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



Entries in cell phones (2)


Distracted Driving & Technology: It’s Not What You Think It Is—It’s Much Worse


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that distracted driving is dangerous. Perhaps you’ve seen electronic signboard messages warning against it on our highways or heard it covered in the media. 

Perhaps you even do it yourself behind the wheel—talk on the phone, text, play Pokémon Go, use Snapchat, check Facebook or email on your smartwatch, or fiddle with the GPS and infotainment systems in your car.

You might think nothing of it: I’m a good driver. I’ve done it many times and nothing bad has ever happened. I only do it when I’m at a stoplight, anyway. It’s the other idiot whom I have to watch out for.

Well, it’s time to stop, because the problem is far more serious than you think. And you’re already paying for the actions of distraction drivers in ways you never imagined.

Why Is Technology So Unsafe?

Often-cited driver distractions include eating, grooming, wrangling children, talking to passengers, fussing with pets, and falling asleep. But the biggest elephant sitting in the driver’s seat is electronic technology—specifically smartphones, wearable devices, and in-car systems that allow us to access email, apps, games, social media, texting, cameras, and Internet.

You might be asking: What’s the big deal? Why not also ban reaching for a water bottle or fiddling with a radio? Or listening to music?

The key difference with electronic technology lies in the cognitive load. We think we can multitask but we can’t—our brains simply switch back and forth very quickly. Ever notice how people walking while talking on cell phones suddenly stop moving when they’re in deep conversation? Their vision literally deadens in a phenomenon called inattention blindness, because their brains can’t handle the two tasks at once. The same thing holds true behind the wheel: Our minds cannot be fully focused on the task of driving a two-ton vehicle while we’re doing something else.

Besides the cognitive load, electronic tech demands our visual attention (our eyes are on the screen and not on the road) as well as manual attention (at least one of our hands is not on the steering wheel).

What makes tech especially dangerous is our desire to engage with it so compulsively. Biologically, we’re wired to crave social connection and information. An incoming call or message is the proverbial tap on our shoulder, as Matt Richtel writes of the neurocognitive science in his 2014 book A Deadly Wandering. Ours is a perpetual reward system—answer that siren call, and our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates our pleasure centers. Respond again, and we get another little dopamine squirt. Once habituated, our brains crave more, getting restless when deprived of stimulation for too long before its next fix.

Based on this neuroscience, this is why so many entreaties to not use our cell phones when driving simply don’t work. It’s not simply behavioral—it’s about overcoming a chemical addiction of sorts (or at least a very strong biological compulsion).

Consider these facts:

  • It’s not safe to use a device even when stopped at a traffic light; University of Utah researchers have found that drivers can take up to 27 seconds to regain full attention after sending a text.

The True Cost of Distracted Driving

In just the past two years, the number of people seriously injured or killed distracted by technology has skyrocketed. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatal crashes suddenly jumped nationwide by 7.2 percent in 2015, and 2016 preliminary statistics are not looking much better. The National Safety Council estimates that cell phone use is a factor in 1 out of every 4 collisions in the United States.

Every day in the United States, at least 8 people die in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s 2,920 people, or 7 jumbo jetloads of dead passengers every year—and that’s not including nearly 424,000 more injured.

And the carnage is not just confined to drivers and passengers—it’s also pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users. In 2015 alone, pedestrian fatalities jumped nearly 10 percent to 5,376, and injuries increased nearly 8 percent to 70,000, according to NHTSA. That amounts to a person dying nearly every 2 hours. For our roads to be safe, all its users need to be distraction-free.

Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable because they often think it’s okay to wear headphones and use electronic devices when crossing the street, and drivers think it’s fine to use their smartphones in school zones and other places. In a 2014 study, nearly 40 percent of the 1,040 American teens participating reported having been hit or nearly hit by a passing car, motorcycle, or bike.

Aside from the obvious tragedy, the financial impact on the American economy is profound. In a 2015 report, NHTSA calculated the average lifetime economic cost for each fatality as $1.4 million, with over 90 percent attributable to lost workplace and household productivity and legal costs. Crashes in which at least one driver was identified as being distracted cost a staggering $40 billion in 2010—all of it preventable.

Not surprisingly, insurance companies are also feeling the effects of distracted driving and passing it along to all their customers. Their loss costs—payments to treat injuries, repair damaged vehicles and property, and defend insured drivers in legal actions—have soared since 2011, resulting in the average annual auto premium jumping 16 percent to $925. Much of that increase is directly related to texting and driving. Distracted drivers often don’t admit to using their tech; thus, no fault can be attributed in many collisions.

So you and I end up paying these costs, even if we’re responsible drivers ourselves. How fair is that? 

But What If? And What About My Rights?

You might be thinking: But what if I have an emergency and need to call or message back while driving? The neurocognitive research shows that our biology has superbly trained us to be slaves to our technology by creating a false sense of urgency, desire, and reward.

