Years ago, Jana Heideman learned an important driving trick from her father-in-law.
“He told me the way to become a good driver is to think about putting half a cup of coffee on your dash,” she said. “If you can get from Point A to Point B without spilling it, then you’re doing pretty good.”
It’s a tip that has helped Heideman throughout her career, most recently in winning the second annual DHL Express Safe-Driving Rodeo Competition. She competed against 650 other drivers.
The rodeo works like this: drivers all across the country volunteer to have a Geotab GPS tracker installed in their trucks for five months. The tracker monitors speeding, harsh accelerating, harsh braking, and harsh cornering, and gives the driver a daily score from one to five.
Once the five months are up, the finalists convene to compete in one last competition.
This past August, 15 finalists gathered in Dallas to complete a Smith System driving test that included a city drive, a freeway drive, a Department of Transportation inspection, and a written exam.
After all that, Heideman came out on top. She scored 396 out of 400 and was the only female finalist and the only finalist from the West Coast.
“This year I just happened to have a good year all the way around,” she said.
Heideman’s boss, Tony Truant, described Heideman as “a great competitor.”
“Jana is fantastic,” he said. Safe-driving skills are important for everyone, but they are especially so for delivery drivers who operate such large vehicles.
“Every day is different when it comes to our jobs,” Truant said. Drivers have to navigate highly populated areas near malls and schools, and, out near Woodinville and Duvall, areas with deer and other creatures.
Heideman has been driving for DHL for 26 years. Her career as a delivery driver started when she went into an unemployment office looking for a job. She had been driving forklifts in Moses Lake, but there were no forklift positions available at the time.
“The guy said, ‘If you can drive a forklift, you can drive a car in Seattle,’” Heideman said.
The career move stuck. Over the last couple of decades, Heideman said a lot of her time has been spent driving in Woodinville.
“I love my customers,” she said. “ I pretty much feel like it’s my route, my customers once I get on the road.”
Heideman is now on a tour across the country talking about safe driving with other DHL employees.
“It’s sort of crazy,” she said. “I’m going to go to 32 different stations and just talk about my experience of being in the rodeo and maybe help encourage other drivers to participate.”
The rodeo wasn’t without its challenges, Heideman said, although this year was less stressful than last.
“The hardest part is when you’re following the speed limit and people don’t necessarily like you following the speed limit,” she said.
Participating in the rodeo has helped Heideman in her life outside of work as well.
“I’ve come out of this with some pretty good friends that I still keep in touch with,” she said. “Every one of us feels that this carried over in our personal lives and made us even better drivers in our own personal vehicles.”
Heideman will be back from her cross-country tour sometime in November, just in time for the holiday delivery season.