As a columnist on street driving for a national car magazine, I get a lot of responses from readers. Many are positive and appreciate being better empowered with quality information on driving technique and situational awareness. Others, however, declare that that’s all very well and good, but what about the other drivers who will continue to tailgate, cut in front of them, and otherwise act irresponsibly. What can we possibly do about them and how do we educate them—the ones who need it most?
As we all know, there is an awful lot that we can’t control. But sometimes it’s easy to get locked into a mindset that we’re trapped and defined by circumstances. We forget that we can overcome more negativity than we often assume.
The fact is, we probably can’t get the message out about safety to the most dangerous of repeat offenders—the chronic DUIers, the hooligans who just have to be faster than others, and the drivers who are addicted to their smartphones while behind the wheel, to name a few. But we do have three powerful tools at our disposal—motivation, compassion, and modeling.
In this case, motivation means that you give a damn. You want yourself, your family, friends, and even strangers to get home safely and live to see another day. You’re willing to educate yourself about how to be a safer, more aware driver (like reading this blog post) and to share that information with others. And, as anyone knows, it’s often better not to lecture, but gently share, suggest, and make info easily available to others rather than forcing it upon them.
Compassion plays a huge role in getting through many things in life, not just driving. It’s about letting go and moving on. It doesn’t mean that you need to be happy that you have to forgive; it’s perfectly all right—perhaps even necessary—to get annoyed and angry. That’s what gives us our motivation. But it does mean that you have the power to control how you will act and feel, not to take revenge or become a road rager and make an already difficult situation even worse. Stupidity on the road doesn’t necessarily mean malicious intent; the other driver was simply oblivious for any number of reasons, and getting angry at them and trying to educate them on the spot probably isn’t going to help the situation.
And, to be honest, you yourself have probably instigated such a situation and weren’t even aware of it.
Modeling is the biggest thing we can do. We can effect huge change if more of us are the drivers we want others to be, because humans naturally copy what their fellow beings are doing, even if they’re not always consciously aware of it. Keeping our speeds down, maintaining better spacing around us, and moving over to help out other drivers (and thus traffic flow) are all forms of modeling, in addition to being safer driving practices.
And, if you absolutely refuse to talk to others on a cell phone (even handsfree) while they are driving and let them know you won’t converse with them until they are safely stopped, that sounds a powerful message. Even putting on your email signature something like “Sent from my iPhone, but not while driving” does the same thing. Few things are more effective than social disapproval, consistently drip-fed.
Armed with these three tools, our power is considerable. We must use them daily and teach our children these values, because they are our best hope for not repeating the behavior we don’t want to see on our roads.
More people than ever are not operating a motor vehicle properly because of electronic distraction, illicit drugs, legal prescription drugs (especially mood-altering ones), and just regular human distraction. Americans as a whole are not trained properly in drivers education, and many are not even required to undergo it to get their license (not their fault, but they are products of a supremely faulty system that sets them up for further failure). And there are the usual culprits—a human sense of over-confidence, lack of perception of danger, and faulty judgment.
That is all the more reason for the rest of us to pay the kind of attention that driving deserves and needs to protect ourselves, them, and others, and for us to not give up or get discouraged in that quest.