SUBSCRIBE
CONTACT
ABOUT DRIVING IN THE REAL WORLD

Driving in the Real WorldTM is currently a blog about driving safely and efficiently in the real world. Many driver's education programs, especially in the United States, do not adequately train people to properly handle the complex challenges of everyday driving. DITRWTM offers tips, techniques, and reflections on driving that will improve your on-the-road awareness and may even save your life. In future months, this blog will become part of a much larger website that will feature exciting apps, games, community forums, and a whole new way to learn about street driving.

My hope is to make our roads safer by making it socially unacceptable to be a bad driver. We need to rethink how we drive, how we teach it in America, and make safety and cooperation a far higher priority, but in fun, enjoyable, and practical ways. And many people don't realize this, but what makes you a better driver also improves you in many other parts of life.

Thank you for visiting. I invite readers to share their own experiences and reflections on driving, to suggest ideas for my upcoming book on the subject, and to follow me on Twitter (@DrivingReal).

—Mi Ae

 

Thursday
Jul022015

Has Your Driving Mentality Changed?

This month's blog post comes to us from the talented and prolific Scott Marshall, who is director of training for Young Drivers of Canada. We are honored to have him share his thoughts on the pitfalls of driver mentality changing over the years.

___________ 

Let’s face facts; life is busy. We know that. We fill our lives with our jobs, family, friends, and adult responsibilities each and every day. It’s sometimes difficult to focus on the things we need to because we’re so busy. We also tend to take many things for granted. With so much on our minds as the days pass, it’s sometimes tough to realize how much we’ve changed over time, especially when driving is concerned. How much has your driving mentality changed over the years?

Learning to drive is a big step for many people. It gives them the opportunity to travel to more remote areas, obtain employment, and live their lives with more conveniences in this fast-paced world. But with the years passing us by, how much has your driving mentality changed? Has it changed for the better or the worse?

When most people learned to drive, they kept two hands on the wheel, they looked out for the other driver, and, for the most part, followed the rules of the road. As I watch many drivers over the years, I see most of these things changing. To those who make these changes to their driving mentality, I ask this question: why?

As time goes by, we tend to get a little sloppy with things. Do you check your mirrors as often as you should? Do you make quality turns, or do you cut the corners? What about full stops at stop signs? Do you speed up toward a red light? Has your mentality changed from doing things safely to “it's close enough that I won’t get a ticket”?

If something goes wrong, do you blame someone else, even though you know deep down that you screwed up? I doubt you started your driving career like that. It’s time to think back to the beginning. It’s time to take ownership of your own actions. No one really belongs to the “It won’t happen to me” club. In fact, it can happen to you if you’re not careful.

I remember speaking with a former student a few years after I taught them to drive. I asked them if they were still driving the way I had taught them. They smiled and said “Yes. Why wouldn’t I? Why change something that works?” Sound advice, don’t you think?

A responsible driver respects themselves, their vehicle, their passengers, and other road users. It has to change from being a “me – me” attitude. Following rules, being safe, and taking your time while on the road will get you to your destinations safely. It will also help other road users reach their destinations safely. Driving is a journey, not a race. Take the time to enjoy it—safely.

Scott Marshall is director of training for Young Drivers of Canada and started in road safety in 1988. He was a judge during the first three seasons of Canada’s Worst Driver on Discovery Network. Scott started writing columns on driving for his community paper in 2005. Since then, his columns have been printed in several publications, including newspaper, magazines, and various websites. You can visit his own blog at http://safedriving.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @SafeDriver.


Friday
May012015

How Being a Better Driver Makes You Better at Life  

 

If you’re a driving instructor or work in the traffic safety industry, no doubt you’ve run up against the specter of Grand Apathy. Just how on earth do you motivate people to be actually interested in driving safely? Keep improving at it? It’s one thing to teach driving as a mechanical series of prudent procedures, visual scanning, and dry traffic rules, but entirely another to change people’s behavior and bad habits at its root causes. 

