Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I learn a lot about good and bad driving by observing the mistakes of others. A lot of it's about the apparent weaknesses in my new state of residence's driving laws and standards for instruction, so I have plenty of opportunities to learn as well how much humility and patience I still need to develop, but it also gives me things to watch out for in case I'm ever a lot closer to the action.

I also learn a lot by being a stupid driver myself. It's a lot easier to see what my weak areas are than to try to imagine them because my commutes are so mundane that my margins of safety are hardly touched.

I think I learn the most, though, when I see other drivers react badly to my mistakes. The funniest one was when I lost control on some black ice and slid off the road. Did some minor damage to the exhaust system. While I was inspecting it, my dad called the police. A cop came out, seemed satisfied that I'd done everything I could and should have done so he didn't give me a ticket, but then asked me to get in the back of his squad car so we could get the accident report taken care of out of the weather. He wanted to get through it quickly, he said, before some rubberneckers came by and hit something. Sure enough, while I'm looking over the form, a car drives the other way slowly with the driver just staring at me in the back seat, and another car does the same thing, only not quite as slowly...*bang* I laughed, the cop uttered a mild expletive, and asked me to wait while he got the other two cars situated. Then he came back to finish with me, call out another car to deal with the two cars that collided, and called the city to get a brine truck out. Man, I still laugh about that.

There were two other very similar ones that I didn't realize I was also guilty of but still don't quite understand why it seems natural for people to do it. On different occasions, I have been backing out of a parking space when someone drove behind me, either because I didn't check a blind spot or they came around a nearby corner and feared I wouldn't look in time to avoid hitting them. Maybe I would have, maybe not; usually I catch that kind of thing but I appreciate being honked at so I can stop immediately and reassess my surroundings.

On the two occasions I have in mind, though, the cars honked to get my attention and then stopped right behind me. When I looked around, I just saw a car there, the driver watching to see what I would do. What do you want, a contrite gesture in my rear view mirror? I'd be happy to oblige, but my windows are tinted. Waiting to see if I've noticed you yet? Either stop before you get in my way or try to scoot past, whatever it takes to avoid a collision. If you're choosing between letting me slowly back into you and running over a pedestrian on ahead of you, hey, good choice, but dinging a fender or bumper would be much less significant than crumpling a door and possibly the person sitting on the other side of it.

I can't say it's not a natural reaction. My instinct is also to try to stop to reduce the variables I have to assess in order to safely defuse a situation. But man, staying right in the path of a moving car is just bad news.

No comments: