When it comes to safe driving, we could all take a lesson from UPS truck driver Nick Gulenchyn. He’s been schlepping packages around the Upper Midwest since 1975, logging more than 4 million miles — that’s nine trips to the moon and back — without so much as a fender-bender on his record.
He’s one of UPS’ top three drivers in Minnesota and a member of the company’s prestigious Circle of Honor, a distinction conferred on drivers worldwide who have been crash-free.
The Drive recently put on a UPS uniform and rode along on one of his daily 600-mile round-trip runs between Minneapolis and Edgerton, Wis., and found Gulenchyn, 72, is all about safety. He spotted a car zooming down an entrance ramp a quarter-mile ahead and quickly moved over to the left lane to head off a potential problem.
“‘You have to work with what they do,” Gulenchyn said. “I drive as safely as I can. It’s a commitment I make.”
That commitment has served him well. Last month, a driver next to him suddenly cut him off and Gulenchyn was forced to make an emergency exit.
By all accounts, the encounter near Wisconsin Dells should have ended in a crash, but his instincts kicked in. He narrowly missed the other driver and guided his 53-foot big rig down the winding ramp. Collision avoided.
His secret to remaining wreck-free can be summed up in the saying “All Good Kids Love Milk.” The first letter of each word contains a driving tip.
Aim high: Keep your vehicle centered in your travel lane and eyes looking ahead to read traffic conditions.
Get the big picture: Know when vehicles are entering the freeway from entrance ramps downstream and avoid packs of vehicles.
Keep eyes moving: Look ahead, beside and behind for vehicles that may move into your path. In other words, expect the unexpected.
Leave yourself an out: Have an escape route in mind should an emergency develop, such as using the shoulder or being ready to switch lanes.
Make sure they see you: Use lights, signals, horns if necessary, and eye contact to be sure other drivers see you.
“I do it for my safety and yours,” said Gulenchyn, who drives about 110,000 miles a year. “What if my grandkids are in that car? I don’t want to take my life, your life or anybody else’s.”
Gulenchyn has been behind the wheel so long that he’s watched as the old Hwy. 12 was transformed into I-94 through the east metro and as Hwy. 169 morphed into a freeway. He’s also watched as the driving culture has changed.
“Drivers are more aggressive now,” he said. And they are less focused. “Quit playing with your phones and drive — that is your job,” he said.
Gulenchyn’s plea comes as the National Safety Council reported that fatal traffic crashes nationally jumped 8 percent last year, making for the largest year-over-year percentage increase in more than 50 years. The council estimated that 38,300 people were killed on U.S. roads and 4.4 million were seriously injured, making 2015 the deadliest driving year since 2008.
Gulenchyn has seen his share of good drivers and bad, and when he encounters the latter, he does his best to keep calm.
“You get upset, but you put it behind you,” he said. “You have to respect the road and the equipment, and do what you can do.”
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