Driving in the Real WorldTM is a change agent for driving safely and efficiently in the real world. Many driver's education programs, especially in the United States, do not adequately train people in hazard perception, risk management, and proper handling of the complex challenges of everyday driving. Through its blog, social media, and upcoming subscription newsletter, DITRWTM offers tips, techniques, and reflections on driving that will improve your situational awareness and may even save your life and that of others.

There is an enormous need to make our roads safer by making it socially unacceptable to be a bad driver in America, regardless of the cause. We must completely rethink how we drive and how we teach it, and then make the driving test something to actually be respected. Driver's ed should also be a lifelong learning process. And I believe that this can be achieved in much more fun, enjoyable, and experiential ways than it is often presented now.

Many people don't realize this, but what makes you a better driver also improves you in many other areas of life. This involves honest self-examination of our core values as both a society and the individuals that constitute it, and truly making the necessary changes to improve our attitudes on the road.

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

—Mi Ae



Roadside Survival: Do You Really Have What You Need?


In the course of a single year, I drive about 30,000 miles all over America. In Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, where Ford F150s, Chevy Impalas, and Pontiac Grand Ams rule the roads, my 2009 BMW 335i and I are often hundreds of miles from the nearest BMW dealer—or even anyone who would know what to do with a German vehicle, let alone have parts available should something go awry.

Over the past 20 years and nearly a million miles, I’ve been remarkably fortunate with the dozen different cars I’ve owned, thanks to religious maintenance and rigorous pre-trip mechanical checks. Only twice have I been completely stranded, enough that I had to call a tow truck and wait overnight for parts to come in. The second time was in early September in southern Oregon, when my husband and I were traveling on I-5 from Seattle to San Francisco during a much-anticipated vacation.

In spite of having replaced the electric water pump and thermostat (infamous for failing on this year and model) just 40,000 miles ago as a precautionary measure shortly after I acquired the car in 2012, it suddenly failed on this trip. No drama, no fuss—just a single genteel chime when the overheating symbol came on at 70 mph. Immediately I switched on the hazard flashers, guided the car smoothly across two lanes to a gentle stop on the right shoulder, and shut off the engine. As my husband opened the hood, telltale white steam poured forth and the car spat out coolant onto the pavement. Not much to do but get back in the car and call for help.

As it happened, we were in a less than ideal spot. The highway was starting to curve uphill, and the lanes had significantly narrowed because of the mountainous terrain and the fact that a concrete Jersey barrier divided the roadway in the middle. We still had a shoulder, but it itself was bordered by a 3-foot-high concrete retaining wall on our right, so very little clearance remained between the driver’s side of the car and traffic.

Looking in my rearview mirror, I was quickly alarmed by the target fixation by other drivers who were looking at us but not adjusting their steering. (After all, you will always go where your eyes are looking.) Even with our hood up and flashers on, passenger cars, RVs, and 13-wheeler semis alike were not only not moving over to the left to give us room, but they were actively drifting into our curve and crossing the white shoulder line—barreling directly toward us—before correcting at the last moment and pulling away with maybe 12 feet to spare at 70 mph. Just a bit unnerving.

Being stranded on the roadside can be very dangerous in itself for these very reasons. Given our vulnerability, my husband and I put our seatbelts on, just in case we should get hit—then at least we wouldn’t go flying out the windshield. I called AAA, and we were told a tow truck would be on its way in about 45 minutes to take us to a nearby repair shop experienced in European cars. I breathed a sigh of relief—this was a good stroke of luck out in the middle of nowhere. But as we waited and continued to watch traffic drifting and whizzing past way too close, we decided to get out of the car altogether and hop behind the retainer wall, where we could stand safely some distance from the roadway until help arrived.

According to author Walt Brinker, there are two classes of drivers: One who has experienced a disabled vehicle, and those who will. And he should know—he has provided over 2,000 road assists free of charge near his home in North Carolina. For this retired Army lieutenant colonel and good Samaritan, helping people stranded on the road is both a passion and unique hobby. After observing how many people were needlessly stuck because of improper vehicle maintenance and not having the right items and tools in their vehicles to deal with emergencies, Brinker decided to write Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns to help empower drivers.

