The figure even startled the man behind the wheel.
In 39 years of driving two 28-foot tractor trailers on runs across the Southeast, 63-year-old Robert Morali of Raymond, Mississippi has logged 5.2 million miles. All without an accident.
“I had no idea it was that many,” Morali said, shaking his head. “After they told me, I had to sit down. I was like ‘Doggone, that is a lot of miles.”‘
Morali has seen a lot of highway stripes go by.
Out of 102,000 UPS drivers worldwide, Morali is one of 60 to drive 39 years without an accident.
“Reaching 5 million miles is extremely rare,” said Brad Stotler, media relations manager for the American Trucking Association, based in Arlington, Va. “In the last five years, we’ve heard of only two or three drivers doing it.”
“In the public, if someone goes five or 10 years without an accident it’s a pretty good accomplishment,” said Dan McMackin, spokesman for UPS in Atlanta.
“Traffic has become more intense than ever. And distracted driving — cell phones, texting — has made it even tougher on our nation’s highways. When you think of what Robert has done in that environment, it’s absolutely astonishing.”
For the skeptics, grab a pencil or calculator: Morali’s current run is roundtrip from Jackson to Heflin, Ala., near the Georgia line. The trip is 630 miles. He drives it five days a week, or 3,150 miles.
Multiply that by 45 weeks (he has seven weeks’ vacation) and that comes to 141,750 miles annually. Then multiply that by 39 years and that comes to 5.5 million miles. A few sick days through the years — such as when he had heart stints inserted in 1996 and 1997 — have knocked him down to 5.2 million.
That number is growing daily. Morali gets up at midnight, arrives at the UPS center in Jackson at 1 a.m. and is on the road by 1:30. He makes one brief stop, at the Love Truck Stop in Toomsuba, on the way over. He arrives in Heflin around 6:30 a.m., and by 7 he is on his way back to Jackson. He usually pulls in around noon.
He sleeps from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., gets up to eat supper and spend 30 minutes on a treadmill, then goes back to bed until midnight. He is off every Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s about as normal a life as a truck driver can hope for,” Morali said. “I was able to coach both our sons in soccer for 14 years.”
He has driven in every form of weather.
“And I’ve seen a lot of things,” he said. “In Louisiana early one morning, an 18-wheeler hit a pickup from behind. The pickup’s gas tank exploded and the guy burned to death. The driver of the 18-wheeler was in shock and couldn’t even talk. I tried to get to the guy in the pickup, but he was already dead. I had nightmares about that for a long time.”
Not once does Morali use the word “lucky” when talking about driving 39 years without an accident.
“We are so well trained, and we are constantly reminded of the five ‘seeing habits’ that we go by every day,” he said. “We’re checking our mirrors every two seconds. It has become a habit. If you know your surroundings and give yourself plenty of cushion from the driver ahead of you, your chances of having an accident are greatly reduced.
“Plus, I never leave this place without saying a prayer. I ask that I not injure anyone and that I not be injured. If there is such a thing, that’s my good luck charm.
“I love my job. I wonder how many people truly love what they do? Maybe three out of 10? When I’m on vacation, I start missing it. And driving my pickup … it wears me out. Me and my wife (Carol) drove to Knoxville not too long ago and I thought we’d never get home. But when I’m in that (UPS) truck, I’m excited, I’m locked in. It’s just different.”
Morali has made a good living.
“The average UPS driver makes around $70,000 a year,” McMackin said. Because of his seniority, Morali earns considerably more.
He has worked for every penny, beginning at age 11 when he delivered groceries on foot for a store in his hometown of Pass Christian. At 13, he began staying after closing time to mop the floor for extra money.
“I’ve heard him say that when he was 15, his friends were getting cars and he was just hoping to get a bicycle,” Carol said. “He didn’t have an easy life growing up.”
He and Carol married in 1968 and lost everything when Hurricane Camille ravaged the Gulf Coast a year later. “The only thing I found was the stock of my Daddy’s old .22 rifle,” he said.
They moved to Jackson. Morali worked for American Can for a few months, then for Ryder Truck Rental.
“A friend of mine asked me if I was looking for a better job and told me that UPS was hiring drivers,” he said.
He applied and started driving in 1971.
The Moralis’ oldest son, Bobby, is 42, lives in Gluckstadt and also drives for UPS in its freight division. Their youngest, Jay, is 40 and works for a pharmaceutical company in Baltimore.
Robert Morali has retirement in his sights.
“Maybe in October, when I turn 64, or next year when I would have 40 years in with the company.”
He and Carol plan to spend their summers in Baltimore, camping only a few miles from Jay and their grandchildren.
“We want to be there and watch them grow up,” he said. “Plus, I’ve already found three or four people up there who said they’ll let me cut their yards for them. Just something to keep me busy.”
Around the UPS offices in Jackson, he is known as “a good guy.”
Said Jay: “You hear that term ‘good guy’ thrown around a lot. But in my Dad’s case, it’s really true. He has taught me so many things. If I’m not putting 100 percent into my job or anything in my life, I quickly think about my dad. He has set a standard that I feel obligated to live up to.
“And I always hear him say how fortunate he’s been that UPS hired him. I think UPS has been pretty fortunate in this deal, too.”
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