When you think of a truck driver it’s easy to imagine a big burly guy wearing a John Deere cap, a cut off plaid button up shirt, some steel-toed boots and a cheek full of Red Man tobacco. That stereotype in mind, it is surprising to see Loretta Bruyeré, Navajo, a petite woman climb out of the driver’s seat from the cab of a twin-trailer freight truck.
Bruyeré is not only a petite woman who handles her twin-trailer with ease while breaking stereotypes, but she is the first woman ever to win the title of Grand Champion in the 81-year history of the New Mexico Truck Driving Championships competition.
Bruyeré, who is originally from Farmington, NM, became not only the first woman to win overall Grand Champion earlier this year in May, she also won the Twin-Trailer division.
“I love driving a truck because I know that not many people get to drive a truck. Many people are scared of big vehicles and I pride myself on being a good driver,” said Bruyeré, who now lives in Fruitland, NM, and works out of the FedEx freight service center in Farmington. “I knew eventually I would get hired by a company that would take a chance on me to work for them. My dad was the one that influenced me and told me not to give up on being a truck driver.”
Before applying to FedEx Freight, Bruyeré told ICT she was struggling to get interviews because a truck driver position ‘wasn’t a job for a woman.’ But that didn’t deter Bruyeré, who says she knew she was qualified, and could handle the job.
For five years, she continued to push until she was finally offered a position driving semi-trucks in New Mexico.
When asked why she persevered after so many rejections, Bruyeré said, “I wanted to show young women, and particularly Native American women, that no job was too big or challenging that it couldn’t be done by a woman.” She added that one of her favorite things to do is when she is stepping out of her semi-truck and seeing the “surprised looks from other drivers at a petite woman operating one of the largest vehicles on the road.”
“I chose to drive a twin-trailer (a truck that tows two trailers) because I knew it would be a good experience for me. I asked to be a twin-trailer driver,” says Bruyeré, who currently drives a 28-foot twin trailer with an 80,000 pound capacity.
FedEx Freight favors the 33-foot trailer legislative initiative with a 90,000 pound capacity because carrying a larger capacity load is better in terms of fuel efficiency and ultimately generates savings to consumers.
But there is controversy surrounding increasing the length of twin-trailers and their carrying capacity. Opponents of longer and heavier trucks have ramped up a campaign to stop legislative efforts to make 33-foot doubles (up from 28-footers) and 90,000-pound-plus truck freight limits (up from 80,000).
“Each day on average, 12 people are killed and 300 more are injured in crashes involving a large truck. In any other mode of transportation, these numbers would be intolerable,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety(saferoads.org/) .
“Congress should be taking action to address, and not exacerbate, this national safety problem. Yet, special trucking interests are pushing them to rollback safety protections and allow bigger and heavier trucks on our roads and overturn critical rest breaks for truck drivers which help combat fatigue.”
But according to Americans for Modern Transportation (americansformoderntransportation.org/) the accident rate for trucks is now one-third the rate for passenger vehicles. “In fact, recent innovations such as Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning systems collectively reduce thousands of crashes a year. To build on this success and increase safety for all motorists, we must continue reducing the number of vehicles on the road,” wrote Ronald R. Knipling, Ph.D. in his study done for AMT advocating for Twin-33 foot trailers.
“In addition to the safety benefits, this analysis finds that a shift from Twin-28 to Twin-33 foot trailers would result in better fuel efficiency and lower costs for consumers. The shift would save 255.2 million gallons of fuel (annually) while reducing shipping costs by $2.6 billion. These emissions reductions would be equivalent to taking 551,000 cars off the roadways,” explained Knipling.
The National and New Mexico Truck Driving Championships are hosted by the American Trucking Association and the national competition is known as the “Super Bowl of Safety” because it inspires drivers to stay accident-free for the right to compete in the state and national competitions.
The New Mexico truck driving championships consists of a written test which has an hour time limit. There is a 10-minute pre-trip inspection where competitors have to find 15 defects on the tractor and trailers.
All drivers must be accident-free for at least one year prior to competing. This year’s events were held in Columbus, Ohio, August 16. Loretta Bruyeré placed 43rd at her first national competition.