West Virginia's highways are safer, at least when truck driver David B. Bowers is behind the wheel.
Bowers, who lives in Clarksburg, was recently awarded the honor of best three-axle tractor-semitrailer driver in the state of West Virginia at a competition in Charleston.
He was also named "Rookie of the Year" at the competition.
"It's a great honor. I worked hard at it," he said.
He has been driving trucks for 30 years. His father, who worked in the trucking repair business, encouraged him. At age 12, his father had him helping pull trucks in and out of their garage.
He trained for two months prior to the event by practicing his skills at courses in Wheeling and Charleston and by studying a book of 2,000 facts provided by the American Trucking Association.
"I carried the book with me and on my lunch hour and if I was delayed somewhere, I'd pull it out and read," Bowers said.
During the event, drivers were scored on test situations that they encounter daily such as backing into a crowded loading dock and parallel-parking a 75 foot tractor-trailer into an 80 foot space.
Participants were penalized if they bumped any barriers or if they exceeded the 10 minute time frame.
Bowers was shocked at his first place victory. "I wanted to place, but with three past champions competing in that class I never thought I'd win first place."
In addition to driving skills, contestants were also given a written exam and a verbal interview by the state police who quizzed drivers on their knowledge of laws. Contestants also had to go through paperwork checks and pre-trip inspections.
Bowers is grateful to those who helped him train for the competition, especially eight time champion Kenny Bailey of CCX trucking. "I had a good coach. Kenny was a lot of help."
Bowers is a driver for Yellow Freight System and delivers freight to local businesses.
Although he never attended truck driving school, Bowers attended the "school of hard knocks," he said.
He has seen a lot of things during his time on the highways, but is especially troubled at the new cellular phone craze that drivers everywhere are participating in. When talking and driving, drivers aren't as attentive as they should be, Bowers said.
"I've seen people run red lights and drive on the wrong side of the road. It's out of hand," he said.
Safety is a big concern for Bowers, who would like to see more people using headlights in low visibility. "Its very dangerous. We can be up on them before we know it."
"I don't think people realize that rigs are 40,000 pounds versus a 2000 pound car. There should be a certain amount of fear and there just isn't," he said.
Bowers will now go on to compete in the American Trucking Associations' National Truck Driving Championships, in New Orleans, La. in August where he will compete against drivers from other states.
He isn't nervous about the competition and just hopes to do his best. "I've tried to stress to my kids that if you do your best and still fail, you've still won."
Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1443.