On the Road Training Takes Some Unusual Twists and Turns for Smith System

Sept. 18, 2002
Always be alert when driving. You never know what you may encounter while you are on the road.

Texas-based Smith System Driver Improvement Inc. recently encountered some very unusual conditions while delivering its driver training programs around the world.

As a leader in fleet driver training for 50 years, the company mission is to save lives. Having a client base consisting of more than half of the Fortune 500 companies, Smith System's on-road training is delivered around the globe.

While Smith System's techniques work anywhere, anytime, every country has it own special customs, conditions and regulations for which the training must be adjusted. Some of the conditions cannot be foreseen until drivers are actually on the road. Here are a few interesting experiences Smith System trainers have had recently.

A Close Encounter

Traffic is very dense and complex in Thailand. Drivers must share the roads with not only cars and trucks but with tuk-tuk's (motorized 3-wheeled bikes), bicycles, pedestrians and an assortment of living creatures. While trainer Paul Nielsen was conducting on the road training for gasoline marketer TOLL Thailand Ltd. in Pattaya last summer, he came upon a very unique "vehicle".

A huge elephant crossed the path of Paul and his Thai host Wanattasuk SA-Nguansiri. Neilsen froze for a second when the overgrown mammal raised his tusks and let out a cry. However, Neilsen, as a safety expert, was quite relieved to see that the animal was equipped with the latest safety devices. The elephant's sides were covered in bright orange reflective tape and on its tail hung a lamp for safe night operation. Fortunately, this was Neilsen's closest encounter of the larger kind experienced on his trip.

Barge Right on Over

Transportation is limited in some parts of the world. Smith's vice president of Training, Jim Smith, came upon some pretty unusual modes of transportation while in Guyana.

Despite the fact that this is South America's only English-speaking country, the hazards of crossing the Damerai River on a barge with his training vehicle didn't come across in the communication until it was too late. While in the middle of the river, Smith was informed that losing trucks off the barge was a common problem. Sure, they were fine going across the river. It was getting off the barge that was the tricky part.

Apparently, the timing and placement have to be just right, or else when the first vehicle drives off the barge onto the shore it flips the barge and all its contents over backwards. Needless to say, Smith and his vehicle made it safely to shore but he found an alternative route on the way back. The return route included listening for trains before crossing on a railroad trestle, but we won't go into that!

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Cairo lies in the center of all routes leading to and from three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. This large melting pot of cultures contains great challenges for the trainers at Smith System.

Last spring, trainer Clay Christensen was working with an oil company's trainers for a six-day training session in the heart of Cairo. Two of the employees were from Cairo and the other three were completely unfamiliar with the big city, being from small African villages.

As the days passed, one driver kept straddling two lanes. Christensen made several diplomatic attempts to correct his unsafe driving practice. Finally, exasperated, Christensen took the person aside. He asked the student why he wasn't staying within the raised lane markers. The student replied, "Lane markers? I thought they were just pretty road decorations." Once it was explained the markers separate lanes, the student made a marked improvement.

Safety Raises Some Eyebrows

The road is always a challenge and so too is language. Part of Smith System's training includes written materials. The translation of these materials into different languages is vital to the clear comprehension of the safety instruction. Rarely is there a straightforward translation, as in the case of the materials developed for BOC Gases last year in Thailand.

A key concept to Smith System training is "Aim High in Steering." The phrase means to look at least 15 seconds ahead of your vehicle. Every time the trainer, Paul Nielsen, displayed the phrase, the students had blank stares and raised their eyebrows. Nielsen didn't figure out what was going on until later. The translator had translated the "Aim High in Steering" into "Raise your eyebrows."

Have Goat Will Travel

It seems that goats are a vital part of any long trip in Cameroon, Africa. They are not an essential part of the cargo but a vital occupant on board. According to a popular religion in Cameroon, a goat is sacred and therefore must come along for the ride.

Smith System trainer Thom Taylor was concerned about the impact of this custom while he conducted a three-day train-the-trainer session for behind-the-wheel instruction. When he inquiredabout the potential discomfort with the animal and the group being cooped up together for 3 days, Taylor asked, "What about the smell?" The local fleet manager heartily replied, "Oh, don't worry the goat doesn't mind the smell."

For more information contact the Smith System Driver Improvement Institute Inc. at (800) 777-7648; email: [email protected]; or see the company web site at www.smith-system.com.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!