If you work as a driving instructor, never underestimate your role as a positive teacher and mentor. Often you are the first and only line of defense in terms of actual road training, because unfortunately Americans generally don’t get driver training after their teen years. And what you teach—and how you frame it—may literally someday save a life.

That’s a heavy responsibility, but it’s also an exciting challenge, and a great opportunity that should not be missed. I cannot tell you the number of times when I have talked with people about their formative driving experiences, that they have told me about a single thing their instructor told them that formed an ah-ha moment, an epiphany, that they have remembered ever since.

 

One of my interests is exploring what truly motivates people. One strategy is to give them something they can apply to other parts of their life. And I have a dangerous idea. What if you could teach driving as self-help? It’s an $11 billion industry in America alone!

After all, the skills to make you a better driver make you a better person.

Driving is truly a metaphor for how we go through life. And if you don’t believe me, just go to Costco on a Saturday morning and you’ll see an exact microcosm of what’s on the street—the dawdlers, the left-lane hoggers, the people yakking on their cell phones slowing down in the aisles, the speeders-around-the-corner, the ones who are situationally aware and courteous about letting you go by, and the ones who are just plumb oblivious.

 

It’s no secret that we drive exactly as our personalities, character traits, and habits dictate. There are numerous published and academic studies quantifying this, and it’s a foundation for the GDE Matrix (Goals for Driver Education), which was pioneered in Finland and is used in driving curricula in Sweden and other European countries. For more information on the GDE and its context, see these links:

http://nmcu.org/files/GDE%20Matrix_2003.pdf

https://roadio.com/magazine/2013/09/the-matrix/

http://www.1st-4.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/9MagazineAugust2013-2.pdf

Part of the foundation behind GDE is that a person’s own life goals and values profoundly affect their level of risk-taking and ability on the road, as well as their ability to be situationally aware and honestly self-assess. We drive exactly how we are as people, in terms of our personality, ego, habits, life values, ability to plan, confidence levels, social skills, and general outlook. People who are bad at planning in their personal and work life are often not good at anticipating situations on the road. People who feel very confident, feel entitled, and are used to getting their way tend to speed, take more risks, and cut off others. And drivers who are more prudent, careful, and good in relationship-building tend to be more courteous to other road users.

So here are some skills for the road … and for life.

Looking up far ahead.

Of the many different types of driving—street, high-performance, evasive, autocross, racing, offroad, rally—the one technique they all share is that their drivers must look ahead as far as possible to scan upcoming situations. If drivers look only at the spaces directly in front of them, they don’t see the big picture; they get “behind” and catching up may be difficult or downright dangerous. Looking up far ahead is crucial to see hazards, assess risk, and have the space and time to plan for evolving or unexpected situations. The same thing is true for life—for exactly the same reasons.

Learn to let go.

Too many of us feel our hackles go up when a thoughtless driver cuts us off, drifts while yakking on a cell phone, or gives us a provocative finger gesture. And what’s our first reaction? We feel hurt and violated, and boy do we want to show them, dispense a little revenge.

A lot of what happens on the road really has nothing to do with us—other drivers may have had arguments with their boss or spouse, and they just happen to be taking it out on others in the anonymity of their vehicles. They may be on drugs, medication, or alcohol. They may be running late or under other stress. They might even be confused tourists just trying to find their way around, or plain unaware that they got in someone’s way or did a doe-headed thing.

And it doesn’t mean that we should act out in turn. In fact, in this age of drugs, guns, and mind-altering antidepressants, retaliating these days can be very dangerous indeed. It’s just not worth it.

People waste a lot of time getting wrapped up in things that really don’t matter. They are easily threatened and they take things way too personally. They feel the need to bolster their ego by defending themselves offensively. And this happens not just on the road, but at work and at home with the family, spouses, friends, and colleagues.

In both driving and in life, there’s huge value in learning to relax, letting a lot of battles go, being constructive about dealing with conflict, not becoming combative, and also not getting caught up in the drama that others want to suck us into. It’s not our responsibility.

