Mi Ae Lipe is a freelance editor and graphic designer in Seattle, Washington, who also lives another life as a citizen traffic safety advocate. She writes on her traffic safety blog, Driving in the Real World, streams daily driving news links and tips on Twitter at @DrivingReal, and frequently collaborates with traffic safety organizations, NGOs, and individuals. In December 2015, she and fellow citizen advocate Mark Butcher were honored with a Target Zero Award by the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission for their outstanding work in improving young driver safety in the state.
By Mi Ae Lipe
Does driving stress you out? Is your morning or afternoon commute an exercise in gritting your teeth at all the rude, distracted drivers cutting you off, speeding, honking, and just being plain careless and unconcerned about your safety?
The good news is that you can do a lot to empower and inoculate yourself from bad drivers and become a better driver yourself—and even a better person in the process. After all, driving is truly a metaphor for how we go through life. It’s no secret that 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.
So here are some skills for the road … and for life.
Looking up far ahead.
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 and 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 toward our lane while yakking on a cell phone, or gives us a provocative finger gesture. What’s our first reaction? We feel hurt and violated, and boy do we want to show them, dispense a little revenge.
It’s important to remember that a lot of what happens on the road really has nothing to do with us. Other drivers may have been arguing with others and are taking their frustration out in the anonymity of their vehicles. They may be experiencing pain and stress and are on drugs, medication, or alcohol to cope. They may be running late. They might even be confused tourists just trying to find their way around, or plain unaware that they did a doe-headed thing.
It doesn’t mean that we should act out in turn. In fact, in this age of drugs, guns, and mind-altering antidepressants, retaliating can be very dangerous indeed. It’s just not worth it.
People also waste lots of time and energy getting wrapped up in things that really don’t matter. Their egos are threatened and they take things way too personally by defending themselves offensively. And this happens not just on the road, but at work and at home with the family, friends, and colleagues.
In both driving and in life, there’s huge value in relaxing, letting battles go, being constructive about conflict and not combative, and also not getting caught up in the drama that others want to suck us into. It’s just not our responsibility.
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 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 off-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 to the very limits of our time and energy. We tend to be pretty poor about not giving ourselves enough clearance in life, and that frequently compounds itself into bigger problems, partly because of another thing mentioned beforehand—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. And 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.
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, honk if we’re too slow to accelerate, bully 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, polarity, finger-pointing, irrationality, and frustration. You can see this negativity in media of all kinds, on TV and the Internet, and in our political leaders. It’s epidemic and constantly being accepted in our society as just normal.
The neat thing is that while you can’t always control what others do on the road as a result of this cultural internalization, 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, because humans like to mimic others.
- 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 situationallly aware, scan ahead, and at the ready at all times for anything to happen.
Driving well means continually focusing on doing better for the future, not getting stuck on what went wrong in the past. We should honestly acknowledge our foibles and identify how to correct it for the future—and then just move on without letting anxiety and frustration take the upper hand.
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!