It’s time to think of electronic distraction as the new drunk driving, because our smartphones are the ultimate open container.

As a species, we’re really good at being overconfident and incredibly poor at gauging risk. Danger is abstract because most days nothing happens. We’re not good at grasping consequence until we’re staring at its aftermath. And that aftermath can be incomprehensible. Deaths and injuries from distracted driving are always preventable. No call or text or game or selfie is ever worth the untold anguish. Period.

As a society, we’re often very resistant to legislation and enforcement efforts against smartphone and electronic tech use behind the wheel. But at stake are lives, well-being, property, and the economy. Personally I’d love the right to drive without fear of someone on their phone crashing into me, or my children to walk across the street without threat of being killed or injured by an oblivious red light runner, or to not have to literally pay for the follies of others. Who knows, you just might too.

What You Can Do

Contact your legislators. Advocate for consistent laws, education, enforcement, cultural stigma, and swift, heavy penalties. Pledge to make cell phone use while driving as socially inacceptable as drunk driving. Make it a priority that you won’t enable yourself or others to perpetuate this dangerous activity. Don’t talk to someone on the phone if you know they’re driving.

The single best way to overcome temptation? Shut off your phone completely and put it where you can’t reach or hear it, like in the trunk. If you must use GPS, input addresses before you start moving. If you need to adjust it, wait until you’re safely stopped.

And remember, you’re always modeling behavior for your children as well. By the time they’re driving age, they’ve had at least 15 years of seeing what you do behind the wheel—a little late to tell them “do as I say, not as I do.”


In my quest to help consumers become safer on the roads, I have befriended many lawyers. If you're in California and have been injured in a distracted driving crash, Michael Ehline of Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC can help today.

Seen on the left at the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, Ehline lobbies Congress on behalf of safer transportation. 

His team is ready to help in any way they can. Michael has won millions of dollars for accident victims nationwide.

I am impressed with his expertise and believe he can help. The law firm's number is (213) 596-9642. Check them out. He also offers a free initial legal consultation to discuss your case.

Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys APLC
201 Wilshire Blvd. FL 2
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Driving Miss Nelly

Most of you know that I’m the proud owner of a 2009 E90 335i. But you probably don’t know that I just published a major cookbook. And I’m going on book tour to promote it—for about 22 weeks, all around the country, covering around 50,000 miles—every year for the next three years.

Considering that my beloved Bimmer just hit over 100K, half of her trunk space is taken up by a donut tire (thanks to BMW’s absurd run-flat tire policy), and her reliability isn’t a sure thing anymore, all magic 8-ball signs pointed to a new vehicle in my future. Which one?

Unlike the 335i, this new ride needed to be total utility on wheels. It had to be spacious enough to haul 15 boxes of books and for me to still bed down in the back on occasion, plus have decent horsepower and AWD for struggling up, say, Idaho mountain passes in blizzards with those 600 pounds of books. Given the mileage I’d be driving, a crazy-long warranty was in order. And oh yes, decent fuel economy. Not too much to ask, right?

I quickly settled on a station wagon. And that’s how Nelly, a 2016 Subaru Outback, came into my world, delivered on a torrentially rainy day at a Seattle dealer in early December. She got her name when her cold engine surged one morning in my parking garage. Instinctively I murmured “Whoa, Nelly,” and it just fit. Nelly is the trusty, reliable bay mare who is always there for you and will never let you down. I can’t quite say the same of the 335i, which has had some spectacular on-road fuel injector and water pump failures. (She too has a nickname—PB&J—for she’s the hue of deep raspberry jam on the outside, with peanut-butter–colored leather inside.)

What I didn’t expect was just what kind of driver I’d become once I slid into Nelly’s left front seat.

Obviously, I didn’t expect an Outback to drive the same way as a Bimmer. For starters, Nelly has an automatic (actually a continuously variable) transmission, whereas PB has a manual 6-speed. Both cars have 6 very capable cylinders under their hoods, but Nelly’s Boxster boasts 256 horses, while PB’s inline pumps 300 ponies, with twin turbos for even more ass-kicking off the line. Both cars have AWD, albeit very differently engineered.

Right away some things became obvious. This Subaru is no WRX, and her seats are flatter and wider than Texas road-kill, designed for people three times my width. I never realized before what a sloppy sitter I’ve become in my tired middle age. With no side bolsters to hold me in place, I slump, slouch, and flop about like a limp baby in a high chair. My side mirrors are painstakingly adjusted, but I wouldn’t know it the way I end up leaning sometimes.

I’ve also had to get used to a pronounced floaty feeling—a sensation that I’m not quite connected to the car, or anything for that matter (the seats not holding me in place don’t help). The steering is not as loose as those 1980s Cadillacs you could steer lock to lock with a single finger, but it ain’t anything from Bavaria, either. Isolation lurks in everything, a refined muffledness. The engine is nicely zippy but a bit lurchy, and the lack of a transmission shift only adds to the willing suspension of everything. While the brakes are adequate, they don’t inspire terrific confidence, either.

