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31 years of safety on the road

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Deb Doffing has driven the equivalent of 16 times around the Earth without leaving the Hampton area. That's more than 400,000 miles, and she drove it all without ever being in an accident.

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Doffing has been a postal carrier in Hampton for 31 years, and last week was presented with an award from the postal service for her stretch of safe driving. Her 57-mile route through Hampton, and the rural areas surrounding it takes her to 400 stops a day.

"If you want to be precise, it's 403," she said.

Tony Williams, the Northland District manager, said Doffing's accomplishment is even more significant because of the nature of the job when it comes to driving in rural areas versus in the city.

"When city carriers get into accidents, it's a fender bender," he said. "When rural carriers get into accidents, people die."

How has she been able to go all this time without an accident?

"Just be very cautious," she said.

Doffing said she pays close attention to the other cars on the road, counting how many are behind her and making sure that same number pass by her after she makes a stop. She drives a Jeep with the steering wheel on the right side so she doesn't have to get out of her car at each stop.

It takes her between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 hours to sort all the mail before she goes out on the road, and another 3 1/2 to deliver it.

Last Thursday morning, Doffing stood in an approximately four-by-four cubicle in the back room of the Hampton Post Office, surrounded on all sides by 403 little labeled slots, one for each stop on her route. She sorted letters, magazines and advertisements at a fast pace, slipping them into slots with a "swoosh" and a metallic "clink" when the mail hit the back of the slot.

It's been 31 years, and Doffing still enjoys what she does.

"I love it," she said. "I like being by myself."

She sees a lot wildlife on her route, mostly turkeys (more in recent years), deer, a few foxes and pheasants (but less than in years past).

Doffing was offered the postmaster job at the Hampton office when a former postmaster left years ago, but she turned it down. She had kids in school at the time and liked that she was able to be home in the morning to get them ready and send them off to school, and be back home from work by the time they were getting off the bus.

When she first started her route, many of the rural roads on her route didn't have names, and many of the homes didn't have addresses. She learned quickly, however, and has gotten to know the people and the places along her route quite well. When she sees something out of the ordinary, especially if it looks suspicious, she makes a note of it.

"You get to know a lot of people; I really enjoy that," she said.

The biggest change she has gone through was the implementation of all the street names and addresses that now exist. She noted, too, that in the past year, the overall volume of mail has dropped off a lot, something she attributes to the down economy.

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