There’s a saying: “Expectation equals premeditated resentment.” When you lower your expectations, life really does get a whole lot easier and less stressful.

Give yourself room—literally.

What’s a leading cause of collisions? Drivers following too closely! We all know that not leaving enough distance between one another causes drivers to be reactive, not proactive. You need a big enough safety cushion to allow for contingencies and absorb the movements of others without disrupting traffic flow. It’s a form of spatial insurance. 

And that translates to off the road as well: Too often we don’t leave enough padding in our own lives. It might be that 5 or 10 extra minutes beyond what we expect to get to a meeting, or not having enough savings in our bank accounts or insurance coverage for emergencies, or always pushing ourselves right to the limits of our time and energy. We’re often pretty poor about not giving ourselves enough clearance in life, and that frequently compounds itself into bigger problems, partly because of another thing—not looking far enough ahead.

Be courteous to others.

This is so obvious that it may seem not worth mentioning, but it’s true. Driving is one of the few major daily activities where showing courtesy, respect, and cooperation are absolutely essential for the safety and efficiency of us all.

When we’re on the road, asking nicely, giving a little, letting someone in, and just being patient and empathetic makes all of the difference in the world between a good safe drive and a dangerous one.

When it comes to life, we’re always going to have a harder time if we’re always cutting others off, pushing the hot buttons of others, and being rude and presumptive. And we all know somebody who is like that and wonders why things don’t go well for them.

Empower yourself.

Many people view driving as a passive activity where they’re the victim: “This person’s tailgating me,” “I got cut off,” “She ran the red light and almost hit me.”

Much of what driving has become in America is people pressuring others to do something or conforming to what they want them to be. Maybe they want us to go faster or get out of their way. They’ll tailgate us on the freeway, or honk if they think we’re a nanosecond too slow off the line to accelerate from a light. Or they’ll bully us by cutting us off or be passive-aggressive about speed.

Everyone’s got a story about being a victim.

We live in a society that breeds blame, judgment, competition, finger-pointing, irrational argument, and frustration. We see it on the road every day through aggressive driving, road rage, the use of alcohol and drugs while driving, and just plain impatience and rudeness.

And you can see this negativity reflected in much of our society—our political leaders, TV reality shows, news media, social media, and Internet user comments. It’s epidemic and constantly being accepted in our society as new levels of “normal.”

The neat thing about all of this is that while you can’t always control what others do on the road, we can take charge of not putting ourselves in a bad situation! 

  • On the road, we can manage the space around us by treating everyone like they have the plague, and building a space bubble around us.
  • We can gently slow our speed to get others to back off. It’s surprising just how often it works.
  • Look in all directions for red-light runners before we go.
  • Let others who want to go faster get around us safely.
  • Don’t put ourselves in unnecessary risk (i.e., making several right turns instead of making a dangerous left turn, or not lingering in someone’s blind spot). 
  • Be situationally aware, scan ahead, and at the ready at all times for anything to happen.

The same is true in other parts of life—we can’t necessarily control what everyone else does, but we always have the power to choose how we handle ourselves.

Again, much of this is not getting sucked into someone’s else drama, or, as they say in racing, driving someone else’s line. With practice, we can scan for signs of possible issues, avoid putting ourselves into potential paths of conflict in the first place, and respond more constructively to challenges.

 

Improve for the future, not obsess about the past. 

Driving well, whether it’s on the street or the racetrack, means continually focusing on doing better for the future, not getting stuck on what went wrong in the past. It is not that we shouldn’t recognize when we’ve done something wrong—we should acknowledge, examine what happened, and identify what we need to to correct it for the future—but then we need to move on.

People spend way too much time beating themselves up and regretting things throughout their entire lives—in a looping “could’a–would’a–should’a” syndrome. We should channel that energy to positively change, instead.

The great thing about driving is that there’s always another fantastic opportunity to improve your skills. 

