Driver Instructor of the Year Mike Rozeski Reflects on What It Takes to be a Professional Truck Driver
More than 22 years of experience.
One-million safely driven miles.
2012 Transport America Driver of the Year.
2018 Top Gun Award Winner.
These are just some of the ways to describe Mike Rozeski, one of Transport America’s long-time drivers and now, one of its best driver instructors.
Recently named Transport America’s 2018 Driver Instructor of the Year, there are few drivers who are as passionate about driver training and driver safety as Rozeski.
Rozeski’s journey into truck driving began back in 1997, when he made the shift from working in a warehouse, loading and unloading truck trailers, to becoming a professional driver. He joined Transport America as an OTR driver in 2002.
“I wanted to better myself and make more money,” says Rozeski. “I would talk with the various drivers who would visit our warehouse and realized that I could do better as a driver.”
A resident of Salem, Ohio, a small town located about 25 miles southwest of Youngstown, Ohio, Rozeski drives out of Transport America’s North Jackson support center.
Rozeski works with drivers who have earned their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) after recently attending a truck driving program or school and are eager to begin their career in trucking.
After being hired by Transport America, these newly minted drivers must complete a classroom orientation program at the company’s training facility in Indianapolis or Birmingham followed by 21 days of behind-the-wheel training with a Transport America driver instructor such as Rozeski. After passing an internal driving test, these new drivers are then allowed to drive solo.
“I see a wide range of people who join Transport America from right out of trucking school,” says Rozeski, “from young people in their 20’s who are just starting their professional life to people in their 40’s and 50’s who are looking for a career change.”
“I also get the opportunity to work with a lot of veterans who are transitioning to civilian life,” he says.
He adds: “I’m also training Millennials who are well-versed in technology. It’s a great thing because they adapt very quickly to the new technology in today’s trucks.”
Rozeski aims to teach drivers the most crucial techniques required for driving safely and efficiently, and how to adapt to the lifestyle that goes along with their new career. When working with the new drivers, Rozeski focuses first and foremost on safety.
Rozeski makes sure to emphasize that when he’s on the road with a new driver, he is sitting in the seat next to the new driver the entire time to observe their driving skills, and to comment on how to drive more safely.
“At some companies, they use the driver instructor as an opportunity to do team driving,” says Rozeski. “Not us. I never go in the back of the cab to sleep and then take over driving duties later on. I’m 100% focused on the driver.”
A testament to Rozeski’s great teaching is the Driver Instructor of the Year award. One of the factors that goes into an instructor receiving this honor is the driving record of all of the drivers taught by a particular instructor over the past year. Last year, all of Rozeski’s student drivers recorded an accident-free year.
(pictured: Rozeski’s recent student Nurradin)
One of the reasons that Rozeski thinks his driver trainees do so well is the emphasis he puts on driving safely. What goes into his teaching is advice such as being aware of what’s going on around you at all times, having lots of patience, giving yourself time so you’re not rushing, and keeping a safe driving distance.
In addition to safety, Rozeski also helps new drivers ease into the lifestyle of driving by talking through such things as budgeting, staying in touch with home while out on the road, how to eat healthy, safe places to park, and more.
“I talk to drivers about budgeting, saving, and contributing to their 401k,” says Rozeski. “It’s so important for a driver’s future, so I make a point of emphasizing it to all of my student drivers.”
Teaching is where Rozeski has found his purpose, but it’s not without challenges.
“It takes a lot of patience,” says Rozeski.
“I love seeing the drivers I train succeed. It’s the best feeling. The main way I encourage students to do well in the classroom and on-the-road training is by asking questions. There’s never a bad question. Asking questions addresses issues and concerns that we can work through together and ultimately lead them to success in their new career.”
As every driver knows, life on the road away from loved ones can be challenging. During his time off, Rozeski goes to his cabin with his wife in the summertime. They enjoy swimming, and just sitting around and relaxing.
This work-life balance is exactly what Rozeski plans to teach all of his driving trainees.