The Distracted Driving Project: UPS drivers share safety tips for the rest of us

UPS delivers more than 18 million packages a day, most of them by truck. So, as you might imagine, driver safety is key to the company.

As part of WHNT News 19's continued commitment to end distracted driving in the Tennessee Valley, we're taking action to share some safety tips from the world's largest delivery service.

We started by interviewing UPS Global Fleet Safety Director Emilio Lopez. He's responsible for 100,000 drivers around the world and says today's policies reflect today's reality.

"Society, we know... is out there driving distracted," Lopez says.

In response, UPS drivers receive in-depth training on defensive driving.

The cabs of their trucks are distraction-free zones. They are taught to check their mirrors every few seconds, using a triangular motion that keeps them constantly aware of the other vehicles around them.

In addition, their every move behind the wheel is intended to create and maintain space around the truck.

As Lopez explains, "you can always control that by slowing down or using the brake."

Driver visibility is also essential.

"One of the things we talk about is eye lead time. Eye lead time is where your eyes should be focused as far down the road as far you can. So, it could be eight to 12 seconds down the road. You want to be sure you have that depth," Lopez says.

We had an opportunity to see these policies in action when we rode along with one of the company's Circle of Honor drivers.

The UPS Circle of Honor award recognizes those drivers who have gone 25 years or more without an accident. Out of Alabama's 1,300 or so drivers, there are 145 active Circle of Honor recipients.

Four of the winners work out of the UPS Service Center in Hartselle.

Gary Pitman is one of them. He says his road to the achievement began with a safety tip he heard 25 years ago from an older driver.

"He said, that when you're driving, drive. When you deliver, deliver," Pitman recalls.

It may sound simple but there's a lot of weight to those words. How often do we focus strictly on our driving? Even if both hands are on the wheel and our eyes are on the road, it's so easy for our minds to drift.

Before you know it, your vehicle may be drifting, as well.

It's something Pitman sees often, as he drives his route through Morgan and Winston County.

"Of course, we sit up higher and we can see that... and also, we can see it coming. A lot of times, you see these cars that are veering over and you know something's going on. We have to slow down. We have to become a defensive driver."

Pitman says sometimes those other drivers are visibly distracted. Sometimes they're eating. Often, they're on their phones.

"It has become a big issue, very big issue now."

With in-car distractions only likely to increase, professional drivers urge the rest of us to put the phones down. Keep our eyes own the road. Give ourselves room to react.

You may never get an award for your safe driving but arriving alive is the ultimate prize.