WHEN JEFF MELVILLE offers safety pointers or constructive criticism to truck drivers, his words carry the weight of firsthand experience.
Melville, 50, spent 16 years as a truck driver for Publix before becoming a fleet safety professional in 2015. Two years later, he was promoted to regional fleet safety specialist for the supermarket chain’s Atlanta division, supervising approximately 450 drivers in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.
He said his extensive driving experience allows him to “relate to what drivers are going through,” making him more effective in his role. In addition to training drivers, he’s responsible for crash investigation, mitigating the risk of litigation from accidents and ensuring compliance with transportation regulations.
“I’ve been to a lot of the stores they’re delivering to, so if they have issues, I can relate to that and give them my thoughts on how to handle the situation,” Melville said. “They typically take that advice better from me than from someone who may never have driven.”
As a driver, Melville earned a company award for going 15 years without an at-fault accident, and he enjoyed showing off his skills at the annual Georgia Truck Driving Championships. He earned the title of grand champion in 2013 and went on to nationals, finishing sixth in the flatbed division. In 10 years of competing at the state level, he also notched a pair of second-place finishes and placed third twice.
“I do think that if I’d never won it, I would still be a driver attempting to go to nationals,” Melville said. “I enjoyed the competition that much.”
In May, Melville experienced a different kind of victory at the Georgia Truck Driving Championship, where he was named GMTA’s 2022 Safety Professional of the Year. He said he was surprised to hear his name called out, and he’s proud that Publix has one of the safest private fleets in the region, with only 0.82 accidents per million miles driven in 2021.
Melville, a native of Elmira, N.Y., has been with Publix for 27 years. He joined the company as a machine operator at a dairy plant in Lawrenceville, Ga., and subsequently worked in industrial maintenance before getting his commercial driver’s license. A married father of two, Melville has a son, Cole, who now works at the same manufacturing facility.
Although he excelled at driving, the opportunity to help drivers improve their skills inspired Melville to become a fleet safety specialist. “And then the compliance part of it got me hooked,” he added. “I like to be involved with the regulations to make sure we’re always in compliance.”
Last November, Melville completed the North American Transportation Management Institute’s program to become a certified director or supervisor of safety, scoring a 98 percent on a written test. He’s also completed 13 online training courses covering Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations over the past three years.
Melville said Publix is installing more cameras in its trucks to help eliminate distracted driving and to defend against litigation from accidents. But technology is no substitute for a robust training program and a company culture that emphasizes safety, he said.
“I thought of myself as a good driver,” Melville said. “I knew how I was expected to drive, and now I have those same expectations of others. I can see when a driver may need coaching or retraining to improve their speed and space management, and having been a driver at one point, I can talk to them about why they need to change their behavior.”
Since becoming a fleet safety specialist, Melville has taken an active role with GMTA. He’s served on its Safety and Security Council since 2015, including two-year terms as chairman and vice chairman.
The council provides educational opportunities for carrier members, keeping them up-to-date on changes to federal and state regulations. The group also partners with law enforcement several times a year to perform courtesy inspections on tractor trailers in the field, helping them to maintain regulatory compliance.
Additionally, Melville has served on the Georgia Truck Driving Championship committee since 2015, including as chair the past two years. The committee organizes and plans the annual competition, which features a written test, a pretrip inspection in which drivers must identify equipment defects and a timed obstacle course with six intricate problems.
Melville said he’s a big proponent of the Truck Driving Championship because the competition makes drivers safer.
“If you were involved in any accident in the past year, you don’t get to compete, even if it wasn’t your fault, so it makes you a more defensive driver,” Melville said. “It also improves your skills because most of the problems on the obstacle course are measured to within about 18 inches, so it makes you a more precise driver. It hones your skills to be able to maneuver your vehicle in small places.”
In his spare time, Melville enjoys playing disc golf, which is similar to golf. Instead of hitting a golf ball with a club, players throw a Frisbee from a tee area to a target, typically an elevated basket. The objective is to reach the target in as few throws as possible. Since picking up the sport five years ago, Melville has helped to run a local disc golf club and organize tournaments.
“I’m almost fanatical about it,” he said. “I like being in the great outdoors. It’s an inexpensive sport and the community is a good bunch of people who are generous toward charity.”