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15 years of driving without an accident
truck top
Ray Utter has turned I 15 years of driving a truck for Manteca-based Mountain Valley Express without an accident or injury.

Ray Utter is among those responsible for you having gas in your car.

He also helps make sure you have food on your table, clothing on your back, and a roof over your head.

For without Utter and his fellow truckers none of the items needed for everyday life would reach stores, factories, or your homes.

The Manteca resident is proud that he’s been driving truck for Mountain Valley Express for 25 years. He’s equally proud of going 15 years without an accident or injury. It’s a tough goal to achieve considering he’s on the road five days a week and dealing with traffic that runs the gamut from impatient or careless drivers to inclement weather conditions such as rain and fog.

He’s the first driver to reach the 15-year safety milestone at the company’s nine terminals.

“Safety is a personal value,” Utter noted. “To be successful I n this type of work, a big rig driver has to anticipate the moves of other vehicles, keep you speed down to safe levels, keep a safe following distance behind traffic and practice the ‘Smith Driving System’ at all times.”

The Smith System follows five basic rules can dramatically reduce the risk of major accidents on highways and roads.

*   AIM HIGH: Aim high in steering. Staying alert of the dangers and traffic ahead not only avoids rear-end collisions, but it also alerts other drivers behind your vehicle to slow down. The driver should steer and focus their attention high, so as to view the road as whole and not just a few feet ahead.

*   THE BIG PICTURE: “Be aware of your surroundings at all times” may seem obvious to say, but distracted drivers are just as dangerous as intoxicated ones. Erratic and angry drivers take up a large portion of the traffic you see daily, so avoid major accidents by noticing how other drivers behave on the road. Having the whole picture means that you are doing your part to keep your vehicle as safe as possible while moving 1,000 feet a second.

*   KEEP YOUR EYES MOVING: Remain alert. Energy drinks can only do so much before they cause the body to crash, and any repetitive motion sends us into a trance. Consistent eye movement prevents your body from entering the trance state, keeping you alert to every driving condition ahead of you.

*   LEAVE YOURSELF AN OUT: Always leave yourself a way out. This means ensure that other drivers do not box you in while selecting their lanes. Do not follow other vehicles too closely, and always anticipate what choices other drivers make.

*   MAKE SURE THEY SEE YOU: The worst thing a driver can do is assume. Assume other drivers can see them, assume other drivers are not dangerous, or even assume that they will just get to their destination safely. The final rule for the Smith System is “Make Sure You Are Seen”. This rule prevents accidents by removing assumptions made behind the wheel. As a driver, make sure that other drivers can see you and anticipate your move. If you feel you are coming into another driver’s blind spot, use the horn to get their attention.

Utter was Mountain Valley Express’ Driver of the Year award recipient in 2005, has almost 21 years of not calling in sick or missing a scheduled work day, and is closing in on 22 years covering the same route in the Santa Clara Valley.

“I love the freedom of the road,” Utter said as to why he got into truck driving.

Utter also said he enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow drivers, dock workers, other company employees, and relationships he has with customers.

“The next time a truck slows down so you can change lanes, or slows up so you can enter the freeway on-ramp more safely, or various acts of courtesy we extend quite often to the driving public, just give the trucker a friendly wave,” Utter said. “Most of us like that, although make sure all five fingers are visible.”

Utter relaxes with his grandkids, rock climbing snow skiing, and mountain biking.

For his safety milestone Utter received cash, three paid dais off, a commemorative Swiss watch with the company logo engraved on  it, a glass covered congratulatory plaque and a gold pin depicting 15 years of safe driving in California.

‘Utter said he’s thankful to God for being in good health.

“So until my wonderful wife, children, or my great boss Scott Blevins takes me side and says ‘it’s time to take life a little easier now’, I’ll just keep on truckin’,” Utter said.