Thinking Safety by Nick Nicholson


If you follow along with my regular posts you’ll find that my recommendations often use the words “think safety”. What does that mean or, more to the point, how is it done?

Our brains work in similar but often, very different ways. A lot of it comes from the experiences we have dealt with in our lifetime. I think back to playing a parlour game with our grandchildren. The instructions were to draw a tank. After several minutes of Grandpa looking very stupid, unable to come up with the solution, I discovered why.

In my mind, a tank is a heavy tracked vehicle with a gun turret out Nick-2015front used by military forces to fire artillery shells. The kids had this nice simple drawing of a boxy thing with rounded corners. “You know Grandpa, like a toilet tank”. That was within their experience but, I wasn’t thinking on their level.

Usually, I’m talking about the driving of wheeled vehicles and I have an expectation that my audience is also made up of experienced drivers. Unfortunately, everybody’s experience is different. In addition, every vehicle is different. Compare driving a tiny Smart Fortwo car to a tractor-trailer unit hauling forty-five tons of steel coils – “suicide”.

So where should your thinking begin and end. It begins, as we learned in a recent article long before you get into the vehicle. It begins in the planning stages of each trip whether it is going to California or to the corner store. A danger exists in both cases and far more people have died going short, local distances. I’m willing to bet that you would do more planning for a trip to California than you would driving to the mailbox if you did any planning at all for the latter. Would you even put on your shoes or your seatbelt? Would you think to grab your driver’s license or tell your spouse where you were going? Yet, this is where the real bad ones happen ….. on your doorstep. The thinking should never end.

I have been extremely lucky, and I suppose luck’s a good part of it, to have been able to keep the shiny side up and run in between the lines while driving during my lifetime. That’s not to say that I haven’t made mistakes but, for the most part, not serious ones. Mistakes should become a learning experience.

While driving a vehicle, any vehicle, you are making constant judgment calls. In one Defensive Driving Course, there is a statement that an airline pilot makes approximately forty-six judgment calls per minute. You, as a driver, make over two hundred while on the highway. You don’t have an auto-pilot. These are made up of eye movements, slight corrections with hands and feet, decisions, reactions and deeds utilizing the body’s senses. This is where your past experiences come into play. It is definitely no place for a cell phone!

Each and every move that you make, or do not make, has a consequence. Your thinking, while driving, must consider how things work, what actions are going to produce specific results and how they are going to fit the dynamics of your particular vehicle. If you are already sliding (locked wheels) and you don’t take your foot off the brake allowing the front wheels to steer, you know you’re heading in the same direction until you hit something. That’s thinking, utilizing past experience.

Preventative thinking is another aspect. What makes sense to you? I once heard of a smart aleck telling a lady to drive her motorhome as fast and as hard as she could coming down the Alaska Highway. Apparently, she did as she was instructed and the rough roads wrecked the motorhome. Literally, shook it apart.

There are certain circumstances where thinking needs to be part of our driving. We ponder intersections, curves, hills, snow, wet leaves, the slope of the road and so on with thought to some planning. The crunch comes when things unexpected happen. As drivers, we must think about and plan for escape routes. You have fractions of a second to decide and the faster you are going, the smaller those fractions become.

I would love to be able to advise you on safety techniques for every situation but we know that would fill a book. You know the thousands of circumstances that can apply each mile that you drive. Road conditions, kids, animals, falling parts and pieces, insecure loads, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and the list goes on forever. Your thinking must include all these possibilities and you should be doing the thinking long before you run into the situation. Have multiple plans, learn avoidance techniques and be ready to act in a fraction of a second.
Follow the basic Smith System accepted principles of safe driving; 1 – Aim high; 2 – See the big picture; 3 – Keep your eyes moving; 4 – Leave yourself an out, and 5 – Make sure they see you.

Keep your people safe.

About the Author

The beauty of life is in your hands.
Your Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council.

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