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


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The Role of Driving in the Real World

Recently I’ve been getting asked a lot why I started Driving in the Real World and if there was any singular incident (like an accident or loss) that made me want to change the way people drive.

Although I have known a couple of people who were killed in auto accidents, their fate is not what’s feeding my passion. My motivations are much more simple, and I’m reminded of it every time I get behind the wheel: I am simply tired of sharing the road with so many bad drivers who endanger me and others every day. And I feel like I can and should do something about it.

But I have no illusions of how long and difficult a task this will be, because at least 80 percent of our population feels that they’re already good drivers. To effect any real change in our lackadaisical attitude toward driving on a national scale is going to take a systematic, persistent, and collaborative approach over many decades and across numerous channels of media, products, services, and campaigns to multiple age groups. It may take at least 30 or 40 years to see its cumulative effects, and it may not even be fully accomplished in my lifetime. But by steadily partnering with others and chipping away at this massive task little by little, I do believe that we can start changing life on the road. The role of Driving in the Real World is to make bad driving as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving.

I’ve been asked about my plans to make this website a larger one, and when that will take place. That is still a ways out yet, possibly a year or more. My vision for DITRW is enormous and long-term. Ultimately it will include the following:

  • Apps for mobile phones and tablets relating to driver information/feedback
  • Training tools for teens, parents, immigrants, and the elderly
  • Ad campaigns across all media
  • Online driver forums that cater to the unique navigation and safety needs of different communities
  • Road safety/driving concept games for children as young as kindergarten all the way to high-school age
  • Fun products that promote better driving
  • Intensive curricula for driving schools and instructors

I hope to build DITRW over the years into a major player that has some sway in state legislation, laws, and licensing. I’d also like to see it involved in the creation of a national driving safety center, similar to the one in Teesdorf, Austria, that has nationally reduced beginner accidents by 17 percent and young driver fatalities by 34 percent.

This is all horrendously ambitious, given the current American cultural attitude toward driving. But I still think it is not totally impossible if enough dedicated stakeholders chip away at it in effective, intensive ways over time. With strong leadership and consistent vision, I believe we can innovate driver and road safety education in ways that make people not only want to learn the right way, but even have fun doing it, and remember and use what they’ve learned for the rest of their lives.

I must acknowledge that hundreds of entities, from private citizens to government agencies, are already devoted to these causes, and their good intent, hard work, and often passionate fervor should be recognized. The problem is that very few are willing to tackle our completely broken system of driver-focused road safety consistently and over the long term by its true root causes. An alarming fatality statistic is cited here, a call to end distracted driving is shouted from another mountaintop there, and everywhere there is emotional hand-wringing.

But too often these are small disparate elements that are isolated from why our collective driving skills are so bad:

  • Little acknowledgement of the huge role of cognitive science and driver personality influencing behavior behind the wheel
  • A lack of truly good driving training available in America
  • A severe shortage of in-car time spent learning superior technique and good habits
  • The very weak knowledge and testing standards that enable us to get a license
  • Our own huge underestimation of driving’s complexities and overconfidence in our abilities
  • A deterioration of our social conduct in general
  • The very low sense of priority we place on driving safety
  • The subsequent lack of money assigned to doing something about it, whether it is a parent investing in good driver education for their teen or a government agency running a graduated licensing program

Until these larger issues are addressed in meaningful, substantial ways, US roads will continue to be dangerous places, ranked well below other developed nations when it comes to traffic fatalities and accidents.

What are your thoughts? Do you have ideas? What do you think is necessary to change our driving culture? Do you have experience in it? I would love to hear from you.


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Reader Comments (6)

YES! I agree with almost everything you say in this post, especially the part about changing attitudes - I think that's at the core of the problem. People just don't care whether they are a good or bad driver. In fact, I've often heard people "brag" about how bad they are, and that's crazy - people are being killed by bad driving!

I said I agree with almost everything, which means I don't agree with something you said. And that's when you mention "auto accidents." I believe that most - probably close to 99% - of collisions, crashes and incidents are NOT accidents. An accident is an "unavoidable act of fate." Most crashes are avoidable, and they're not just some random act of fate. There's a cause, and with the types of things you talk about, they can be avoided. Most important, with the right attitude - that we're responsible, no matter whether it's legally our fault or not - most crashes can be avoided. Training plays a big role in developing the right attitude, but as you say, it's a bigger cultural thing. What you're doing here is a start, and someone needs to do it, so thank you (but please call them what they are - crashes, collisions, incidents - not accidents).