When they’re sitting side by side, PB looks like a low-rider next to Nelly’s hulking stance. Since their introduction in 1994, Outbacks have been growing taller, and these days they have nearly 9 inches of ground clearance. I love the possibility of perhaps not shredding the underside if I should encounter a surprise deer carcass on the Montana interstate at night, and her height is really handy for those massive Seattle potholes and the lakes within them when it rains hard. I do appreciate the extra visibility and thus feeling of invincibility; if Nelly and I face west on a clear day, I can just about see out to the Pacific. With her clearance and AWD, maybe we could cross it too, if I outfit her with water skis and drive fast enough.

The biggest difference between the two, however, is the presence of a large touch-screen in the Subaru. Here you can access the navigation and audio systems, vehicle information, cover art in your iPod, the weather forecast in Flagstaff, and even how your Apple stocks are doing. I’m no stranger to nice cars, but Nelly sports way more gadgetry than any vehicle I’ve ever owned. By and large Subaru has done a good job with their user interface and voice-actuated systems, but heaps of things can still be fiddled with when the car is moving.

But never fear, because she also comes equipped with a slew of driver-assist technologies. I can set my cruise to maintain a specific following distance, even down to speeds of 25 mph (very nice in urban traffic, actually). Nelly will beep if she starts drifting out of her lane without a turn signal, if she senses I’m about to hit something or another vehicle is alongside me, or if I don’t move when the vehicle ahead goes forward. She can even steer me gently back into my lane if I nod off behind the wheel and apply emergency braking to prevent a collision. If in spite of all this I do manage to get into a pickle, her SOS feature can automatically call in the cavalry if I don’t respond within 10 seconds.

By contrast, the BMW is blissfully analog. No Sirius radio, no driver assist tech, no screens. Not even an automatic transmission, for God’s sake. If I need to use GPS, I just bring up Google Maps on my iPhone and listen to the audio instructions over the car speakers. PB’s seat securely surrounds my lazy body in just the right places, holding me in place like a confident lover. And without a doubt she’s the most athletic, finely balanced car I’ve ever driven, her steering meaty and hefty, going exactly where you point her. Acceleration is instant—she’s raring to go when you are, no questions asked.

At the same time, if you need to de-accelerate, she’s exquisitely attuned to that too. Just let up on the throttle, and she responds instantly without fuss and repeated taps of the brake pedal. If you need to stop—even suddenly—she’s got you covered there too. Her surefootedness makes her first and foremost a driver’s car, giving the person behind the steering wheel tremendous feedback and confidence on what’s happening with the road surface and her path on it. And her response to your inputs rewards you with seductive pleasure, whether you’re just going around the block or across the country. If you’re a BMW owner, you know exactly what self-fulfilling loop I’m talking about.

For the first several weeks I drove Nelly, I felt paradoxically much less safe. Of course, getting to know a new car’s quirks takes a while. But as I slouched in my seat, that floaty, muffled feeling persisted. Normally a very confident driver, I became tentative as I maneuvered Nelly’s huge bulk through traffic. There was that damn screen, which I found myself looking at like a little TV (and away from the road) simply because it was there. And when I touched it and something didn’t work as expected, my driving swiftly deteriorated as I fought my desire (sometimes unsuccessfully) to figure out the problem while still in motion.

I noticed another funny thing. Because I was sitting up high, I was now able to see just how many people were texting or looking down at their phones while driving around me. This was happening just as much before, but when I was sitting lower in the Bimmer and more engaged in my own driving, I couldn’t observe that phenomenon so clearly. I was in no less danger than before, but seeing it from Nelly’s throne sure made me feel a lot more vulnerable now—and I noticed myself becoming more hesitant and paranoid in response.

A few weeks after Nelly’s arrival, I climbed into PB, and instantly I felt at home. Once I was securely strapped in, we were ready for adventure. I felt my pilot instincts shoot up the Alert-O-Meter in a joyful, ready way—toward overconfidence, even. It’s funny: As a driver, my skills and observational ability had not changed, but my attitude and perception, shaped by my vehicle’s environment and feedback, sure had.

It’s a powerful reminder of who we can become, chameleon-like, cloaked in our vehicles.

I’m guessing that many of you reading this post own and drive multiple vehicles. Have you noticed your attitude and skills as a driver changing as you switch out in them, even subtly? And if you’re confident that they don’t, take another honest look—it just might surprise you.

Two months and 5,500 miles later, Nelly and I are getting along quite well indeed. I’ve gotten used to her slightly wallowing ways, and I know she’s going to be a great road-trip car—as long as I keep PB around to remind me what it feels like to be a real driver.