Not many people can say their photo is on a billboard, but Jodi Edwards can. She’s actually appeared on two of them. They’re ads for trucking company J.B. Hunt, where Edwards is celebrated for her safe driving record.
In the two decades she’s driven intermodal for J.B. Hunt, Edwards has racked up 1.4 million safe miles. She’s also a member of the Women in Trucking Image Team and mentors other women truckers. For all of these reasons, we chose to highlight Edwards for Truck Driver Appreciation Week.
Here, she shares her thoughts on how fleets can recruit more women, how she’s been able to stay safe on the road so consistently, and more.
As part of her role on the Women in Trucking Image Team, Edwards takes government workers from the Department of Transportation, FMCSA and other agencies on ride-alongs so they can understand the ins and outs of trucking, recommend changes to help the industry, or facilitate better truck fleet management.
“What comes across as ‘women in trucking’ really benefits us all,” Edwards said of her work with the Women in Trucking Association—which includes several men in its membership as well. “Ride-alongs with agency representatives help make trucks more user friendly for everyone, ensuring that both male and female truck drivers of all shapes and sizes can touch the pedals and operate them with ease.”
Women present opportunity for truck driver recruiting efforts
Today, there are more than 200,0000 women in trucking. According to Fleet Owner magazine, women comprise between 4.1 percent and 6 percent of all truck drivers. In the face of the driver shortage (Fleet Owner anticipates “potential shortfall of 239,000 drivers” by 2022), fleets would be smart to recruit more women to fill the void.
In their truck driver recruiting efforts, “companies should make sure to have clean, safe facilities and offer opportunities for women who want to drive OTR and local,” Edwards advises. “Women value the chance to drive local, have a family, and participate in their children’s lives. Offering women flexible options that allow them time for those things could help a lot in attracting them to a career in trucking and logistics.”
With J.B. Hunt, for example, Edwards long has worked from 4 a.m.-2 p.m. When her son was younger, Edwards’ work schedule allowed her to be a routine presence at his games, whether it was baseball, basketball or wrestling. By offering women truckers such flexibility, trucking companies can gain an edge on their competitors when hiring, Edwards said. Having an employer who appreciates her role as a parent only has solidified Edwards loyalty to J.B. Hunt over the years—so much so that she plans to retire with them.
In an article for Supply Chain 24/7, Women in Trucking Association President and CEO Ellen Voie wrote that for driver recruiting strategies to successfully attract women to trucking, fleets must have a culture that appreciates and supports women. Acknowledging the unique benefits women bring to the job—such as the tendency to take fewer risks—helps, too, she added.
A safety-minded woman truck driver
Edwards herself was attracted to the profession not by truck driver recruiting efforts, but by researching careers at the library. Her desire for a position that allowed her to travel led her to a children’s book on trucking. In the more than 20 years since then, Edwards has made a name for herself as a woman trucker who exemplifies safety and defensive driving.
Edwards recalls the swell of emotion she felt upon earning her Million Mile Award, when J.B. Hunt honored her with a plaque, a watch, a $5,000 bonus, and patches for her uniform.
“The recognition is amazing,” Edwards said. “They make you feel like a rock star for doing your job well. It makes you feel appreciated. The way they support us, it spurs me on even more.”
J.B. Hunt’s strong safety culture and the five keys of the Smith System have helped Edwards be the best driver she can be. She’s mastered the five Smith System keys so much, in fact, that in October she became a Smith System trainer for J.B. Hunt. The system focuses on creating space around the vehicle—increasing a driver’s reaction time and allowing him or her to adapt to changing road conditions.
“Being an active role model is important. You teach by example. If you show people what a great driver looks like, they can be one themselves.”
“The Smith System has engrained safety in me,” she said. “Ever since my first Smith System class, I’ve always taken an interest in it. The main thing is to keep space around you and keep an eye on what’s happening around you, whether it’s a traffic jam, a construction zone or a school bus.”
Edwards makes a point to scan her mirrors, look 15 seconds down the road, and keep her following distance to at least seven seconds. As a Smith System trainer, she shares all of these tips with her students because she has found that they help improve safety.
“Being an active role model is important,” she said. “You teach by example. If you show people what a great driver looks like, they can be one themselves.”
When Edwards drives, she imagines those in the surrounding vehicles are her own friends and family. It makes her all the more vigilant. “They’re somebody’s loved ones—they may as well be mine,” she said. “If everybody drove that carefully, I believe there would be a lot fewer accidents.”