Fire engineer wins title of 'Colorado's Safest Driver' after 12-week contest

Greeley Fire Department Engineer Eric Elder won a $10,000 prize in the State Farm competition

Trevor Reid
Greeley Tribune, Colo.

GREELEY, Colo. — A Greeley firefighter took the title of “Colorado’s Safest Driver” and a $10,000 prize after participating in a 12-week contest by State Farm.

Eric Elder, 28, joined the contest on the second day after learning about it through social media. He downloaded the app, which uses a phone’s location and inertia data to judge the user’s driving, and focused on safe driving habits.

The greatest challenge, Elder said, was going the speed limit and keeping up with the flow of traffic. He said some people would honk when he was driving the speed limit because he just couldn’t keep up with surrounding drivers.

Elder said the rest came naturally, especially as a fire engine driver for the Greeley Fire Department. Elder, born and raised in Greeley, started with the department four and a half years ago, after four years of volunteering at the LaSalle Fire Protection District. In 2018, he was promoted to the rank of engineer. Responsible for driving the fire trucks, Elder said engineers get hours of training annually.

The app judged not only speed, but also harsh braking and quick turns. Slowing down early and accelerating slowly wasn’t a problem for the engineer.

“It’s a lot of the same — you just have to plan really far ahead and don’t assume that other people are going to drive the right way,” he said.

Elder’s driving won him the first two-week stretch and $1,000. He told his co-workers about the contest, and firefighters Teresa Hinz and Garrett Ladd also went on to win two-week periods of the contest.

One of the biggest things Hinz noticed with the app was the speed limits around town and how often drivers expect others on the road to surpass them.

“There were people who got angry and went flying around me because I was going the speed limit,” she said. “Even in the 30 mph zones, people go 40, 45.”

Elder said he was used to taking his time while driving — something he offset by leaving a little early — because he also drives a truck and trailer for his concrete curbing business, Majestic Concrete Edge.

Hinz said the app helped her become more aware of her own driving habits.

“It really made you a calmer driver,” she said. “You couldn’t drive aggressively because you’d have harsh acceleration.”

About 26,730 people died in traffic crashes through Sept. 30, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than 50 people died on Weld County roads in 2019. Hinz said many of the crashes they see with the fire department are the result of people driving around in a rush, sometimes trying to get around another driver.

“Slow down and give space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you,” Hinz said.

Car Insurance Comparison ranked Colorado drivers the sixth worst in the country, with failure to obey traffic laws for things like licensing, traffic signals and seat belts being the state’s biggest issue. Speeding was the second-worst ranking factor for Colorado.

Elder said he didn’t feel like he could speak to the study because he typically avoids Interstate 25, but did wonder how drivers from outside the state impacted Colorado’s score.

The app also made sure drivers weren’t picking up their phones while driving, a factor in many fatal crashes.

“I think the most difficult part for me wasn’t so much being on the phone … I could just set that down,” Elder said. “But going 40 in a 40 is when people would kind of honk behind you because you’re going too slow for the flow of traffic.

“Basically I drove like my grandma.”


©2020 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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