The bestselling book The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is about a dog whose owner is an aspiring racecar driver, told from the dog’s point of view. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should—you’ll learn a surprising lot about driving, life, love, and loyalty. And also the mantra, “That which you manifest is before you.”

The road can teach us great lessons in moving forward!

Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? I'd love to hear from you. Please continue the conversation by leaving a comment below, or emailing me directly at miae@whatnowdesign.com.

 

Tuesday
Feb102015

It’s Not Just Alcohol Anymore: More Teens Are Driving Drugged

This post was co-written with Candace Lightner, President of We Save Lives.org and founder of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Every time you get on the road, chances are good that you’re seeing drivers of all ages under the influence. Not necessarily on alcohol, but on drugs—both illicit and perfectly legal. Although the dangers of drinking and driving are well-known, the effect of drugs is less publicized—and potentially far more lethal, given the numbers.

Consider these sobering facts:

  • Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens. 
  • Every day, on average, 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • According to a 2011 National Institute on Drug Abuse Survey, nearly 1 in 6 high school seniors who responded reported that, within the past 2 weeks, they had driven a motor vehicle after using an illicit drug or drinking heavily.
  • In the same survey, nearly 1 in 4 had recently ridden in a car with such a driver. Altogether 28 percent had put themselves at risk in the past 2 weeks by being in a vehicle whose driver had been using marijuana or another illicit drug, or had drunk 5 or more alcoholic drinks. These rates had all risen nearly 20 percent in only 4 years, due almost entirely to an increase in driving after smoking marijuana.
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2014 Monitoring the Future survey, which measures alcohol and drug use among over 41,000 American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, 27 percent of all survey participants used illicit drugs, 6 percent had abused prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and over 37 percent of high-school seniors had ingested alcohol in the previous year.

So why do teens use drugs? For the same reasons that adults often do—to regulate their mood, stay alert, lose weight, cope with everyday life, or just have fun. Teens abuse a variety of drugs, such as alcohol; prescription medications; inhalants; over-the-counter cough, cold, and sleep medications; marijuana, cocaine, opiates, heroin, PCP, and designer drugs such as Ecstasy.

How do these drugs affect driving? Many drugs have similar effects on our cognitive and motor skills as alcohol, by impairing judgment, concentration, vision, and sense of risk-taking, which can lead to overconfidence, hallucinations, and unpredictable behavior. This turns especially deadly if a person ingests more than one drug at a time or also consumes alcohol, since drug interactions vary widely by individual. 

Driving under the influence of marijuana can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of other drugs. Most teens (and adults) think they drive more carefully after they use marijuana. But they don’t—using marijuana nearly doubles the risk of a vehicle collision, even though drivers don’t regard cannabis use to be as detrimental as alcohol.

If you need more proof, read the story of the young teenager from New York City who killed four of his friends while driving high. The fact that he was traveling at more than 100 miles an hour when he crashed into a tree hardly bodes well for driving more carefully. This young man will spend the next 5 to 15 years incarcerated as a result of his dangerous and deadly behavior. The victims’ families will spend a lifetime mourning their loved ones.

What’s more, teens who regularly use marijuana are more likely to become addicted to it than adults. And research is finding that even occasional marijuana use in adolescence may actually change brain function and lower IQ.

Why is drugged driving so dangerous for teens? Drugged driving is lethal for any age, but especially so for teens aged 16 to 19, for whom vehicle collisions are already the leading cause of death. Their natural overconfidence, feelings of invincibility, lack of experience, and vulnerability to social pressure is a potent cocktail for tragedy.

Which brings us to the hard questions—what can we do to help teens drive responsibly, as parents, friends, family, classmates, teachers, physicians, and counselors?

