A look at the inspiring work of Clifford Petersen by Katlyn Whittenburg

It’s easy for non-truck drivers to forget about the significant role truck drivers play. We see the big trailers on the road and think, “How do I get around this thing?” without putting any thought towards the person behind the wheel, and how we wouldn’t have the products that enable our life without that person.

Let’s change that.

Quite possibly the busiest driver, ever?

Meet Clifford Peterson: one of the most hard-working drivers that we are highlighting this Driver Appreciation Week.

Not only does Petersen work the long and lonely hours required of truck drivers to keep America stocked of its necessary goods, but he also works hard as a Masters student in Psychology, a Road Chaplain, a certified Life Coach and a trucking blogger. Petersen perfectly embodies the hard-working spirit that so many of our nation’s truck drivers possess.

In the trucking industry since 1993, Petersen is no rookie. He’s seen the good and the bad in this industry and is now using those years of experience to make a difference in this important, yet difficult, industry.

While he is grateful for the life that truck driving has provided for him and his wife, Nancy, he is not oblivious to its faults. And as you can tell from his long list of titles and accomplishments, Petersen isn’t one to sit around and just whine about his problems. Well, not anymore.

No complainers allowed

“When I first began, I’ll admit that I used to just complain a lot about the problems I faced as a truck driver,” Petersen said. “After going back to school, though, I realized that I could put to use my opinions and writing and actually make a difference for truck drivers.”

You’ll notice a common thread in all of his endeavors. It’s the desire to help others. You can see this in his regular contributions to Overdrive Magazine, where he writes to motivate change in the trucking industry. You can also see this in his studies of psychology and life coaching, as well as his work as a Road Chaplain with Channel 21 Ministries. His work as a Road Chaplain, in particular, brings him great fulfillment.

With the Road Chaplain program, drivers can reach out to Petersen or other Road Chaplains by phone or can meet for a chat while on the road. Each Road Chaplain’s truck bears an emblem to signify to other drivers that a chaplain is on board.

It’s lonely on the road

Petersen believes having someone to talk to can make a huge difference for a truck driver. The loneliness of working on the road away from friends and family for long stretches at a time can be daunting, especially since truck driving can often be a thankless and misunderstood job.

“Many people think truck drivers are just dumb rednecks who can’t do anything else,” Petersen said. “And this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. These drivers work 70 hours per week without the benefit of going home to their loved ones every night, dealing with working conditions and expectations that many could not take on.”

Tackling the driver shortage and retention problem in the industry

Those difficult conditions actually concern Petersen a great deal as he looks at the future of this industry. He’s written extensively on the topic of the driver retention problem.

He believes that the younger generations are finding the trucking lifeless and less appealing, which means that the driver shortage will only worsen. “While going back to school, I remember younger students laughing when I mentioned that truck drivers work 70 hours per week with no overtime. They couldn’t even imagine working like that.”

This is why, when asked what single change could make the biggest difference for the trucking industry, he responded that drivers should be paid an hourly wage, ensuring that drivers get paid for time spent driving, as well as parking, loading and unloading. Hourly wages would also promote safer working conditions for drivers since they would not be rushed to fit their work into the allotted 14-hour clock. They could feel secure knowing they would be paid for the work they provide even when road conditions are unpredictable.

With downsides, there are also upsides

Despite the downsides, Petersen appreciates the advantages of the truck driver life. “I’ve been able to see the country in a way most will never get to.”

He also points out that truck driving can provide young men and women an excellent opportunity to save money before they start a family.

“I told my 19-year-old nephew that when he turns 21, if he and his wife haven’t had kids yet, they could go out in a truck for a few years and really save money,” Petersen said. “In four or five years, they would have enough to buy a nice little house to start a family in.”

This ability to travel the country, as well as save money, could help attract millennial drivers. And with the availability of technology like Facetime, the road doesn’t have to be quite so lonely.

Words of wisdom from Petersen

In fact, Petersen has come up with some great advice for making the most of this unusual lifestyle.

First, Petersen reminds drivers to get out there and really engage with the community, and not just by sharing posts on social media.

“It’s easy to think that sharing posts on Facebook will keep you socially engaged, but it won’t,” he said. “After a while, it only makes you lonelier. Use Facebook as a way to connect with the community and then go to actual, real-world events. Humans are social beings, and truck drivers have to put an effort into getting that important social interaction.”

Secondly, Petersen reminds drivers to turn the alone time in the cab into an opportunity. “There are great online colleges that will allow you to earn a degree while on the road. There are also audiobooks that can not only pass the time but really teach you something.”

Petersen is an unstoppable force. Even when faced with the seemingly immovable issues of the trucking industry, Petersen finds a way to keep pushing forward and to inspire change. He has taken his job as a truck driver and turned it into a life with purpose. Petersen serves as a reminder for drivers everywhere that you can accomplish anything if you work hard enough. Even from inside the cab.