Applying the Smith System for defensive driving to everyday life

by Al Goodhall

Sometimes you just need to step back and view the world through a different lens. I was reading over The Smith System for defensive driving and started thinking about how we can apply those proper visual habits to the issues we face in our professional and personal lives just as easily as we can apply them to our physical world.

The first seeing habit we develop is to ‘Aim High in Steering.’ As professional drivers we know that by looking at least 15 seconds ahead, we allow ourselves the reaction time we need to adjust for the changes ahead.

So I asked myself how often do I look 15 years down the road at my own life and the industry I work within? The answer was not often enough.

The second seeing habit is to ‘Get the Big Picture.’ As professional drivers we depend on our peripheral vision to detect movement, which we then investigate with our central vision and react to appropriately.

There are hundreds of issues we face every day affecting the path our lives may take and I had to ask myself if I was getting the big picture here? Am I just letting current events carry me along without even noticing their effect on my daily life?

The third seeing habit is to ‘Keep Your Eyes Moving.’ If we develop a fixed stare while driving, it is sure to get us into trouble.

We need to keep scanning and picking up on all that movement fed to us by our peripheral vision.

Do we do the same thing in our personal and professional lives? Think of the fixed stare we have developed around issues such as hours-of-service, electronic on-board recorders and speed limiters.

I started making these comparisons because I had just watched Sebastian Thrun’s Ted Talk on Google’s driverless car. It’s a short video, just go to YouTube and search Sebastian Thrun. It’s fascinating stuff and it put me on to a lot of different reading material regarding technology, transportation infrastructure and where we may be headed over the next couple of decades.

So you may be thinking, ‘Come on Al, you don’t honestly believe that trucks will be moving freight down the road without a driver behind the wheel, do you?’ Call me crazy, but yes, that’s exactly what I’m proposing.

It’s not going to happen for some time, but we already see signs of automation moving in that direction.

Anti-rollover technology and advances in braking systems are one of the first steps, parking assist that allows a car to park itself is becoming all the rage with auto manufacturers.

The agriculture industry has been rolling out automated sprayers and combines that use GPS to map a field and then complete the job without further input from the operator.

Pretty cool stuff, all of it. The potential benefits are huge and that in itself will continue to drive innovation and implementation of this type of technology. Watch Thrun’s video and apply some of his observations about this technology to the trucking industry and you’ll see what I mean. So that brings me to the last two steps of the Smith System.

The fourth seeing habit is ‘Leave Yourself an Out.’ Or, protect yourself from being trapped by errors of other people. If you don’t practice the first three seeing habits diligently you will always find yourself boxed in, putting you in a situation that leaves you dependent on the actions and reactions of others.

The fifth seeing habit is ‘Make Sure They See You.’ If the people around you are not practicing those first three seeing habits you can wake them up by making sure they know you are close by and aware of what is happening around you.

As drivers we do this by flashing lights, blowing the horn, or making eye contact. In our daily lives we do the same thing by networking, Tweeting, posting messages on Facebook, blogging, writing letters to the editor, voting, lobbying, joining business groups, etc.

I can’t help but think that we have developed a fixed stare surrounding the hours-of-service issue and its close cousin the electronic on-board recorder. These issues are in our immediate field of vision, just a few feet in front of us.

That fixed stare is preventing us from seeing the issues further down the road that require our attention now so that we have time to react accordingly. We’re not getting the big picture. We are being reactive and not proactive. That is affecting our daily lives in the present moment and we are feeling the anxiety.

These five simple seeing habits are a great way to view the world we live in as well as the road ahead.

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