement for us, and we’re very proud of our drivers and everyone in the company who made it happen,” Anderson said. “When you look at the quality of tank truck fleets operating out there, and the fact that most of our loads are one-way, 100 miles or less, and involve urban traffic congestion, plus getting in and out of tight delivery spots, it was a huge honor.
“Over the years, we have really focused on developing a proactive, prevention-based safety culture that starts with the hiring of our drivers. We have a proven process of finding and vetting the best drivers for our positions, and then giving them the absolute best training we can provide, and putting them at the wheel of the safest trucks.”
The company regularly offers safe driving incentives including bonuses, safe driving awards, and an annual pickup truck giveaway and also recognizes drivers’ families for their sacrifices and support.
Alex Sherrer, fleet director of maintenance and facilities, said even after extensive research pointed toward Fusion’s benefits, it was firsthand experiences with the system that made a truly indelible impact.
“The ability of the system to intervene and complement the driver’s expertise is very important to us because of all the variables they have to contend with: lots of stop-and-go; traffic cutting in front of you; Florida’s rainy season and fog,” he said. “There were any number of reasons why we went with Bendix Wingman Fusion. And when we got both senior drivers and newer drivers into the trucks for testing, the feedback we heard strengthened our belief that this would improve our ability to prevent accidents and become a valued, accepted tool by our drivers.”
Both Bendix and Florida Rock & Tank Lines emphasize that no commercial vehicle safety technology--no matter how advanced--can replace a skilled, alert driver exercising safe driving techniques and supported by proactive, comprehensive driver training. Bendix safety technologies are not meant to enable or encourage aggressive driving, but to support safe driving practices. Responsibility for the safe operation of any commercial vehicle remains with the driver at all times.
“When people think of Florida Rock & Tank Lines, we want them to think of us as the carrier that safely delivers our customers’ products on time and accurately,” Anderson said. “That’s what we strive to do each and every day, on each and every load, and that means supporting our drivers to the greatest extent we can, so that they can succeed in fulfilling that goal.”