The Trucker Chronicles

Robert Petrancosta’s first truck drive happened by chance and he could never have imagined it would shape his future. He had secured a summer job at a furniture warehouse while still attending high school. Being the last person in the warehouse one day, his boss gave him the truck keys and told him to deliver an order to a customer within an hour after confirming he had a driver’s license. That marked the beginning of his lifelong career.

From that time, Robert decided to enter the transportation industry and has never looked back. He has diligently served the Con-Way Freight for 24 years, where he is currently the safety director.

The American Trucking Association recently recognized Robert Petrancosta as the Safety Director of the Year, nearly 43 years since he had made his first delivery. Accepting the award, Robert said it was special considering it came from his peer group. He explained his success was largely dependent on his team members.

Robert has a wide range of responsibilities as the Safety Director at Con-way Freight, from ensuring the freight loaders at the docks prevent back injuries by practicing safe lifting to ensuring the safety of the company’s drivers on the road.

Con-Way Freight employs 14,000 drivers among its 21,000 workers. The drivers sometimes engage in dangerous work considering they drive trucks along the roads at an average of 2.5 million miles every day. This results in high chances of injury during transit, some of which can be very serious. The responsibility of ensuring their safety is quite challenging.

Robert took extra measures to do the best at his job. He developed a special placarding program to help companies easily determine the right labels to affix to trailers carrying hazardous material to warn the public. The program uses a calculator to determine the appropriate signage based on relevant materials and substances regulations. He developed the patented software in 2000.

Different freight companies use the program apart from Con-Way Freight. Many enforcement officials in the U.S. also rely on the software in their work.

Although Robert does not want to take credit for the award, many people attribute his success as a safety director to his own experience in driving, including the CEO and president of Con-Way Freight, Doug Stotler. Doug first met Robert 20 years ago at a loading dock.

Congratulating him for the award, Stotler explained no one in the Less Than Truckload industry had earned more respect and credibility in advocating for motor carrier safety than Robert. His experience was largely responsible for his credibility. The drivers under him respect his advice because he understands the challenges they face. He also took further studies to prepare him for the job.

Prior to joining Con-Way Freight, Robert returned to school and received a degree in hazardous material technology at Waubonsee College. His studies helped him understand that the industry is not just concerned with moving freight but even more importantly, the people that move the freight.

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