CORRECTION: This story was updated on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 to correct the spelling of the company that Chelette works for to Big G Express.
When Tim Chelette is driving his 18-wheeler on interstate highways, he doesn't see other cars and trucks — he sees people.
The Middle Tennessee-based truck driver is one of the safest drivers on the road, having logged about 2 million accident-free miles. How far is that? Well, it's like circling the earth 80 times.
He was recently named to America's Road Team, a group of 18 national ambassadors of the American Trucking Association that represent the trucking industry to motorists, lawmakers and the media.
Chelette's sterling safety record is not just a passive statistic. Chelette works hard at staying accident free by imagining that every motorist on the road is backed by a concerned family who wants their loved one to arrive home safely.
By leading with his heart, safety takes care of itself. It's the opposite of road rage — it's road love.
"I've always put safety first," said Chelette, a former distribution center supervisor who lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. "Each and every time I sit behind this wheel, I think, not just about my family, but about everybody out here on the road."
For the last 15 years, Chelette has been a driver for Big G Express in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He was chosen for America's Road Team from a pool of more than 2,000 nominees.
He says trucking is actually an unlikely career for a guy who used to have to take naps on road trips from Tennessee to his native Louisiana.
"I would never in a million years have thought I would drive a truck," he said.
Part of his job as a member of America's Road Team is to speak good safety practices — things like constantly checking your rearview mirror and observing posted speed limits.
Tennessee is a particularly challenging state to drive in, he said, as Nashville and Knoxville — and increasingly Chattanooga — are among the top cities in America for truck-traffic congestion.
Monteagle Mountain, with its steep grade, is notorious among truckers nationwide, he said. In Chattanooga, it's the Missionary Ridge "cut" that gives truck drivers heartburn, he said, because it's hard for them to keep momentum up the ridge in a truck carrying a heavy load.
In a twist on the safety talk, we asked Chelette to list things motorists do that drive truckers crazy, things that create risks that are easily avoidable.
Chelette allowed that truck drivers do have pet peeves, and here are a few:
— People driving without their lights on in the daytime.
Most late-model cars have daytime running lights, but too many motorists fail to activate them. Drivers of silver and gray cars should make double-sure to use their lights during daylight hours, Chelette said. Silver cars without their lights on in a daytime rainstorm are nearly invisible to truckers, he adds.
If you are wondering, red and white are the most visible vehicle colors, he said.
— Motorists remaining in an 18-wheeler's blind spots.
Most commercial trucks travel in a "governed" range of between 62-67 mph so they are not hard to pass, he said. "We're not asking you to speed, but just come on and get around us," he said.
Chelette said driving in the back right of a trucker's field of vision is the worst. A dozen motorcycles can hide in that particular blind spot, he said. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot see a truck driver's face in the truck's side mirror, he or she probably can't see you, either.
— Drivers who don't have the courage to speed up and merge at the end of an on ramp.
Chelette says that trucks will slow down to let you merge left, so don't be afraid to accelerate into the flow of traffic. Getting to the end of an on ramp and panicking by pumping your brakes is perilous, he said.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com.