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoss Bentley

Changing the driving culture is going to be a difficult task but it's a task that has to be undertaken, I'm glad you've made the commitment to begin. I think a change that would make the greatest impact is to drastically increase the difficulty of the driving exams required to obtain a driver's license. A written test of 150 - 200 questions on the rules-of-the-road along with a behind-the-wheel exam lasting between 60 - 90 minutes that thoroughly tests all of the driving skills required to be a competent driver (a passing grade being 95% or above on both tests) would result in a monumental reduction in traffic accidents (or crashes as Ross chooses to call them). Additionally, anyone found to be "at-fault" in a traffic accident would be required to retake both exams.

Just doing this one thing would force drivers to elevate the importance and responsibility of being a driver, the driver's license would be the golden ticket and held in high regard as a genuine accomplishment. The driver education and training industry would be forced to elevate their own knowledge and skill level in order to serve the needs of those wanting to learn to drive. Parents would no longer expect to be able to teach their teens how to drive in a week or two instead spending months and months developing superior driving skills in preparation for the difficult exams.

Yes, drastically increasing the difficulty of the driver's license exams would have quite an effect on our society, saving billions of dollars from the decreased costs of traffic accidents (or crashes) not to mention the thousands of lives each year that would be saved.

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Cullington

Thank you Ross, for clarifying the true meaning of the word "accident." Language is a subtle but powerful force, and in our general driving culture, we've gotten accustomed to crashes and collisions as tragic but normal. "Accident" is a word for what we've come to regard is inevitable, and we readily use it as an excuse for our behavior, attitude, and actions. In the words of author Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain, "That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny."

March 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMi Ae

And thank you John, for your spot-on comments about driver testing and teen training deficiencies—I agree with all of them. To add to your thoughts, it astounds me how much classroom time is required in American driver training in proportion to actual behind-the-wheel time, which is quite the opposite from the UK.

Driving is mostly an experiential skill, and training for it should be as well. Many adolescents and adults alike do not ever get training in properly handling more difficult road conditions, such as congested urban traffic, snow and ice, fog, emergency maneuvers, or even at night. All of these should be represented in some form in both training (in-car and on good-quality simulators) and testing before one can get a license. Better to learn it with proper training than to discover the hard way in the real world (and potentially endangering ourselves and others) after we get a license, as so many of us do.

Thanks again for your insight.

March 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMi Ae

Having been professionally involved in a blend of public-road traffic safety and driver training throughout the last 39 years, I can write (with a smile) that you have certainly broached an immensely challenging and incredibly complex issue, Mi Ae!

When you write " least 80 percent of our population feels that they’re already good drivers. To effect any real change in our lackadaisical attitude toward driving on a national scale is going to take a systematic, persistent, and collaborative approach over many decades..." you are indeed correct.

Before I make my next comment, let me qualify it by stating that I am married to an American lady because I -- rather obviously -- want to be, and that I live in the USA because I wish to. That said, Mi Ae is entirely correct in her assertion that while the USA rightly leads the world in many, many disciplines, driver safety is emphatically not one of them. In recent years, within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], of which the US was a co-founder, the USA has been in either 27th or 28th position among the 29 relevant, developed-nation member-countries for the "per capita" rate of road deaths and 14th position out of the 18 applicable developed-nation member-countries for the deaths-by-distance rate of road deaths (equivalent to America's "VMT" rate). What does this mean in real terms? It means that the US loses over three times more people each year in road fatalities than it would if it were to match the rates in the leading nations, and the rate for serious injuries is at least as bad.

A 90/95 "rule" is commonly voiced in international road safety circles, namely: "Around 90 per cent of drivers consider themselves to be either 'above average,' 'good' or 'excellent' drivers yet over 95 per cent of crashes INVOLVE driver error!" Note the uppercase word "involve." Far too many inadequately informed "experts" get this one wrong. "Only" about 55 per cent of crashes [US DOT figure] are caused solely and specifically by driver error. In the remainder, driver error is a factor but not the sole and exclusive cause -- an important difference.

