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Safety First!—Defensive Driving Techniques

Posted in Blog, News  
Monday, April 12, 2021


At NTB, we use the phrase “Think Safety” in everything we do. When it comes to truck driving safety, it’s important to learn how to put it into practice. As truck driving professionals, we have a responsibility to learn and apply every resource we can in order to reduce accidents and protect ourselves and our communities. Though we teach a variety of defensive driving skills in our training, we are more than familiar with the Smith System and encourage our employees to utilize these techniques. 

Origins of the Smith System
Harold Smith was an operator of a landing craft in the United States Navy during World War II and he always had a passion for driving motor vehicles. During his service, he remembered seeing a billboard showing the statistics of unsafe driving and the lives lost every year. These fatalities were more than the casualties from the war. For Harold, that was enough to motivate him to find a solution that would minimize those numbers. 

In 1952, Harold founded the Smith System Driver Improvement Institute to merge his passion for driving and desire to teach safe driving skills. He noted that most driving schools taught drivers only the mechanical operation of vehicles, as opposed to showing students how to drive safely and avoid accidents. 

When Harold began to teach novice drivers how to safely drive, he observed that the mistakes people were consistently making behind the wheel were preventable. After fine-tuning his concepts, he broke them down into five key points to make them easier to understand and remember. After his success with beginner drivers, Harold knew his technique could benefit experienced drivers too. 

5 Keys to the Smith System 
The Smith System for driving focuses on reducing collisions, preventing injuries, and saving lives. These techniques are based on five principles that are designed to teach drivers to anticipate dangerous situations on the road. When we drive defensively and prepare for other drivers’ mistakes, traffic-related injuries decrease. All of these principles are relevant to truck driving safety and general road safety. The 5 Keys are: 

  1. Aim high in steering.
    Maintain eye lead time. This means to look ahead by a minimum of 15 seconds so there is time to scan the road for more information to make decisions. Drivers should steer and focus their attention high, in order to view the road as a whole instead of just a few feet ahead. 

  2. Get the big picture.
    Keep a 7-second minimum following distance. To determine this, select a fixed object ahead and as you approach, count until you reach it. As long as it’s seven seconds or more after the vehicle ahead of you has reached it, you’re golden. Continue to scan your mirrors and be aware of your surroundings at all times. 

  3. Keep your eyes moving.
    Avoid focusing on any one object for more than two seconds. Daydreaming or thinking about anything other than driving can be dangerous. Any repetitive motion can put us into a trance, so keep those eyes moving! 

  4. Leave yourself an out.
    Think ‘space cushion.’ Anticipate potential hazards and make sure you remain in the best spot on the road given the situation. Don’t get boxed in. Try your best to anticipate other drivers’ moves. 

  5. Make sure they see you.
    Using direct eye contact with other drivers, utilizing your headlights or flashers, and honking your horn when necessary are all great ways to ensure you’re spotted on the road in order to make yourself known. 

With the practice of these principles, driving doesn’t have to be a series of last-second decisions that cause stress. Instead, you’ll be able to see problems well ahead and have plenty of time to react. In an interview with Benjamin Grulke, a driver at NTB, he states that drivers should “learn it, and live it” when it comes to the Smith System.  Safety should be your number-one priority like it is ours. Next time you’re hitting the road, don’t forget your keys—the five keys to the Smith System! 

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