Today marks a time that I have been imagining for nearly a decade now, when I first began thinking about writing a book about driving techniques that are truly practical in the real world.
The idea began, innocently enough, with questions. Why are people turning left on a red arrow? Can they really do that if there is an arrow? (It turns out you can in Washington state on a one-way street, as long as there is no sign present indicating you can’t.) And the admonishments from my husband at the time: Brake before you get into that curve, not while you’re steering into it. Why turn left when you could do three right turns? If you’re stuck behind that slow car, don’t ride on his tail and make him more nervous.
And then there were the speeding tickets. An inveterate leadfoot, I’ve gotten an appalling number of them. And yet, I haven’t been in an accident involving other cars, drivers, or pedestrians in 20 years. So, I started wondering about the connection between speed and safety: namely, that just going fast is not necessarily dangerous; it is the injudicious use of speed that gets you into trouble.
I love cars and I adore driving. Always have, since I was a toddler trying to blast my little white truck down the hallway linoleum as fast as my feet could push off the floor. As a teenager, I was so hungry to learn how to drive that I dreamed at night that I was behind the wheel, merrily going down the road. And when I started real driving lessons, the sensation was exactly as how I dreamt it. Being in motion and piloting a vehicle is in my blood, and 22 years and nearly a million miles later, I still relish that little anticipatory thrill every time I get behind the wheel.
But the road can be a dangerous place, and over the past decade, I have seen many small changes taking place that have morphed into a larger, alarming norm. General societal respect has declined while a sense of entitlement has crept up. More SUVs are on the road than ever before, altering the vehicular landscape in terms of safety and intimidation. Driven by a highly stimulating, hyper-reactive society, more people are acting under a false sense of urgency, always rushing and pushing the limits—witness the increasing number of drivers running red lights. And of course, our addiction to cell phones, texting, and tending to all manner of electronic devices has further eroded any focus and situational awareness we might have once had.
As I searched the local state transportation department’s motorist handbooks, I realized that while they have a good listing of basic laws and rules, they often fail to address the nuances of real-world driving conditions. So we adjust what we learned in our high school driver’s ed class to what works for our immediate needs, or what our parents (who may be just as ignorant) tell us. But too often we don’t ever get enough hands-on experience to learn what we really need before getting a license. Many of us eventually learn the hard way, getting into fender-benders, causing near-misses, and worse.
I hope this blog and my upcoming book, Driving in the Real World, will change this, to start a new way of thinking about driving that will turn into a national movement toward safety.