“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” -Dave Berry
Last week I began a series of driving tips learned (sometimes the hard way) during my fifteen years as an inner city transit driver, and prompted by our grandson’s request. Circumstances are forcing him to learn to drive for the first time, and I want to do my best to give him the tools he’ll need, when he hits the streets. I thought, as long as I was doing this, I might as well pass these precepts along to the rest of you, in hope that we can all do our part to make our streets and freeways safer for everyone.
I offer them in no particular order of importance; in fact, they are all important- or, at least, useful. Read these over, and I’ll be interested in any responses you make.
Form the habit of using your turn signals, even when you think you don’t need to. Make it something you always do, without thinking about it- AND, don’t trust turn signals of oncoming cars, until their intention is clear.
Our turn signals communicate intention, and clear communication is important, in traffic and everywhere else. Let people know what you intend to do. Whether they’re seeing you from the front or rear, they’ll thank you. That said, you can’t always trust a signal. We’ve all seen the guy driving down the street with his forgotten signal flashing, but no intention of actually turning. Annoying, sure, but also dangerous when he enters an intersection, you think he’s going to turn, but instead he continues straight. Don’t be that guy. Pay attention to your signals, and let people know what you’re doing before you do it. Form the habit, early.
Never be the first vehicle to enter the intersection when the light changes. A traffic light does not magically stop automobiles, so look for the guy who is not slowing to stop. When the light changes, take a couple of seconds and glance both ways before entering. If someone looks like they’re going to come on through, don’t get in their way.
Yes, to get this out of the way, you may, occasionally, get honked at by some impatient “A” type behind you. So what? Remember the first principle: you’re responsible for your vehicle, and the people in it; he is not. The chances are, though, that whoever’s behind you won’t notice, even if they’re not checking their phone. Most of the time, once you’ve checked, you’ll proceed before the people behind you even notice your hesitation. Every now and then, though, when that guy does come on through after the light has changed, you’re going to feel very, very grateful you were watching.
Only drive one vehicle at a time. You cannot control, hurry or “punish” the vehicles in front of, behind or next to you. Attempting to do so only creates a dangerous condition for which you are responsible.
I know. I say this a lot, but this one is a biggie. So many, often deadly, collisions are directly caused by our attempts to play “Road Warrior”. Taking something done by another driver as a personal slight, suddenly enraged, we decide to “teach him a lesson”, and we start tailgating, or slowing down, if someone is tailgating us (rather than simply changing lanes, when we’re able). We speed up or slow down, to prevent someone from changing lanes in front of us because, even though we know it will make no difference in our arrival time, we can’t let that happen.
Understand, please: the roadway is not a combat zone. Let me do that in caps: THE ROADWAY IS NOT A COMBAT ZONE! Despite what our lizard brain (such as it is) tells us, we are not under attack, just because someone else does something stupid or careless, intentional or not. Let your fore-brain do the driving, the part that reasons. It’ll tell you that the sensible thing to do is to let the other diver go his (or her) way, and to breath a prayer of gratitude that you’re not him. Whatever the situation, you can made it worse by escalating, or you can make it better by just… letting it go, and going safely on your way. Sometimes you’ll have to do a lot of letting go, but it’s the smart thing to do, and you’ll feel better about yourself. So will your passengers.
-And, that’ll do it for this week. If you have any comments or responses, please share them. I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, whatever your mode of travel, happy trails to you, and be well! -Buff
John Brownson, MFT, (“Buffalo”, to his friends) is a Counseling psychotherapist in private practice, based in Emeryville, in San Francisco’s East Bay. He works with individuals, couples and affinity groups of various kinds, to make the world a better living place.