Trucking loses staunch safety advocate with loss of RJ

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RJ Taylor received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Truck Writers of North America in 2005. (The Trucker file photo)

A recent e-mail brought the sad news that RJ Taylor passed away at the age of 75.

In 1986, RJ founded Ol’ Blue, USA (the USA stood for United Safety Alliance).

Ol Blue, USA was a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) public charity dedicated to educating the nation on highway safety and improving relations between law enforcement, commercial drivers and the motoring public.

RJ went on many a National Safety Tour with “’Ol’ Blue, a 1951 Kenworth working truck pulling a 53-foot “rolling billboard” trailer featuring his sponsors’ logos and those of the California Highway Patrol, Nevada Highway Patrol and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

RJ conducted simulated truck inspections at trade shows and truck stops and also took various programs to community events and public schools in efforts to teach safety around all large vehicles.

RJ and his close friend Monty Dial — who has retired from the Texas Highway Patrol but still knows more about trucking regulations than many active commercial vehicle enforcement officers — often appeared on what was then called Midnight Trucking Radio Network, now known as Red Eye Radio.

(Although Red Eye Radio has the same hosts as Midnight Trucking Radio Network — Eric Harley and Gary McNamara — and has expanded its topical agenda far beyond trucking, it appears that many of its listeners are still truckers.)

Everyone has — or should have — a passion for highway safety.

RJ’s passion extended beyond most others.

He lived, breathed and died thinking safety, safety, safety.

We first met RJ in either 2005 or 2006 when he stopped in Little Rock en route to an appearance at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky.

His big rig lumbered to a stop in the parking lot and out bailed RJ with his signature white hair and gruff voice, his external appearance just the opposite of his heart of gold.

As we were preparing to take RJ to a local elementary school, he opened the door of his trailer to reveal a complete apartment where he slept during his safety tours.

At the school, the students swarmed RJ and his truck, and he loved every minute of it.

There’ll always be a passion for safety in this industry, but there will never be another RJ.

Rest in peace, friend.

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Rob Penner is chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association.

He is also president and CEO of Bison Transport of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Bison Transport has won the TCA safe fleets award for so many years in a row there are not enough fingers.

In his column in Truckload Authority, the TCA’s bi-monthly magazine, we asked Rob to weigh in on the fact that in the recent American Transportation Research Institute’s trucking concerns survey, drivers listed trucking parking as No. 2 while carrier executives ranked it No. 9.

Here’s Rob’s take:

“This speaks to the problem above. We can’t find drivers and the ones we have are subjected to ridiculous infrastructure challenges. We haven’t kept up with our investment requirements and as a result we have drivers sleeping on the sides of our highways and byways and we think nothing of it.  And this problem is amplified with HOS and ELD regulations. Truck stops and rest areas are filled to overflowing by 6 p.m. It’s crazy. Our drivers deserve safe haven and the basic amenities afforded us all. I dare say, if every one of our politicians, business owners or shippers had to live like our drivers do while on the road this issue would get the attention it deserves. We have all sorts of infrastructure problems in North America and the problem is we lump them all together and it seems we get overwhelmed to the point where no one does anything. I would like to think that it is something industry really can get together on and start making a difference. We need to wrap our arms around this quickly.”

Every trucker in America would agree.

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