Milt Lowe was named "Minnesota Truck Driver of the Year" at last month's annual safety conference of the Minnesota Trucking Association.

Lowe, 72, is a 45-year veteran who drives for Citi-Cargo & Storage in Eagan. Since 1969 he's driven 3.5 million miles "without a single moving violation and without any accidents or freight claims," said Kathy Berglof, director of safety for Citi-Cargo.

"For the last 23 years he has worked for us … starting at 5 or 6 a.m. in the morning, in traffic all day, backing into docks, loading and unloading several trailers every day. He is careful, meticulous, conscientious and respected by his customers."

The winning driver is selected by a team of judges including Dan Drexler, division administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Capt. Matt Sokol of the Minnesota State Patrol, and Ward Briggs, director, Office of Motor Carrier Services, Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Q: Milt, what's the secret to avoiding violations and accidents since 1969?

A: Drive defensively. I watch traffic in front of me and beside me. Keeping a safe distance is very important. That's hard to do on the highways in the Twin Cities. If you leave a space, five cars fill it.

But I try to "drive ahead of myself." I look for the brake lights. And I don't put my nose on somebody's rear fender. The equipment today is better, but the stress level is higher because of the traffic. Nobody has any patience. And people are less courteous. The younger generation is worse. I get a one-finger salute once in a while. I just keep my cool and let them have their fun. I may get a little frustrated, but I don't get angry.

Q: Please give Twin Cities drivers some advice on how to drive more safely.

A: Quit speeding and texting and talking on the telephone. When you do that, you can't concentrate on your driving. When I get a phone call, I get to where I'm going and call back. And that's usually a business call. I've got seven grandchildren, and I get mad at them when they sit 10 feet from each other and text. That's life in the fast line, I guess.

Q: Commissioner Charlie Zelle of the Minnesota Department of Transportation says we are billions of dollars behind in maintaining our roads and bridges. What's your take on Twin Cities-area roads? And do you have any advice on whether we should levy a higher gas/diesel or other tax to improve the system?

A: I would say the roads and bridges are no better than 15 or 20 years ago. But there was less traffic.

I don't how you raise the money. Diesel fuel is already expensive. Raising fuel taxes is a tough go right now. Diesel is more than $4 a gallon right now. My truck gets about 6.5 miles per gallon. I burn about 100 gallons a week when it's all metro driving. Fuel takes away a lot of profit.

Q: Why do you own your own tractor?

A: I am an independent contractor. Owning my own truck lets me be more independent. I think I made a better living being independent and I had a little more freedom.

In 1973, I drove for a couple companies, and one of the guys I drove for wasn't making the payments on the tractor. The finance company called me and asked me if I wanted to buy a truck. I bought it. I drove for quite a few years. It was a 1973 International Transtar. I can't remember what I paid for it, but I sold it for $4,000 about 1979. Now I drive a 1996 Peterbilt. There's not going to be a new one. That would cost $35,000 or $40,000.

Q: How's business?

A: Costs are so high that now would be the worst time to be in business. I'm still making a buck at it, but the best times were back in the 1970s. Less competition. Everything wasn't so hurry-hurry-hurry. I used to work 60 hours or better in a week. I can't do that anymore. I try to work less than eight hours now. I take the winter off … for the last couple of years. It doesn't get any easier at 72. I'll go back to work in March or April. I dealt with snow and ice for 45 years. You bet I'm taking my Social Security, too. I got it coming. It's not enough to live on, but it helps.

Q: What do you haul?

A: Lots of palletized stuff. I don't physically touch it. I hauled to Thermo King in Bloomington for 20 years. I haul a lot of stuff to the Salvation Army. Donated goods from business that I pick up. It's pretty easy work. I deliver and pick up from GE Water out in Eden Prairie. All dry freight. No refrigerated.

Q: You grew up on a farm near Long Prairie, Minn., served several years in the Army, tried farming and then turned to truck driving. Has it been a good ride?

A: Yeah, its been a great ride. I have had a really good time meeting the customers, the workers and other truck drivers along the way. I don't think Citi-Cargo ever had a complaint about me. My wife, who passed away in 2007, used to get upset with me because I knew a lot of people. She rode with me sometimes as the kids got older. I'd visit with people on the dock and she'd want to go. I enjoy people.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144