Father of accident victim: Safe driving is everyone’s job

John Dudley
John Dudley

By Guest Columnist John Dudley

This article is in response to the article published Jan. 3 recapping the biggest stories in St. Louis Park for 2012. The story I am referring to is about the sudden and tragic death of my son Andrew Dudley.

My wife, Amy, and I have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement from friends and neighbors in the community. The holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) were our first without Andrew and not as jovial as they would have been. But we survived. We have a very hard time watching the nightly news with stories of children dying almost every day for one reason or another.

That is why I am writing this column to help those of you who think that driving while talking on the phone, texting or eating is something that “you can handle.”

It doesn’t matter what type of vehicle you are operating. If you are behind the wheel and driving in traffic, your full attention should be on driving. The only things you need to operate a vehicle are what controls the safe operation of the vehicle; everything else is a luxury and a possible distraction.

When I last drove school bus two years ago, the company I worked for had all new drivers learn the “Smith System.” It may not be required by other bus companies, and it is not legally required to obtain a school bus and passenger endorsements on your license, but I feel it should be taught in all driver’s education classes. It is a simple and easy way to drive safely.

The following are the key points in the Smith System:

• Aim high in steering. This will enable you to look as far forward as you can to anticipate any hazard. This will give you a “heads up,” and you will have time to react to any changing road conditions.

• Get the big picture. Don’t be lulled to “sleep” by just staring ahead. No matter if the traffic is slow or running fast, know what is happening all around you at all times. You need to get the big picture not only on the highways but also in the narrow neighborhood streets.

• Keep your eyes moving. You need to keep your head and eyes moving. In doing this, you will know exactly where other vehicles are around you and can anticipate what they might do. This way you can plan ahead for any changes you may need to make (lane changes, speed, etc.) Remember, traffic is fluid and your planning should be as well.

• Leave yourself an out. You heard it during driver’s ed classes. When you pull up behind another vehicle at a stop light or sign, stay back at least one car length.

Page 42 of the Minnesota driver’s manual states, “Following Other Vehicles. The law requires that you maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. You must be able to stop or turn to avoid a collision. Consider weather, traffic, and road conditions when determining appropriate following distance. Using the three-second rule will help you maintain a safe following distance.”

• Make sure they see you. If you follow the previous points in the Smith System, you will be seen and you will have a clear view of every vehicle around you.

• Be prepared for any situation at all times.

• For winter driving, it is very important to keep all surfaces of your vehicle clear of snow, including the roof, trunk and hood. Also, keep a rag in your vehicle to constantly clean the road spray off of the headlights and taillights so that you can see and be seen.

To review what you learned in your driver’s education class, visit tinyurl.com/MinnManual.

If you make these simple “rules of the road” a habit, you should have a safe trip every time you go out.

St. Louis Park resident John Dudley’s son, Andrew Dudley,died after a vehicle struck him while he was riding a bicycle in Minnetonka last April.