Drive For Change

Five steps to improving your driving

  • Proper technique: Sarah Lagan, senior reporter for The Royal Gazette who is spearheading the Drive for Change road safety campaign, with Sol Petroleum driver Chris Gibbons who teaches the Smith System (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)
  • Final instructions: some safety guidance for Sol Petroleum’s drivers. The “two second rule” on the sign is actually four seconds under the Smith System (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

With tanker trucks capable of carrying up to 5,000 gallons of highly flammable fuel, driver safety is paramount at Sol Petroleum. The Royal Gazette’s Drive for Change campaign joined Sol’s Smith System trainer on the roads in his tanker truck to find out some of the system’s benefits as part of Sol’s “fleet week”, designed to highlight the work of its drivers and help educate other road users on safety.

Did you know that placing your hands in the quarter to three position on your steering wheel could prevent a driver from suffering a fractured skull or broken nose in a road crash? The information came from the Smith System programme of safe driving which is practised throughout the fleet at Bermuda’s Sol Petroleum.

Chris Gibbons, a Sol Smith System trainer, explained that a driver’s hands could be pushed into their face when the airbag inflates after a crash.

He said: “They were noticing a lot of fractured skulls and broken noses but if you put your hands at nine and three, it pushes your arms out and away from you — little things like that the training brings to light.”

Mr Gibbons was speaking during a trip from Sol’s Ferry Reach headquarters in St George’s to Crawl Hill Gas Station in Hamilton Parish to demonstrate the system and highlight common driver errors.

As we set off, he explained the five key steps of the system, designed to promote defensive driving.

• Aim high in steering:

The first step is to look as far into the distance as possible and try to predict every event that could occur in the space of at least 15 seconds.

Mr Gibbons said: “Our eyes are developed for walking speeds from birth — two to three miles per hour.

“The Smith System trains us to look further because you can see more and anticipate things better. Fifteen seconds is not always attainable in Bermuda because of the winding roads so look as far as you can.”

As we approached the airport roundabout, Mr Gibbons said: “I am looking to my right to make sure no one is coming but I am also checking my left lane to make sure no one is going to the airport and getting too close to me.”

The roundabout scenario also leads to the second key — awareness.

• Get the big picture:

This step means being aware of everything around you including potential hazards.

Mr Gibbons said: “We should have a 360-degree circle of awareness. We check one of our mirrors every five to eight seconds.

“At any given moment I can tell you what is around me and that goes a long way to avoiding a situation. Once you know about something you can do something about it.”

Tiredness and the monotony of the road can kill and the Smith System’s third step was designed to limit driver fatigue.

• Keep your eyes moving, don’t stare:

Mr Gibbons said: “Repetitiveness can put you into a trance. By moving your eyes at least every two seconds you keep your brain activity current. The best way to fight fatigue is to get as close to eight hours sleep as possible.”

Bermuda’s small, winding roads and high volumes of traffic do not leave much room for error, which leads to the fourth key step — safe stopping distances.

• Leave yourself an out:

This step is about monitoring the “space cushion” drivers have around them. According to Smith System guidance, drivers should leave a stopping distance time of four seconds or six in normal conditions or six to eight seconds in adverse conditions.

Mr Gibbons said: “When a vehicle in front of us goes past a stationary object you count off the seconds until you reach that object.”

He spotted a car overtake a bicycle on a corner while driving. Mr Gibbons said: “How much time are you saving by overtaking that pedal bike there? If I was coming around the corner at speed your reaction time is minimal. That’s how we get these accidents. If you can’t see, don’t go — it is that simple.”

The fifth and last step of the Smith System was designed to ensure good communication between road users and develop the ability to read their signals.

• Make sure they see you:

Use of the horn is one of the most obvious forms of communication on the roads and is supposed to be used to alert others to a vehicle’s presence or external dangers. Mr Gibbons explained that the Bermuda habit of beeping horns as a greeting weakens its proper purpose and is likely to cause confusion.

Lights and signals are other forms of communication. As we drove down Kindley Field Road towards the airport, Mr Gibbons spotted a car parked at the side of the road. He said: “I notice the brake lights are on, number one. Their tyre-to-ground contact tells me that the car isn’t going to come out — if the wheels were turning out to the road then I would cover my brake and give a light tap of the horn just to make them aware of my presence.”

The next in the series of Smith System articles will focus on the errors Mr Gibbons spotted on the road.