A sign greets drivers at Smith Transport’s gates: “Maybe you can afford the ticket, but can you afford the price?”
The message takes on deeper meaning for drivers in an orientation training meeting on Wed., Dec. 11. Eric Nelson, vice president of safety and recruiting, enters the classroom at about 9:30 a.m.
“When we talk safety and the importance of safety, we mean it,” he begins. “Safety is very important to us.”
Nelson tells drivers the CSA safety scores of the fleet are vitally important. They determine the pull-in rates at weigh stations for inspections, and Smith Transport’s customers also monitor the scores to determine whether or not they can do business with the motor carrier.
He then shares a personal story. Twenty eight years ago his father made a decision to not wear a life vest. “Because of that decision, me and my two brothers grew up without our dad.”
“One decision is just that important in everything you do. Every single day,” he says.
Next, he shares a black-and-white video clip recorded by a dashcam of a Smith Transport driver with more than 20 years of experience. On June 10, 2019, the driver made a life-changing decision.
“The incident I’m about to show you is us,” says Nelson. The driver was involved in a “horrific” accident that “never should have happened.”
The video begins. A windshield view shows the truck enter an intersection. Suddenly a passenger car appears from the right and the video stops at the moment of impact.
“One decision makes a difference,” Nelson says.
In the passenger vehicle was a 40-year-old woman. She died at the scene. Two of her kids, ages 2 and 8, survived.
Before the truck driver entered the intersection, he was stopped for 20 minutes before traffic cleared following an accident at the previous intersection. Traffic signals in the area were not working. When the driver began moving he went 7 mph above the posted speed limit, made two lane changes, and entered the next intersection without stopping.
Smith Transport presents a professional film to honor the victim of the accident. Nelson says the company reached a settlement and promised her widowed husband that “we would never forget her.”
Drivers watching the film in orientation training see interviews with relatives of the victim who describe her as “a loving, devoted, faithful wife and mother.” Perhaps the most emotional moment is the husband describing the eight-year-old daughter screaming from her hospital bed for her mother.
The drivers in the meeting are overcome. “Oh man,” says one. Another stands up and leaves. “I can’t watch this.”
Nelson ends by mentioning the fate of the truck driver. He is facing criminal charges and a prison sentence of 20 years because of one bad decision.
“Guys, I’m going to tell you,” Nelson says. “Every choice you make, every single choice you make, impacts not only you. It impacts a whole lot of people. So, I beg you. I plead with you, to really, really push your professional skills up front.”