In preparing for a discussion group recently on the subject, I’ve been thinking about what makes a good or lousy driver. This is a topic ripe for spirited debate, and it turns out there is as much controversy about what constitutes good driving as there are factors that actually determine it. Is it progress, safety, or smoothness, or a combination of all of these? And is bad driving simply the lack thereof, or do other dynamics have a role as well?

In exploring these questions, I jotted down some notes:

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What Makes a Good Driver

  • A driver who is assertive, not aggressive.
  • A driver who is not overly fearful.
  • A driver who looks ahead visually and mentally as far ahead as possible, and strategizes accordingly.
  • A driver who is smooth with steering, braking, and other inputs.
  • A driver who does not panic in an emergency situation but has the presence of mind to decide and execute the best action for that moment.
  • A driver who is self-aware of his/her bad habits and is constantly looking to overcome them.
  • A driver who knows what leads to accidents (distracting activities, visual fixation, fatigue, etc.) and is proactive about avoiding or minimizing these risks.
  • A driver whose brain in actively engaged in the piloting activity at hand.
  • A driver who practices common courtesy and cooperation with all others on the road (drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians).
  • A driver who knows how to breathe and relax at crucial moments to enhance brain and reflex function at the wheel.
  • A driver who focuses on improving the drive ahead and doesn’t fixate on mistakes of the past.
  • A driver who knows when to stop; i.e., knows his/her physical, mental, and emotional limits.
  • A driver who doesn’t have clutter in the car! (Clutter—or the presence of many loose objects piled on the dashboard, floor, seats, and rear window deck—is not only unsafe in an accident but also may be indicative of a mind that is more easily distracted or situationally unaware.)
  • A driver who always believes that there is something to learn.
  • A driver whose attitude is generally positive, not negative.
  • A driver who recognizes the nuances in life and that the world is in the details. The slightest easing up on the brake pedal, changes in speed, and as little steering input as possible leads to smoother, safer driving.

What Makes a Bad Driver

  • A driver who is aggressive, not merely assertive.
  • A driver who is overly confident.
  • A driver who focuses just on the road directly in front of him/her, and is not anticipating far down ahead.
  • A driver who is very fearful or overly hesitant.
  • A driver who is dictated by ego.
  • A driver who has bad habits and doesn’t even know it.
  • A driver who pretends he is in a hermetically sealed bubble and drives as though he is the only one on the road. (This takes many forms, from not clearing off their snowy back windows to cutting quickly in and out of traffic to get ahead at a desired speed).
  • A driver who allows a preoccupation with nondriving activities to override the task of driving at hand.
  • A driver who lets his car drive him (either through overuse of driver-assist technology or in how his car’s persona dictates how he pilots the vehicle [i.e., sports cars).
  • A driver who fixates on mistakes from the past.

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What do you think makes a good and bad driver? Would love to hear your thoughts.