Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security for Schneider National, a large nationwide trucking firm, and Dollar, Burns & Becker’s Jeff Burns, have worked together several times over the years. The experience has given Osterberg a deep respect and appreciation for Burns, which he was happy to share with us:
“I recall the first time I met Jeff Burns. I had just completed the last presentation of the day at the annual Transportation Research Board meetings in Washington, D.C. summarizing my assessment of trucking industry safety. During the session I outlined our approach to tackling the challenges we faced in the name of improving highway safety.
“After presentations of that sort, there are always people who approach me to ask clarifying questions, but more often to hand me a business card and do a quick sell for their product or project. The day I met Jeff there was an unusually large group of people waiting to talk with me, perhaps because there were no sessions following mine. I noticed Jeff waiting patiently for at least 30 minutes at the back of the pack until I had the opportunity to talk with him.
“When I finally had the opportunity to talk with Jeff, he referred to my summary of our empathic outreach to families following high-severity crashes that resulted in fatalities or serious injuries. He thanked me for having the courage to say I was sorry to families who had been devastated by the loss of a loved one in a truck crash. I hadn’t been in a safety leadership position for very long at that time and was still fairly new to the trucking industry (I’m a retired military officer). I recall thinking how fundamental it is to offer condolences to grieving families, but Jeff assured me that our approach wasn’t the norm.
“Perhaps as a result of my military experience of being exposed to many people in many different places, I have developed a refined ability to quickly judge people. After a long conversation with Jeff that day on myriad safety topics, I assessed him to be a genuine and passionate advocate for improved public safety.
Osterberg and Burns Share Common Vision
“Over the years, I continued to talk with Jeff and realized that we were both committed to the same goals relative to trucking industry safety. In short, we shared a common vision and talked often about finding opportunities for collaboration to tackle safety-related issues. We acknowledged that while we wouldn’t always agree on every approach to every issue, we realized that we agreed on far more than we disagreed on. We recognized that working together we could achieve more traction than either of us could achieve on our own.
“Over time our relationship matured to one of mutual respect and trust. We knew that the roots of distrust between safety advocates, plaintiff’s attorneys specializing in truck litigation and trucking industry leaders ran deep. There was scarring that would take time to heal. We knew that many leaders, on all sides, would reflexively reject the notion that collaboration could be an effective approach. Jeff was undaunted by the naysayers. We agreed to continue to search for topics of mutual interest that could represent the dawning of a new era of civility and collaboration. Jeff had the courage to propose what I expect was viewed by some as a radical ideato recognize me with the first ever Distinguished Safety Leadership Award. Jeff recognized before most people that, while criticism of the nefarious actors in the trucking industry was necessary, recognizing those leaders and companies who were making positive efforts to do the right thing to improve safety would be an effective way to encourage and accelerate progress.
“Noteworthy initiatives included advocating for speed limiters for large trucks. In addition, the collaboration for a congressional mandate for electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) to provide a more accurate means to monitor commercial driver compliance with hours of service rules.
“In summary, I assessed early on and have validated time and again over the years that Jeff Burns’ motivations to improve public safety are genuine and deeply held. When he says that he’s cried with too many families who have been devastated by the loss of a loved one, he means it. He has the ability to translate that negative energy into apassion that is compelling and contagious. I don’t want to declare success prematurely, but Jeff has been the catalyst for collaboration between traditional adversaries."
Trucking: An Important Part of Our National Economy
“Jeff recognizes that trucking is the lifeblood of our economy and as such, he’s not anti-trucking. He believes correctly that the trucking industry can perform its essential functions safely. The cost for enabling supply chain productivity cannot be paid in lives lost and serious injuries sustained. Jeff has extended an olive branch and I have readily accepted it. I’m optimistic that the mutual respect we’ve achieved will enable collaboration on a broad array of safety topics. We’ve just scratched the surface of what is possible. I take comfort in knowing that our efforts are saving lives. Jeff Burns has earned my personal admiration and professional respect as a leader in the truest sense. He sees opportunity where other see obstacles. He inspires me to be the best that I can be. His passion and perseverance serve as a source of strength for me to continue to push the envelope in the name of safety.
Jeff, thank you for what you do.”