Ron Sowder is a UPS driver with 44 years of experience and a longtime member of UPS’s Circle of Honor. In this interview, Sowder describes the improvements he has seen in UPS driver safety throughout his career, and he explains what his remarkable driving record means to him.
Please provide a brief history of your career with United Parcel Service (UPS). Why did you join UPS and what made you stay?
I started on December 5, 1960 as a package car driver in Dayton, Ohio. As a kid growing up in Norwood, Ohio, I used to see the UPS guys in the neighborhood, and I thought it looked like a great job—being outdoors, meeting people, especially the small-town characters that you meet on this job. I still enjoy being outside and talking to people on the job.
Based on your 44 years of experience with UPS, what do you consider to be the most significant changes or improvements made in UPS driver safety?
The biggest improvement I have seen is the consistent use of seatbelts. When I started out, seatbelts were not commonly used. Overall, the equipment has improved. The trucks are much more comfortable and reliable than they were in the old days. And that is not just UPS—that is everywhere.
You are a member of UPS’s Circle of Honor Program, which rewards UPS drivers who have achieved 25 years or more of safe driving. What does this recognition mean to you personally?
Membership in the Circle of Honor is a good, worthwhile achievement. It gives you a real sense of accomplishment about your job. It makes you feel as though you have really done something meaningful.
How do you maintain your driving skills and safety record today?
There are three key steps: stay alert, keep a positive attitude on the road and exercise your skills.
In what ways do you serve as a role model for new UPS drivers or drivers in training? For example, do you mentor those who are enrolled in the UPS Driver Training School (DTS)? Please elaborate.
I am not really involved in the DTS, but I do try to help out the newer drivers. If I see someone that needs help or I know a way to do something easier and safer, I will give them tips.
As a UPS driver with over 40 years of experience, how has driving on U.S. roads changed since the 1960s? Do you currently face any challenges that were not present when you first began your career as a UPS driver?
There are just a lot more people on the road. It is more crowded, and people are in a hurry. It often seems like people are not as courteous on the road as they used to be, which probably has something to do with everybody being in such a hurry.
In your career as a UPS driver, what was the most unusual or humorous situation you encountered?
Well, in this job, eventually you see it all. I have seen fistfights on the side of the road, I have had customers answer the door naked and just about everything else you can think of.
In your opinion, what separates UPS’s driver training program from other similar programs?
The driver training program here is very thorough and detailed. The people who run the program really know what they are talking about. I think that has to do with the whole promotion-from-within policy at UPS. The trainers are knowledgeable because they have been on the road themselves. They know what works and what does not.
How has UPS used safety to make drivers such as yourself a competitive asset ?
UPS drivers have a great reputation and for good reason. Everybody gets to know you, and you get to know your customers. People know you are going to do what is right, and they know they can count on you. That is an important advantage.
How do you balance efficient delivery and quality service while facing traffic-related safety issues?
You have to do what it takes to get it there. Usually, it boils down to good communication with both your dispatcher and other drivers so you can solve problems as a team. Sometimes that means going around the problem and not trying to force your way through it.
Do you feel that the discipline you gained during your career as a UPS driver has made you a better driver when you are “off the job?” Please explain.
I use the methods I have learned all the time no matter what I am driving. The idea is to make safe driving a habit. “Get the big picture,” space and visibility—those are all things that you use every day.
What do you believe is the single greatest benefit of being a UPS driver?
The future. I like that this company is always growing and is never stagnant. It is great to be part of an organization that always looks ahead.
What advice do you have for those who wish to become UPS drivers?
If you are not afraid of an honest day’s work, UPS is a great company to work for. I am always proud that UPS trusts me with their equipment, as it is a big responsibility. I am always grateful for the opportunity.