Commuting in a car has to be one of the most painful experiences in the modern world.
And not because of the driving part. Not at all. I’d even go as far as to call myself a bit of a petrol-head.
But as someone who enjoys driving so much, it is tantamount to torture to be stuck behind the wheel with 280 roaring horsies that are begging to be exercised, and only being able to crawl, halfway off the clutch for 10 metres, and then stopping for a few minutes.
Rinse and repeat.
All the while, being forced to watch the back of some hypo-allergenic, silver eco-car with a mouth-breathing, white-knuckled idiot at the wheel who seems to be exerting every vestige of brainpower to remember which pedal makes the hamster run faster.
Imagine a prestigious building architect (maybe our cardigan-wearing friend in the Prius) who just won a contract to design a new skyscraper. He now has to watch me draw a house.
I can guarantee that he would gouge his eyes out with his fancy pencils before I even had a chance to draw smoke coming out of the chimney and the sun in the top-left corner.
So, we all have strengths and weaknesses.
The difference is that my stunted design and drawing skills don’t endanger any lives. Unless someone actually followed one of my drawings and made a death-shack (please no).
But a lot of people seem to have no problem with getting into a 2-tonne missile (that they roughly know how to control) every day, strapping their kids into the back, and aiming it in the general direction they want to go while they make a phone call. Throw in another few-thousand people doing the same thing on the same piece of asphalt, and as the meme guy would say, you’re not going to have a good time.
So, not being one to complain without offering a solution (often), I thought I would try to contribute to improving driving standards by sharing some virtues that you can apply on the road to become a better driver. Who knows, they might even help you in other areas, too!
Eagerness to Improve
Let’s face it – none of us should ever stop being learners. We may not have the yellow plates anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we are road gods. If you aren’t always looking for ways to improve your driving, you are a hazard. Because I guarantee that there are things that you could do in a safer manner, more smoothly, or more proficiently.
I taught myself how to double-clutch down-shift a couple of years ago. It isn’t something that adds a lot of value in day-to-day driving situations, but it’s a good thing to know how to do. It reduces wear on my gearbox and clutch, makes acceleration better when overtaking, and most importantly, it sounds really damn cool.
But it doesn’t have to be something that obscure (or awesome).
Turning right at T-intersections is something that I don’t like doing (I live in New Zealand, we drive on the left side of the road). There are two lanes of traffic that I need to analyze in my head to decide on a safe gap. So that is what I’m practicing at the moment.
Just take an objective look at what your weaknesses are on the road and work on improving them one at a time.
That will require…
If you’ve ever driven on single-lane, country roads (most roads in NZ), you will be familiar with this scenario.
The speed limit is 100 km/h, and you’re cruising along comfortably. Then, you start closing in on someone who is doing a solid 75.
“Not to worry. There are no long straights to pass on this road, but there’s a passing lane ahead.” You think.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
You reach the passing lane. Being a competent driver, you closed your following distance as the passing lane approached to ensure that you could complete the pass as quickly and safely as possible (we have some very short passing lanes here). You indicate to move out, dump that bad boy into a lower gear and move into the passing lane.
This should be done in about 4 seconds.
Then one of the strangest phenomena of driving manifests before your mortal eyes. Lo and behold, they found the accelerator!
And since they clearly couldn’t suffer the emotional trauma of being passed, you end up locked into this pseudo-drag race with a moron as your speed climbs
beyond toward 100.
As you hurtle down the road side-by-side like some Fast and Furious stunt scene, the “merge in 100 metres” sign blurs past.
So, with a pinch of thinking that maybe they have woken up and are in the mood to drive faster, and a shitload of not wanting to die, you admit defeat, brake and pull back in behind.
The passing lane ends, and they go back to their knitting at the safe, safe speeds that they were adhering to before the passing lane.
You are left feeling angry and betrayed, but hopefully still alive and with no speeding ticket (NZ police love targeting speed under all circumstances and ignoring terrible driving like the idiot who speeds up to avoid being passed, but that’s another article in itself).
If you can’t do the speed limit, have some humility and let those past who catch you, regardless of how good of a driver you think you are or what speed you think they should be doing.
Apply that one to the rest of your life too, because there will always be someone better than you, and if you are not identified with your ego, it isn’t that hard to admit.
Of course, to be able to allow more competent drivers past you, you must first know that they are there.
You don’t have to be a behavioural psychologist to see that a lot of people have no awareness of what is happening around them. I just went to get a coffee, and nearly poured it on someone who walked into me because they were so absorbed in what they were doing on their phone. Maybe playing Pokemon Go.
The same goes on the road. As my driving instructor put it, you should be building a radar in your head of what’s around you.
Test yourself on it. That blue car that’s following you – when did they pull out behind you?