I’m normally not a big fan of these kinds of books because frankly, many of them are quite poorly written or contain rather vague content that’s not all that helpful. But this little book is different. In fact, reading it makes me realize what I’m lacking in my own car in the way of tools and supplies, in spite of everything I do carry for emergencies.

Brinker’s book is a scant 110 pages, but a huge amount of excellent information is packed into its small size. Much of it is predictably related to tire issues, but he also addresses what to do if you’ve run out of gas, your engine overheats, you’re locked out of your vehicle, or your engine has cut off and will not restart. He also suggests a list of items to carry in your vehicle to contend with vehicle breakdowns. His mantra, of course, is to be proactive about vehicle maintenance so that you are less likely to be stranded in the first place. He also strongly advises that you practice things like changing a tire in the safety and comfort of your own driveway so that you are not struggling to learn when you’re stuck on the side of a road at night or in adverse conditions.

What I like best about this book is Brinker’s common-sense approach to roadside fixes. This is not a dry, technical fix-it manual, but a succinct, engaging book written in plain language that anyone can understand, with solutions that even people with no mechanical experience can easily follow. And he is extremely specific and surprisingly thorough.

Many times I came across bits of advice that floored me with why-didn’t-I-think-of-that solutions. For instance, a vehicle jack works fine on hard, level ground, but it quickly becomes useless if the soil is sandy, mushy, or uneven. His suggestion? Carry a 8-by-8-inch, ½-inch-thick square of plywood to place under the jack to stabilize it and keep it from sinking into soft ground. Another issue that can make changing tires difficult is not enough leverage to loosen really tight lug nuts; he recommends using a “cheater bar”—a simple 2-foot-long steel pipe that can be slipped over the handle of your vehicle’s lug wrench to double or even triple the available torque.

He tackles vehicle-specific issues as well, such as fuel pump cutoff switches in Ford vehicles and the tendency of pre-2007 General Motors vehicles to have looser battery connectors than normal. He gives tips on changing tires with aftermarket rims, how to get rims and wheels separated when they are stuck together by rust, how to use a paper clip to fix loose battery clamps, why 20-foot jumper cables make for safer vehicle starts versus shorter ones, what to do if your car doesn’t start even though you just poured a gallon of gas in the tank, and ingenious solutions for vehicle lockouts. Sprinkled throughout the book are photos that illustrate specific tools and techniques, as well as entertaining stories of Brinker’s more memorable roadside assists.

Needless to say, this is a book that should be kept in your car’s glovebox, not at home. It’s a must-read for all drivers, novice and experienced alike, and great for new teen drivers, significant others, family, and friends. Even if you have AAA or access to other roadside assistance programs, Walt points out that you may find yourself in situations where you have no phone or satellite reception, the wait is too long or towing services are closed for the night, or the help that does arrive turns out to be incompetent or unable to assist (and I’ve actually experienced all of these things myself).

And for best results, read this book before you get stranded…

In our case, there really wasn’t any way to prevent the sudden water pump failure, outside of carrying our own spare pump and mechanic. And while some of you reading this may have vehicles that demand diagnostic computers, highly specialized parts, and especially trained technicians to fix the simplest of issues, I know there are plenty among you who could benefit from reading this little book nonetheless and being better prepared for the unexpected.

Roadside Survival retails for a mere $14.95, and it may just be some of the best money you could ever spend on your car. It also makes a great holiday gift for your new teen driver, spouse, parents, and friends—in short, anyone whose safety you care about.


Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns
Walt Brinker, 2014, CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1493786817



Texting and Driving Has Changed the Way We Travel


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 and follow him on Twitter @SafeDriver.


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:

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



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

This post was co-written with Candace Lightner, President of We Save 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.