This summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released an early estimate for the number of motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the first quarter of 2023. It estimated 9,330 people died in traffic accidents in the first three months of the year. While the statistics show a decline in fatalities when compared to the same time in 2022, there are still far too many people losing their lives in auto accidents. Many of those crashes could likely have been prevented with safer behaviors on our nation’s roadways.
“For our associates, driving is one of the most hazardous things they are going to do in their day,” said SMG Manager of Safety and Fleet Abe Sabedra, CSP, ASP, CHST, CUSP. “Getting from point A to point B and from one jobsite to another is how our team members are exposed to the most hazards. That’s why we want them to be trained as best as possible to be defensive drivers, but also courteous drivers.”
“There is a classroom portion that lasts about two to three hours, depending on the engagement of the associates,” Sabedra said. “We teach them about forward driving techniques as well as driving in reverse and how the same safety principles can be applied to both directions. Each associate has to complete quizzes on the material, and once we’re finished, they undergo two to four hours of in-vehicle driving instruction and evaluation.”
Sabedra demonstrates driving technique based on the Smith5Keys:
Look ahead to where you will be at least 15 seconds into your future. “You want to have time to be able to make a decision,” Sabedra said. “You need to be aware of the vehicle in front of you and also be able to look beyond that to change a lane or ease into a stop.”
Check at least one of your mirrors every five to eight seconds. Also have four to six seconds of following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. “This is the most challenging key for me,” Sabedra said. “For every 10 miles an hour over 40 miles per hour you’re driving, it is recommended to add an additional second to that follow time. If you’re trying to maintain seven to eight seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you, especially while driving on the interstate, people are likely to cut you off and keep you from getting where you need to go.”
Keep your eyes moving every two seconds. Focusing on any object for too long diminishes your peripheral vision. “This keeps your brain active and constantly tuned in to what’s going on around your vehicle,” Sabedra said. “For example, if you’re on the highway and staring at the semi right in front of you, you are more likely to miss potential hazards further down the road.”
The safest position in traffic is with few or no vehicles around you. When possible, surround your vehicle with space. “Make sure to have an escape route,” he said. “Have an idea of where you can go if something doesn’t go according to plan. What if something happened to the vehicle in front of you and you couldn’t get around it? You want to make sure you can always get out.”
Detect the presence of potential danger early, and send your warning signals as soon as you think they will be recognized. “It’s all about communication,” Sabedra said. “Our SMG fleet vehicles have construction strobe lights on the front and back that act as warning signals, and you have headlights, turn signals, brake lights and flashers to let pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers know what you’re doing while in your vehicle.”
In order to ensure each SMG associate who sits behind the wheel is making safe choices, each fleet vehicle is armed with a telematic device that retrieves data generated by the vehicle, like speed, braking and seatbelt use. The SMG vehicles keep track of harsh braking, harsh acceleration, harsh cornering, speeding and seatbelt use and Sabedra is notified anytime something doesn’t measure up.
“It’s not so much for discipline, but to offer an area of improvement for each driver,” he said. “It’s a chance for them to learn more about safer driving techniques and how to improve the next time they get in the vehicle.”
In addition to the Smith System, Sabedra has a couple additional exercises he performs with SMG associates. One is a blind spot awareness exercise, and the other is a safety circle check.
“It basically requires the driver to walk all the way around their vehicle and check to make sure the side, back and front sides are all clear of any obstacles or obstructions,” he said. “Also, look underneath the vehicle to make sure any fluids are not leaking before you start driving.”
Every two years, each SMG driver has to be recertified. It offers associates the chance to go over highlights of the driver safety training, refresh steps they may have forgotten, complete knowledge checks and do a test drive.
“Applying the keys from our driver safety training will impact your vehicle – and wallet – in a positive way by reducing wear and tear,” Sabedra said. “It will also help you reduce anxiety because you’re not driving as aggressively and it will help you be a better, safer driver and more courteous to others who are sharing the road with you.”