  • Be a good role model. Do your teens see you take illegal drugs or prescription medications, then get behind the wheel? We are role models for our children, and we cannot expect them to act differently than we do.
  • Hold off on letting them get their license until you are sure they are mature and responsible enough to handle a two-ton weapon.
  • Educate them about the law and the penalties. It is against the law to drive under the influence of drugs and not just alcohol, even in a state where marijuana is allowed. These penalties can be steep, so let your teen know this isn’t a minor offense.
  • Let them know that drugged driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving. Many teens believe that it is safer to drive under the influence of drugs than alcohol.
  • Emphasize that drugged driving is a choice. If they make the mistake of taking drugs or if they have a drug problem, they need to refrain from driving—or face the consequences.
  • Offer to drive them home without penalty if they ever feel that driving is a risk for themselves or if riding with someone else is dangerous.
  • Ask them to take the pledge to drive alcohol- and substance-free.
  • Take the car keys away if you suspect irresponsible behavior. Remember, you are the parent, and you have a lot more control than you think. It’s up to you to leverage that power and remind your child that driving is a privilege, not a right. Emphasize that you care about their safety and that of other innocent drivers on the road.
  • You can never start the discussion too early. Many parents feel awkward talking to their children about drug use. But the average age of first marijuana use is 14, and alcohol use can start before the age of 12. Kids have easier access than ever to both legal and illegal drugs from classmates and family members. Broaching the subject as early as kindergarten and having regular, friendly conversations about it sends the message that you care—and that you’re keeping an eye on them.
  • Attend a drug-prevention event. Many law enforcement agencies put on free or low-cost community seminars to increase public awareness of drugged driving as well as offer prevention tips. Ask your local police or school about such events.
  • Stay involved. As much as adolescents tend to push adults away, letting them know that you are interested and staying active in their lives is crucial. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to get nosy about who they hang out with (or ride in other vehicles with), even if you get yelled at. Teens are often more grateful for adult guidance and involvement than they let on.

We can never protect our children 100 percent, and when your teen starts driving, sleepless nights can become a habit. However, there are things we can do as parents to help keep our children safe; the most important is to show them how much we love them by providing boundaries and guidance as continue their journey into adulthood.

 

Monday
Jul072014

25 Ways to a Dream Drivers Education Program

For the past several years I’ve been fantasizing. Big-time. No, not about whatever lewd thing may have just popped into your head, but about driver’s ed. 

Driver’s ed, you say? Bear with me—what if you could design a dream driver’s education program if time and money were no object? Not according to what parents are willing to pay for, what kids have time to learn, or the limitations of driver testing standards, but what drivers actually should know to safely navigate—and survive—today’s roads.

A revolutionary concept, indeed.

So here’s what my dream driver’s ed in America would include:

1. The system of car control.  In the United States, most driver’s ed covers the barest basics of driving—knowledge of traffic signs, rules of the road, the death-defying parallel parking maneuver, and how to go forward and backward without hitting anything. Overall it’s safe to say that the level of hazard perception and risk assessment taught in the US is a mere fraction of the UK’s system of car control, with its tightly prescribed methodology of information, position, speed, gear, and acceleration. 


2. How personality affects driving. One often overlooked aspect of driving is how people’s personalities affect their behavior on the road. It would be well worth an instructor’s time to interview their students and get a feel for their basic character traits before ever setting out behind the wheel. Are they confident and assertive, or more timid and insecure? Are they generally positive, or more negative? Do they feel entitled? What are their attitudes toward authority, sharing, courtesy, and cooperation? Do they have learning anxieties? Do they come from cultures significantly different from that in which they are getting their license? Regardless of the student’s age, such insight can reveal how a student might approach a risky situation or share the road with others—and help students and instructors alike recognize their potential strengths and weaknesses. 

3. Reading other drivers and vehicles. Traffic is full of clues as to what might happen if we just pay attention. Every driver and vehicle has a body language that reveals their likely path of travel or action, and learning how to read these signals (or anticipate what might happen at any given moment) can be one of the most often-used skills behind the wheel.

