Dave Huneryager, president and CEO of the Tennessee Trucking Association (TTA), is a mountain of a man. Standing at well over six feet with broad shoulders and a sturdy frame, his physical presence, led to a stellar basketball career in high school and later at St. Joseph’s College in Indiana, where Huneryager was inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1974, his senior year, Huneryager and his fellow St. Joseph’s cagers made it all the way to the NCAA Division II Basketball Finals, won by Morgan State and its just over seven feet tall Marvin “The Human Eraser” Webster, later an NBA star and national collegiate hall of fame inductee.
From his basketball days Huneryager learned two lessons: it helps to have strength up front to lead the way; but it also takes a whole team effort for consistent success. Strength and teamwork, though, require a focus. In basketball, the purpose was to win games. For Huneryager, the focus became trucking and safety.
Huneryager took his energy and those lessons into his business career. They led to his 2014 appointment to the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) board of directors – strong transportation leaders working as a team on critical research. And, since 2011, to his continuing leadership at HELP Inc. as a member of its board of directors and Executive Committee, where trucking industry and government leaders team together to improve highway safety and efficiency.
In Tennessee, Huneryager saw that TTA must be the strength up front to combat mistaken perceptions of the trucking industry and promote highway safety. In 1993 the association created Tennessee’s Road Team, professional truck drivers with a passion for safety. The Road Team Captains speak to elected officials, media, schools, and civic groups, showing trucking as a provider of economic well-being and, using the association’s “No Zone” trailers, demonstrating how to safely share the road. Consistent Road Team success requires teamwork, and Huneryager quickly credits the drivers, their companies – who continue to pay driver wages and benefits while they work for the industry – and association members who help underwrite program expenses.
The Tennessee Trucking Association and its Tennessee Trucking Foundation also became the strength up front for others. In 2011 Huneryager accepted the prestigious American Trucking Associations Mike Russell Trucking Image Award on behalf of TTA for Tennessee’s “Teens & Trucks Share the Road” program, which brought a curriculum component on safe driving around commercial vehicles into driver education programs across the state. Motor vehicle crashes are the largest cause of teen fatalities, so reaching new drivers when they are eager to learn is critical.
In 2015, Tennessee again won the Mike Russell Award, this time reaching out to elementary students with a colorful storybook, “Papa Doug Hauls Strawberries and Smiles.” Through the story of a trucking family, young children learn that large trucks transport food, medical supplies, clothing, furniture… and strawberries! Huneryager estimates that funds contributed by his members have allowed this storybook to be donated to 80% of the elementary schools in his state.
Then this past year, 2018, Tennessee won the award again. This time the TTA was driven to help another vulnerable age group – senior citizens. In the last seven years the percentage of persons 65 years or older in Tennessee has grown from 11.21% to 15.62%. At the same time, fully 21% of highway fatalities in Tennessee are among that population and older drivers have a higher collision rate than any age group except for teen drivers.
TTA responded with a three-part program: One, partnering with the Tennessee Highway Safety Office in developing a highway safety education program. Tennessee Road Team Captains present it to senior citizen centers across the state. Two, those same Road Team Captains receive training as CarFit Technicians – showing older adults how to properly adjust car seats, steering wheels and safety belts to put them in the best physical position to see the road and control their vehicle. Three, in concert with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Road Team Captains promote participation in the Yellow DOT Program, where drivers and passengers of any age can record medical information, emergency contacts, health insurance and physicians in a Yellow DOT folder and then place a Yellow DOT decal on the driver’s side rear window, alerting first responders that vital details which can save lives are in the glove compartment. Road Team Captains come equipped to capture the information.
Huneryager says the combination of trucking industry and government leaders at HELP work the same way as the award-winning Tennessee programs: lead with strength and teamwork, focused on a higher purpose. In Tennessee he is surrounded by willing members, professional drivers and an incredible staff who track donations and grants to keep all three programs going. But a constant is the strength up front: Huneryager’s leadership in his state and HELP’s 25 years of leading government and industry in pursuit of highway safety.