The man taking truck safety to young drivers

By: Cobey Bartels


We caught up with ATA Safety Truck driver Glen Schmidtke in Brisbane, where he was introducing high-school students to the vehicle

The man taking truck safety to young drivers
Glen Schmidtke

 

While spreading the message of safe driving around trucks is becoming a fraught issue between parts of the industry and the government on a national level, the industry is tackling it directly with more impressionable minds.

Actually at the wheel of this initiative and driving the message home is the individual who is one of the best equipped to do the job.

The vehicle is the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) Safety Truck.

It has been seen by many on the roads at some point and many have also met the man in the driver’s seat, Glen Schmidtke.

What people might not know, though, is that Schmidtke has been driving trucks for all of his adult life and even had a long stint with the police.

For the past seven years, since leaving the police, Schmidtke has made a huge road safety impact around the nation, educating people of all ages on how to safely share the road with trucks.

"I was 11 years old when I started washing trucks back in Newcastle," he says as he explains how it all started.

"I progressed to being an apprentice mechanic and did that, then got into driving because back then the $65 a week as a mechanic wasn’t much!

"I’ve driven trucks since I was 18 years old and I can say I’ve been doing it for now for nearly 40 years."

Schmidtke says his time with the NSW Highway Patrol, a period of his career that spanned nearly three decades, fostered his deep regard for road safety and he did as much as he could to create change while in the force.

"I had a 27 year stint in the NSW Highway Patrol and it gave me a real passion for road safety.

"I dealt with a lot of accidents involving heavy vehicles where I worked and I went to the road freight advisory groups in the Hunter Region and the road transport awareness groups during my time.

"I also had 17 years working with the road transport awareness group down there doing the convoy.

"That was all while I was with the police."

Schmidtke began getting involved with the ATA’s Safety Truck while still an officer, taking it around to schools whenever it was in the Newcastle area.

After finishing up with the police, the ATA approached him and offered the chance to spread his safety message.

"When I retired from the police force, the ATA asked me if I wanted to drive and present the truck around the country.

"Drivers are hard to get hold of so I considered it and decided to come on board.

"I have now been here for seven years and we went from doing it around 15 weeks a year to last year when I spent 230 days away from home."

Young minds focus

The focus of the Safety Truck, Schmidtke explains, is targeting at risk groups, and younger drivers fall into this category.

"The truck has been designed for 16- to 25-year-olds and I visit the younger kids as well, focusing on the ‘Stop, Look, Wave’ campaign for Volvo," he says.

"We’ve now got to the point where around nine out of 10 fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles are caused by the other party, not the truck.

"It costs the community and our industry millions of dollars.                       

"My whole idea is, the young drivers are causing and exposed to the most danger on the road and so we need to work with them.

"They talk to each other and change their behaviours, it works."

Schmidtke has also been visiting caravan shows to educate grey nomads who are a notoriously contentious group among the transport community.

"The older ones want to tell you how good they are at driving, and I do target the older ones and work with the grey nomads.

"It’s important to work with the younger ones and change behaviours early, but we also work with older people that are towing camper vans."

Despite the truck sitting stationary while training is taking place, the Volvo FH540 still sees about 65,000 kilometres each year and Schmidtke says it hasn’t missed a beat.

"The Volvo is a comfortable truck to drive, and I’ve driven virtually every type of truck on the road – this does the job well.

"I don’t stay in hotels; I’ll spend most nights in the truck because that’s what I’m used to."

When we caught up with Schmidtke in Brisbane, he was coming off the back of a number of school visits and a careers expo.

"I’ve had 350 children go through the cab of the truck in the last week alone," he said.

At the time, Schmidtke was due to set off on a run to Melbourne to pick up gear for the ATA Auction and make his way via a number of towns to Darwin for the Trucking Australia conference.

As far as he’s concerned, it doesn’t get much better than this.

"Hopefully I’m going to be able to do this for many years to come."

Read the full feature in the July edition of ATN. Subscribe here.

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