 

4. The real story about distractions. Sure, we hear about not texting or talking on the cell phone all the time. And they should be banned, period, except when the vehicle’s safely pulled off the road and not moving. But there are also the distractions of eating, talking with passengers, fiddling with the radio, getting sleepy, gawking at accident scenes, and plain old daydreaming.  It’s also not practical to tell students to not do any of these things—every driver will do them at some point regularly. It’s better to teach best practices on how to safely handle each of these distractions.

5. Stress reduction and relaxation techniques. Learning to drive can be extremely stressful. So is driving during bad weather conditions, in big cities and unfamiliar areas, and around unscrupulous motorists. Learning to ease mental and physical tension using deep breathing, relaxation, and even singing can be a surprising lifesaver—literally.

6. Night driving. Not every US driver’s ed program contains a night driving component. Reduced visibility is the obvious issue, but other challenges abound—increased animal activity, driver fatigue, intoxicated motorists and pedestrians, difficulty in detecting pedestrians and bicyclists, and a sometimes deadly sense of security triggered by miles of empty roads.

7. Highway driving. Highway driving in American driver’s ed is all about merging, keeping up with traffic, changing lanes, and exiting. Of course, mastering these skills is critical, but I would add that so are learning to read the rhythms of highway traffic, understanding traffic waves and how you can prevent congestion by maintaining adequate space cushions, lane discipline, watching for hazards presented by merge points, and constantly scanning for erratic drivers that can influence not only your path but the movements of everyone around you in turn.

8. Handling emergency situations. At some point in their driving career, regardless of how careful they may be, everyone is going to have to deal with a road emergency. It could be as simple as a flat tire or complex as a collision with another vehicle. It could be spinning out on a patch of black ice or being confronted by a tornado. Having some idea of what to do in these critical situations can be a matter of life or death. 

9. Using driver-assist technologies. Not a single driving instructor I have ever talked to on either side of the pond has directly addressed the myriad driver-assist technologies coming on board into vehicles. And I’m not talking about antilock brakes (ABS) or regular cruise control, but more advanced tech like variable cruise control, automatic braking, lane-departure warning, night vision, automatic parking, drowsiness detection, hill descent control, blind spot detection, and automated precrash systems. Given their increasing prevalence in cars today and tomorrow, it’s a disservice to today’s drivers to not acknowledge these systems. Pretending they don't exist is like telling teens to practice safe sex by abstinence; better to openly acknowledge this topic and have a constructive discussion about their advantages and limitations.

10. Being a better pedestrian and bicyclist. Plenty of bad drivers abound, but many pedestrians don’t help themselves either, especially when they walk around texting, fail to look both ways before crossing the street, wear dark clothing, walk on the wrong side of the road, needlessly make themselves the focus of target fixation, wander in front of driveway and parking lot entrances without looking, and generally act like dorks. The same holds true for bicyclists, especially those who run red lights, slap cars in crosswalks, and generally treat vehicular traffic as adversaries. Sharing the road takes cooperation and respect from all users, not just drivers. And all drivers are pedestrians at some point.

11. Using GPS. Modern turn-by-turn navigation systems are a godsend, eliminating the need for very distracting paper map handling. But interacting with electronic navigation aids can be quite distracting in themselves, and there is no substitute for common sense. There is a time to follow what your GPS tells you—and not. And sometimes it’s easy to forget that driving your vehicle safely always takes precedence, no matter what.

12. Basics of wayfinding, including how to read a map. No one loves turn-by-turn GPS more than I, and they are very helpful in navigating unfamiliar terrain more safely. But I also believe that we’re slowly becoming sheep, content to be blindly led while never having to really pay attention to where we’re going. In the process, we’re slowly losing (or perhaps the younger among us never really developed) our sense of direction. How many of us, bereft of our Tom-Tom or in-car GPS, could read a paper map? Could we figure out where we are, take note of the landmarks surrounding us, and have some sense of where to go unaided? Even with electronic systems, the ability to read a map on the screen in real-time and use it to figure out alternate routes in times of congestion or hazardous conditions is a terrific skill. 


