Robert Chidester 64f9e3dfd06d5

Safety assist: Dashcams help veteran tank trucker stay sharp

Sept. 7, 2023
RelaDyne driver Robert Chidester, who boasts more than 2 million accident-free miles, explains how Samsara’s safety program helps him maintain an elite driving record in advance of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week

Robert Chidester is a lifelong truck driver. He boasts more than 45 years behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle, including the last three years with RelaDyne—the largest lubricant distributor in the U.S.—more than 2 million miles with no at-fault accidents or roadside violations, and a heartfelt appreciation for video safety.

So, when RelaDyne implemented Samsara’s fully connected platform, including vehicle and asset gateways, artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted dashcams, and site visibility, across its fleet of 2,276 trucks, 1,543 trailers, and 900 drivers in 2018, he quickly became an ambassador for the company’s new dashcam policy and safety program. He recently earned the Top Driver Award in Samsara’s 2023 Connected Operations Awards.

“Robert is the perfect example of how powerful driver advocacy is when building a strong culture of safety and securing buy-in within an organization,” Julu Panat, Samsara’s senior director of product management for video safety, told Bulk Transporter. “He not only leads by example with a decades-long spotless safety record, but also spends his time mentoring other drivers. This is exactly what we strive to provide for our customers when it comes to improving safety and reshaping the driver experience with AI-enabled technology.

“We’re excited to continue building the best possible solutions that deliver tangible outcomes and empower drivers like Robert to do their best work.”

Today, Chidester maintains a driver safety score of 99.5 (out of 100), with zero safety events, despite driving different vehicles in challenging environments every week, and serves as an inspirational advisor to younger RelaDyne drivers. He’s also a customer favorite, consistently going above and beyond to help customers with any issues while on-site, earning him frequent calls recognizing his professionalism and outstanding service.

To learn more about RelaDyne’s Samsara-aided safety program in advance of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week—which this year runs Sept. 10-16—Bulk Transporter corresponded with the Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania-based tank trucker, who talked about the challenges facing drivers today, how Samsara helps him stay sharp on the road, the keys to maintaining an elite safety score, and the overall impact of today’s technology.

Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Bulk Transporter: What do you like about driving for RelaDyne?

Robert Chidester: It’s a great place to work. We have a good pay scale along with benefits and modern equipment to make driving easier.

BT: What does a typical day look like for you?

RC: I start at 5:30 in the morning, work for about eight to 10 hours, and I’m home every night. I service gas wells, delivering them methanol, glycol, and antifreeze. I drive different vehicles depending on the day, but the driving part stays the same. I’ve had great training throughout my career and ongoing training from RelaDyne.

BT: How has Samsara’s safety program helped you improve?

RC: Samsara has made me even more focused on safety. We had front-facing dashcams before, so I was already monitoring things like my speed and other factors on the road. But with their dual-facing cameras, I’ve become more cautious and aware of my own habits, like my speed when going downhill.

The main priority I keep in mind is that I am being paid to do my job safely and Samsara’s cameras help me do that. They also protect me if anything goes awry. Making it home safely is the biggest thing in the life of a truck driver, so at the end of the day, I want to do my job safely and avoid any mishaps that may have negative effects on the company and on my fellow drivers. If each driver prioritizes safety, the company will do better, and we will all continue to benefit as a result.  

BT: What factors go into keeping your driver safety score so high?

RC: I think attitude is everything. I try to start my day with a smile, and it’s rewarding to build up my teammates as well. I find it’s important to continuously train and improve my skillset. It’s been helpful to discuss situations we see on the road in different locations with my fellow drivers. I’m thankful RelaDyne fosters this culture of safety.

Driver safety scores have also introduced some fun, friendly competition into our workdays. We discuss the scores and even publish a monthly report on them. It’s motivating because the top drivers get recognized in front of everyone and the lower drivers are incentivized to do better. I’ve maintained a 99.5 safety score since the beginning of the year, and I’m very proud of that. I also give other drivers tips on how to improve their scores.

BT: Are there any other ways Samsara’s workflows or telematics have made the job easier?

RC: The in-cab nudges and alerts from the cameras are helpful. They make you more aware of your own driving and what’s happening around the truck. I’ve always been a safe driver, but these keep me focused on little habits I didn’t even know I had.

BT: How has vehicle technology changed the game since you started driving?

RC: I used to have to be a mechanic as well as a driver, and now I get to just be a driver. When I started years ago, you had to take care of everything on the truck yourself—changing the tires, fixing the brakes—and really understand how to maintain the truck.

BT: What are the greatest challenges facing commercial drivers today?

RC: On the road, my biggest challenge is traffic and other drivers. Some people don’t fully understand just how different driving a truck is from driving a car. Trucks can’t brake or go around corners the way cars do. It’s important people are aware of this, and their surroundings overall. Professional drivers are doing our best to keep everyone safe.

BT: What does Driver Appreciation Week mean to you?

RC: I feel fortunate to receive a lot of appreciation at work like from my colleagues, supervisors, and dispatchers. We’re able to get together at multiple points throughout the year to recognize and celebrate one another. I’ve found that all these interactions really help build a strong sense of morale over time.

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.