Brooks Washburn has driven trucks 3.8 million miles without an accident.
That is like driving 152 times around the equator. If you could drive to the moon and back, Washburn has done it eight times, accident free.
He has driven accident free the equivalent of 29,787 round trips between Downtown Albuquerque and the Santa Fe plaza. He has driven accident free the equivalent of 657 round trips between Los Angeles and New York.
That safety record is one reason Washburn is competing this week in the National Truck Driving Championships in Salt Lake City. Another is he won the New Mexico competition in his class.
Drivers have to be accident free for the previous year to qualify for the nationals. The 54-year-old Washburn hasn’t had an accident driving a truck since he turned professional at age 19. (He did recently have a minor motorcycle accident – embarrassing, but it doesn’t count against his truck-driving record.) Washburn, a Rio Rancho resident and a 15-year FedEx employee who drives big rigs over long distances, will compete against 40 to 50 other drivers in an eight-wheeled tractor pulling a 53-foot trailer.
He will be judged on how well he navigates obstacles and how he does on a written test. He will also have to inspect a rig, which professional drivers do before every trip, and find as many defects as he can.
This is Washburn’s fourth trip to the nationals since 2001. He’s never won, but he came in second in 2007.
He says he has achieved his safety record mostly by minding his own business.
Asked what sort of crazy driving he’s seen in all those miles, Washburn replies: “I don’t focus on other drivers. What I try to do is focus on safety, keeping a cushion around me and everyone around me safe.”
Big trucks start slow, take a long time to stop and take a lot of room to turn. For those reasons, he said, the safe driver keeps as much space around his rig as clear as possible.
“I like to have four seconds (in which to stop) in front of me, room behind me, and room to one side,” he said.
When a driver gets too close behind him, Washburn slows down, to give the other driver more time to stop suddenly. When traffic ahead slows down, he slows down to keep the cushion large enough.
Washburn fell in love with trucks as a kid in Jemez Springs.
“I used to see the cattle trucks go by. I’d stand out there by the road and they honked their horns for me. I thought that was a great deal,” he said.
“You get a panoramic view of the scenery, and the scenery is always changing. I’ve got a lot of freedom. I like the time I’m out there by myself.”
He did long trips for Bekins Van Lines and has driven in every state but Alaska, Hawaii and Maine. These days he drives FedEx packages from Albuquerque to Stratford, Texas, which is 81 miles north of Amarillo.
At a FedEx yard there, he meets a driver from Wichita. They swap trailers, and Washburn returns to Albuquerque. He manages to get home every night to see Mary, his wife of 35 years.
“I get to see a lot of sunrises,” he said. “In New Mexico, we get a lot of good sunrises. In the winter, I see sunsets. I got to see a total eclipse of the moon. I got to see meteor showers. It just starts my day off right, and it ends my day with a nice thought.”