The other angle of awareness is self-awareness. Do you know what your weaknesses are? You definitely have some, and not knowing what they are means that you can’t improve.
Again, that goes for personal development as well. If you lack humility, you probably can’t consciously admit the things that you aren’t good at, which means that you can’t improve. The two go hand-in-hand.
Watching people driving roundabouts is funny. It’s only funny because if I didn’t laugh at how badly people drive them, I would hysterically retreat into a shell and forsake any semblance of hope that I had left for the human race.
For those who live in countries that don’t have roundabouts, they are intersections that have a big, round island in the middle, rather than traffic lights. In countries that drive on the left-hand-side of the road, the idea is that you give way to traffic that is coming from your right, and drive around them clock-wise until you reach the exit that you want to take. You then indicate left and continue your journey. It would be the exact opposite in countries that drive on the right-hand-side of the road.
They’re pretty simple and keep the traffic flowing more efficiently than traffic lights in some scenarios. In theory, anyway.
The missing ingredient that keeps them from functioning well is anticipation. You need to be looking to your right as you approach it to see if anything is coming. If there isn’t, you don’t need to stop. If there is, you do.
But a lot of people just roll up to them. Stop. Look right. And by then, there usually isn’t a gap to take, so they do need to wait for a gap. If they had just looked ahead as they were approaching, they would have been able to go and keep the traffic moving.
The way that this works in real life is the same. If you can anticipate what is coming, you can keep moving, rather than stopping and losing all of your momentum, only to discover that the road was clear for you.
My grandfather had a saying about driving that has stuck with me since I first heard it:
“Assume everyone on the road is an idiot, and 9 times out of 10, they won’t let you down.”
Maybe 9/10 drivers being terrible is a bit harsh, but the sentiment does hold a lot of merit.
If there is an opportunity for someone to do something stupid, be prepared for it. If you are maintaining a 2-second following distance and you are driving in the inside lane with someone on your outside, be a bit of a cynic. Prepare yourself for them doing something stupid like cutting in front of you to take the off-ramp.
That doesn’t mean to drive like a nervous wreck where everyone is out to get you, but people do stupid shit on the road quite often, and if you can at least visualize what reckless maneuvers they might be considering, it makes it a lot easier to respond.
Cynicism is like the dark side of anticipation. Don’t be obsessed with it, but you really do need to have it on the back-burner what kind of crazy things people might do.
You can do this in your life too. Don’t be consumed with the bad things that people do, but do be aware of where someone could “cut you off” and force you to take evasive action.
When you’re driving, it should the number 1 thing that you are doing.
Conversations with passengers should be secondary, changing the radio station should be secondary, and flipping off the guy who decided to race you at the passing lane should be secondary. It should go without saying, but it doesn’t.
It is now illegal in NZ to use a mobile phone while driving (unless it is hands-free), but there are still hordes of people who talk on their phones, text, and I even saw one woman once reading a book on the steering wheel on the drive into work.
Give 100% focus to whatever you are doing. If you find yourself behind the wheel of a car, driving should be where all of your attention is going.
This is probably the most important skill that you can have in any area of your life, but knowing how to communicate effectively when with other drivers can help you to avoid dangerous assumptions and misunderstandings.
And I don’t (just) mean the two-fingered style of communication.
Letting other drivers know your intentions is critical. Sure, you might know that you are turning, but no one else does unless you use your indicator!
How hard is it to let other people know where you roughly intend to point your car?
This one really gets under my skin. The reason it annoys me so much is that not indicating smacks of selfishness and laziness.
I mean, the lever is right there by your hand, which should be on the steering wheel. Just give people a clue about what you want to do so that they can react accordingly.
Ok, I’m done with that one…
This is one that I am working on myself. I must admit, I do have a tendency to just want to get where I want to go as quickly as I reasonably and safely can. Both when driving and in real life.
But that doesn’t happen all of the time.
We have things like speed limits. We have idiots who can’t allow you to pass them.
And getting angry about them doesn’t change them. It just costs you money in speeding fines and can endanger your life if you refuse to let the prick “win” that wants to race you at the passing lane.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Pick a lane and stick to it. Chopping and changing all the time is pointless and dangerous.
Even worse, don’t drive across two lanes because you can’t choose one (I have seen that one before).
Don’t do it on the road, and don’t do it in life.
That is all.
Having the ability to instantly repair your body, eject bits of broken windscreen from your skull, and snap bones back into place like that cheerleader girl in Heroes would be pretty neat. And it’s really the only trait that is guaranteed to keep you safe on the road.
But if you can’t do that, using the previous 9 points to your advantage is your best chance of not dying or killing while driving.
Drive positively and drive safely.