Ross is entirely correct about the word "accidents." Indeed, the road safety community now works to avoid use of the word because it gives a misleading meaning and -- speaking as a former UK traffic patrol police officer -- I will add that in this context the word is often used even as an excuse, viz: "It wasn't my fault, officer, it was an accident!"

John's comment -- while entirely intuitive and logical -- has actually proved to be less effective than one would expect. There is a limit on how much the typical person can absorb when learning to drive, and -- as we have no doubt all experienced to some extent -- much of what we learn during basic driver training is often willingly or subconsciously discarded after a license has been obtained.

So, even though I work very enthusiastically indeed in driver-safety training, we do have to recognise that driver training alone will never even come close to making the roads safe. Long-term driver safety (as in for the duration of a person's driving life) is almost entirely down to the attitude of the person/people in question. If, for whatever reason, they have no interest in or concept of greater safety then any driver training will simply bounce off them unless we can first trigger a desire (and that, in itself, is much more complex than it sounds).

For years -- again at international level, including the W.H.O. and the U.N. -- we have talked about the "Three E's" of road safety, namley:
[1] Education
[2] Engineering
[3] Enforcement

These are indeed the bedrock of increasing safety for all, and they most definitely require a multi-disciplinary approach. For decades, people in each of those fields worked under the the harmful misconception that "theirs" was the only answer, and to some extent they even nullified each other's good efforts (and some still do!). More than three "E's" are now recognised and it is most important that anyone dabbling in this field has a good understanding of the inter-relationships.

Eddie Wren
President & Chief Instructor: Advanced Drivers of America
Chair of the International Road Federation "Driver Behavior, Education and Training" Committee
Former UK police Class-One Advanced Motorcyclist and Advanced Driver

March 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEddie Wren

While I appreciate Eddie’s knowledge on the “per capita” road death statistics along with the percentages associated with good drivers and/or driver error crashes, I have to respectfully disagree with his statement, “driver training alone will never even come close to making the roads safe”. The #1 safety feature in any vehicle isn’t an airbag or a crumple zone, it’s the driver. If you teach drivers to know and follow the “art of safe driving”, you’ll get close to making the roads safe. Education is primary although engineering and enforcement are necessary components.

In my earlier post, I suggested the testing requirements be drastically increased in order to help increase competency and to begin to change the driving culture. Here in California, an 18 year old only has to pass a simple 36 question multiple choice written exam (passing grade 6 errors or less) and survive a 6 to 10 minute joy-ride the DMV calls a driving exam (passing grade 14 errors or less). No formal driver’s education or behind-the-wheel training of any kind is required of those 18 years of age and older to obtain a drivers license. The culture of obtaining a drivers license is taken as seriously as deciding on whether to spend the next 2-dayweekend at the lake or learning how to pass the minimal driving exams. Drastically increasing the difficulty of the testing requirements would have a profound effect on producing a more competent driver, at least here in California.

Additionally I contend that the basic driver education and training programs here in the U.S. for 16 and 17 year-olds are based on a flawed methodology. In 1935, the National Safety Council in order to decrease traffic deaths adopted a driver education / training methodology that greatly increased traffic deaths by 1941. After being intensively lobbied by the auto, tire, and insurance industries, Congress installed the same NSC program into our public school system in 1949. Why has driving been the #1 killer of teenagers since the implementation of this driver education methodology? Because it doesn't work, it’s fundamentally flawed. More people in the U.S have been killed in traffic accidents since 1949 than all of the US soldiers killed in every war this country has been involved in from the Revolutionary war through the Iraq / Afghanistan war.

This is why I believe the “basic” driver training methodology taught in the U.S. is flawed. As Eddie Wren stated, “There is a limit on how much the typical person can absorb when learning to drive, and -- as we have no doubt all experienced to some extent -- much of what we learn during basic driver training is often willingly or subconsciously discarded after a license has been obtained”. In my extensive training experience, I haven’t found this to be true with my clients but I have found Eddie’s statement to be immensely accurate with clients that have been previously trained by the “mainstream” driver training industry.

I’ve found that when a “proper” basic driver training methodology is taught, the people usually want to retain and apply what they’ve learned because it works. People usually discard that which doesn’t work.
And finally, I agree that creating a way to trigger a desire for long term driver safety is a difficult task and I support Mi Ae’s desire to change the driving culture here in the U.S.

John Cullington

March 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Cullington

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