13. Consequences of a collision. If learner drivers really knew the consequences of getting into a collision, they might be more careful. Most of us think that we will never get into a collision (and I deliberately use that term instead of “accident” as 95 percent of collisions are completely preventable), but the aftermath is well worth considering: the expense and inconvenience of getting your own and the other person’s vehicle (or vehicles) repaired, hiked-up insurance rates, penalties on your driving record, and possibly the worst yet, lifelong shame and guilt of possibly injuring—or even killing—someone else. Consider inviting law enforcement, emergency personnel, and even trauma physicians to speak—these are the people who witness and clean up the aftermath of such collisions every day. 

14. The road as seen by bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. Have you ever noticed that when you’re behind the wheel, everyone else who is not seems out to get you? And when you’re not, it’s those damn drivers who are at fault—every one of ‘em! Switching the experience could go a long way in building empathy.

15. Sharing the road with big trucks. Speaking of empathy, every driver should climb behind the wheel of a big rig and see for themselves their unique limitations, especially in braking and visibility. Some American driving schools invite semi-truck drivers to speak to students or even have a big-rig on hand for demos.

16. Urban driving. Driving in a big city poses unique situations not encountered anywhere else. There are count-down lights, hordes of pedestrians, intense congestion, more stimuli than you ever imagined, an increased need for communication between drivers and other road users, maneuvering in tighter areas, distracting sights, and the unique hazards of double-parked vehicles and buses, to name a few. It’s enough to make a driver pull out their hair—or at least want to avoid the city altogether. It needn’t be that way—provided that the subject is broached constructively.

17. Driving and parking in tight spaces. Some drivers I’ve talked to describe bursting into tears after frustrating bouts in impossibly tight parking garages (often in big cities). And sometimes you find yourself in a tight squeeze, and you simply have no other choice. Learning to reverse and maneuver confidently in very close spaces (and yes, without rubbing or bumping into other vehicles) can pay off big dividends in self-confidence.

18. Driving in adverse weather conditions (snow, ice, rain, windstorms, tornadoes, flooding). This is one case where really high-end driving simulators are extraordinarily useful. Few instructors would want to take students out after a fresh snow or during high winds (and rightly so), but having students get a feel for how these conditions affect vehicle dynamics and physics—and correctly handling them—can be well worth it. If you do not have access to a simulator, at least build some good discussions around these situations.

19. Getting to know your vehicle. How many of us really know what our vehicles can (and can’t) do until we get in an emergency situation? Taking the time to drive in an empty parking lot on sunny, rainy, and even snowy days and practicing emergency braking, steering sharply, even doing donuts is a great way to become more familiar with your vehicle’s capabilities and limits.

20. Driving green. With all the attention on hybrids, electrics, and diesels these days, an often-overlooked fact is that any vehicle can become a greener one simply by driving it better. Driving for fuel efficiency—less brake, less throttle, smoother turns, more speed modulation, and rolling up to stops—all happily translate to better driving anyhow.

21. How to take care of your vehicle. When I attend tech sessions, I’m always astonished by how little people know about basic vehicle maintenance. And it’s not just women either … every driver should know how to check oil, transmission fluid, wiper fluid, and coolant levels; properly monitor their tire pressures; change wiper blades; jump batteries; how to change tires (or fix them if they’re run-flats); and safely charge electric vehicles.

22. How being a better driver makes you better in life. At first glance, this may sound funny. But think about it … looking up farther ahead, anticipating hazards, staying focused on the positive rather than the negative, not weaving about but staying on an even course, paying attention to your environment rather than your electronic device, and generally being a better observer of everything around you … what’s not to be gained when applied to your personal, professional, even financial life?

23. Road-tripping and traveling with children. One of the great joys in life is going on road trips. But there is an art to it, including packing, preparing the vehicle, dealing with roadside emergencies, staying alert while driving for very long stretches, and even napping in the car safely. Traveling comfortably with children, as well as properly installing and using car seats and other child restraint systems, are subjects unto themselves, perhaps not so interesting to younger learner drivers but surely useful for parents, babysitters, and caregivers.

