I’ve always struggled with keeping the driving errors I see on a daily basis in perspective. It’s easy to say “we all suck as drivers” when observing dangerous driving behaviors EVERY day, however, considering the number of drivers on the road, it simply might be a matter of statistics.
Here’s a list of some common (and generally avoidable IMHO) things I’ve seen over the past three months of driving and 30+ years of observing I feel we could do a lot better with.
Signaling, or, rather, the lack thereof
This has to be the most common, avoidable, perplexing issue I’ve seen. While not as prevalent as years ago, I still find it surprising the number of people who either signal improperly, or not at all! I’m of the opinion that turn signal control is one of the simplest to use and just as important as the gas/break pedals and the ignition. Pull up on the stick to tell the world you’re turning right, push down for left and leave in the middle if you’re going straight.
Admittedly, driving is a multi-tasking endeavor, something research shows we aren’t so good at. Our brains just aren’t wired for that type of work. Forgetting to signal is just one of those things that could fall off the “to do” list when you’re trying to maintain the proper speed and staying aware of everything around your vehicle.
But still, signaling is still an item that should always be at the top of one’s driving list. How else are other drivers supposed to know your intentions? Sometimes it’s obvious (you’re in a “turn only” lane) and sometimes it’s not (stopped at a two-lane stop sign). When operating a vehicle that weighs hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, playing the guessing game is ill-advised.
I’ve opted to signal all the time, whether it’s obvious or not and whether I’m surrounded by rush-hour traffic or in the boonies without a single vehicle in sight. I have enough things to keep track of while driving, so why add the “do I need to signal” question to the list? I see no drawback to always saying “yes” to that question. Sure, maybe it may seem “foolish” when it’s clearly pointless, but I’d rather appear as the fool in that scenario than be the fool in the “I didn’t know they were there” one.
It’s a matter of physics. Given a finite amount of energy, the more mass an object in motion has, the longer it will take to stop that motion. There are many rules in this world which can be bent or broken, but that isn’t one of them.
Seems very “no duh”-like, and is clearly outlined in all driving instructions I’ve read, but a drive down the beltline at any time on any day will show many drivers who don’t seem to understand (or care about?) this.
Maybe it’s denial. I recall seeing a video a few years back where this woman was motivated to stop her boyfriend’s tailgating ways. She went as far as getting them on a TV show where they performed a test. They built a wall of cardboard boxes, then, using the boyfriend’s typical tailgating distance, marked a position in the track where the boyfriend was to hit his brakes. Yeah, he not only hit the boxes, but barreled right through them sending cardboard flying everywhere. I think there was even slight damage to part of the car. Even in the face of a solid scientific “I told you so”, he still refused to believe it, remaining confident he could brake in time.
The issue of tailgating ties into a belief I’ve slowly built over the years. One that I’m now very confident in and goes like this: With the exception of some very rare scenarios, if you hit someone from behind with enough force to cause a significant collision, it’s always your fault. Period.
When driving, the safe assumption is that the vehicle in front of you could slam on their brakes at any time for any reason ranging from rampant stupidity to hazard avoidance. You just never know! So if I hit the braking vehicle in front of me, I wasn’t keeping a safe distance or not paying attention, and if I wasn’t keeping a safe distance or not paying attention, it’s my fault.
My views about speeding have performed a near 180-degree shift as I’ve grown older. Back in my younger years I felt it was no big deal and a decent way to get from point “A” to point “B” faster.
But then I started really thinking about it. Of course if you drive faster, you’ll get to your destination faster, but you’ll also increase the chances of not only getting at ticket, but also getting into an accident (and the faster you go, the worse that accident will likely be). It all boils down to reaction times. The faster you move, the less time you have to react. Physics again!
This sounds like a math problem.
Let’s assume both your house AND work are located ON the freeway (posted at 60MPH) 20 miles apart. Driving at an average speed of 60MPH will take you 20 minutes to get to work. From my experience, most consider it speeding at 10MPH over, so if you take that same trip at 70MPH, you save THREE MINUTES. Well, some don’t think 10MPH over is really speeding. Fair enough. I would be hard-pressed to find many who would consider 20MPH over anything less than speeding, so taking that same trip at 80MPH. You’ve now arrived at work FIVE MINUTES earlier.
That doesn’t seem worth it to me. Considering the mundane circumstances behind most trips, the difference of 5 minutes really isn’t worth whizzing down the freeway, increasing my chances of an accident that would very likely involve in a death. Also, most of us do not work and live ON the freeway, so increasing that average speed is a lot more difficult/dangerous than it appears on paper. Try maintaining an average speed of 70MPH when 1/3 of your trip goes through 25/30/45MPH zones.
My only personal and possible exception to this is long-distance driving on multi-lane highways for long periods of time. In those scenarios (where, by the way, maintaining an average speed is much easier and safer) a 10MPH difference could mean saving, oh, 30 minutes. But even then, it’s all relative, and is 30 minutes out of a multi-hour drive that big a deal? I haven’t done it yet, so I can’t say for sure, but can envision scenarios where the answer is “yes”.
Mobile Phones (and other distractions)
There are many sub-categories to this topic, but with very few exceptions I feel that overall, mobile phones and driving do not mix. When used in non-interactive ways such as playing music and GPS tracking, they’re fine. The minute you have to interact with them, then things change.
GPS Navigation: This is one of the best uses, however due to the limited size of mobile phone screens, the proper usefulness/safety ratio is only acceptable for spoken directions. I still need some more experience with GPS devices while driving, so my views on this may shift over time. But as a freshman driver, I can’t imagine trying to manipulate a tiny iPhone screen while whizzing down the road at 65MPH.
Texting: I’ve tried to avoid interjecting too my of own feelings into this post, but I can resist no longer, not for this. Along with shaving, applying makeup, reading the paper/iPad and any other form of “reading” – if you think texting and driving is a safe thing to do, you’re a moron of epic proportions and should have your license revoked immediately.
Talking: This seems to be a touchy subject among most drivers and my personal view is any form of talking on a cell phone is unsafe and should never occur. Not even hands-free. Yup, I said it. ”But,” the argument goes, “if my hands are free to drive and I can keep an eye on the road, it’s safe!” No, no it is not. The danger most folks don’t seem to understand is the distraction part. There’s a world of difference between keeping your eyes on something and actually seeing it. Ever approach someone who’s on a cell phone call and notice they have that “far away” look in their eyes? Sure, their eyes are open, but more-often-than-not they are completely oblivious to their surroundings. Don’t take my word for it. Studies have shown simply talking on a cell phone, hands-free or no, is distracting and impedes a driver’s ability to drive safely. The Mythbusters even tested the “mini-myth” that talking on a phone while driving is as bad as, and potentially worse than driving drunk. Sure there may be some super-skilled, multi-tasking master who can talk hands-free and drive safely, but I have never met such a person.
My intention here is not to ride a high-horse and point out other’s driving failures. I’ve personally been guilty of a number of the above topics listed above, however that does not make any of them right (omnipotence and perfection aren’t my strongest qualities). My point here is that these are things I feel we can all do a lot better with, and none of them are terribly difficult to accomplish. Were we to do so, driving would be considerably more stress-free than it is now.