SEATTLE — Peggy Larson is too polite to tell us how to drive. But if more of us drove like she does, the roads would be a lot safer.
Larson, 54, of Port Orchard, this month completed her 30th accident-free year as a driver for United Parcel Service. In that time, she’s logged more than 800,000 miles — the equivalent of 32 times around the Earth.
“I’m not an office person. I like it out here,” said Larson as she guides her boxy brown 18-foot truck up a hill in Manchester, east of Port Orchard.
“I love the chance to be outside, and to get to know my customers,” she said. “It’s almost like I have my own small business, delivering packages.”
On a recent Thursday, before drivers headed out from the company’s Bremerton, Wash., base, Larson was presented a pin and certificate to acknowledge three decades with a clean record.
She also wears a shoulder patch noting that she’s in the UPS “Circle of Honor.” That distinction, marking at least 25 years of safe driving, is held by fewer than 6,500 of the company’s 107,000 drivers worldwide.
“Her commitment to detail, and her focus on the job, are what make her so successful,” said Preston Greer, Larson’s supervisor.
For Larson, a typical day involves driving about 90 miles and delivering packages to 120 to 150 stops, mostly homes.
As Larson speaks, she eases the truck up a ridge, revealing a postcard-caliber view across Puget Sound to the Seattle skyline, with the Cascade Mountains as a backdrop.
“I’ll never get tired of looking at this,” she said.
But the view doesn’t distract Larson from her mission to keep the truck, its contents, herself and the people around her safe. She frequently grabs a quick look over her shoulder, checks her mirrors and glances at a small video monitor inside the cab that shows what’s behind her.
On the road, she drives well behind the vehicle in front of her. And in close quarters, she’ll try to make eye contact with other drivers so she knows they see her.
She’s especially cautious in neighborhoods with small children, because a truck carrying a load of packages can be “a kid magnet.”
“They want to see what’s inside,” she said. “They know we work for Santa Claus.”
Safety has long been a priority at UPS, which traces its roots to two teenagers who began operating — with one bicycle — out of a basement office in Seattle’s Pioneer Square in 1907.
Now based outside Atlanta, the company has become the world’s largest package-delivery company, moving 4.1 billion packages and documents worldwide last year.
For UPS drivers, each workday begins with a short safety lesson, tip, reminder or presentation. And once a year, each driver has a manager ride along for a day, to make sure the driver is safety-conscious, not just in driving but in handling parcels that can range up to 150 pounds.
The heavier packages are slid down from the back of the truck on a hand truck.
The weight of packages is the main reason that only 10 percent of the 1,500 UPS drivers in Washington are women.
Larson was 23, driving a school bus for a few hours a day, when her mother, who often bought mail-order products, suggested she apply at UPS.
Initially, she was hired just for a Christmas season, then was called back for temporary assignments for a year before being hired permanently.
Even in her off-work hours, Larson has been in only one collision. In 1999, a van with three 16-year-old boys rushing to get to a movie ran a red light, slamming into her pickup.
Larson said the teens had minor injuries, and she suffered back and neck injuries that kept her off the job for several months.
Larson envisions staying with UPS a couple more years, then looking for something less strenuous and part time. “This is a difficult job,” she said. “I won’t be able to do it forever.”
Away from work, she enjoys spending time with her 28-year-old daughter, her son-in-law and her 4-year-old grandson.
She lives on five acres outside Port Orchard with enough room for her horse and a good-sized vegetable garden.
And when it comes time for vacation, although her boyfriend might suggest a car trip, Larson has other ideas.
“For me, a vacation is something like a cruise (she’s been on four) or going someplace you fly to. Not driving.”