24. First-aid basics. In some European countries, such as Germany, learning first-aid (including CPR) is a mandatory part of driver training. It’s just a good idea—you never know when you—or someone else—might need it.

25. Getting parents involved. Last but not least, parents of learner and novice drivers should be required to attend at least one session devoted to what they can do to help their children—and themselves—be better citizens of the road. I cannot stress enough that parents are role models for their genetic units, and most of them are quite unaware of just how strong their influence is.

If this all sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. But I also believe that if drivers were given a better-rounded picture of what driving actually involves, and taught in fun, engaging ways, it would go a long way toward changing our traffic safety culture over time. It also brings me to another topic that I’ll tackle next—that driving should be a lifelong learning experience, not just a one-time event in our adolescent years.

What are your thoughts? Do you teach any of these topics? And how? What would you like to see tackled in drivers ed? I would love to hear from you. Let me know by commenting below, or email me privately at miae@whatnowdesign.com. 

 

Monday
Apr212014

Why Are So Many People Running Red Lights?

With tax preparation time here in the States, it’s apparent that certain things in life are unavoidable. Taxes and death surely top the list. A polarized Congress is also a reality. But something else far more insidious is literally invading America’s streets—close calls with red-light runners.

In the simplest terms, red-light running simply means drivers are entering intersections just as or after their traffic lights turn red. This is different than drivers entering when a light is yellow and not making it completely through the intersection before the light turns red.

Over the past couple years, I’ve noticed a steady, dramatic increase in red-light runners, so much so that now I can’t walk or drive anywhere without seeing at least one, two, or even more during a single jaunt. In San Francisco and Seattle, I’ve observed the problem to be epidemic to the point that I believe it’s not a matter of if, but when I will be a victim of someone barreling through, in spite of always looking both ways before proceeding on my green.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that red-light running alone caused 683 deaths and a staggering 133,000 injuries in 2012. What’s even more remarkable is that, according to a NHTSA report, a full 97 percent of drivers feel that other drivers running red-lights are a major safety threat. Yet, from daily observation, I wonder if more than 3 percent of drivers are actually running red lights. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

Why are more people running red lights? While I have not seen any studies on this, I venture to guess several reasons. As a society we’re increasingly goaded by a sense of artificial urgency cultivated by our technological connectedness. We struggle to keep up with ever-rising tides of email, calls, texts, and appointments. We allow ourselves to be carried by the belief that we have to hurry on to the next thing or get to the next place as fast as possible. The fact that we are often distracted by our cell phones behind the wheel only compounds this.

Permissiveness and entitlement have been creeping in as well. In the age of the selfie, the “me” generation, and competitive reality-TV culture, social decorum and mutual respect have steadily eroded in favor of relentless self-interest. We’re always pushing ourselves, both figuratively and literally. I can make it, just once more this time.

At the same time, populations are increasing in our cities and suburban areas alike, and local infrastructure has not kept up. Roadways are more crowded, lights are not timed properly, and backups and wait times are increasing. Drivers feel more frustrated, and this irritation combines with urgency and entitlement to create a potent combination. Before you know it, the occasional push to make it last-moment through an intersection becomes a habit—a lethal one.

To dispel this dangerous practice, thousands of red-light cameras have been set up in many intersections in US cities. However, while they can be effective in bringing down violations (and thus accident and fatality rates), these cameras are often very controversial, as they’re seen by opponents as existing for the purpose of generating revenue. And in some cases, they may inadvertently promote unsafe behavior by motivating drivers to speed up or slam on their brakes to avoid penalties.

Whatever your opinion on red-light cameras, I ask you to consider a scenario less esoteric: What if people knew that every time they ran a red light, it meant that they were killing or injuring an innocent person for whom their side was green? Would that make them slow down, not take so many chances?

Before you dismiss this as being hysterical or extreme, consider this very real possibility. After all, it was reality for nearly 134,000 people in 2012.