Managing the risk lottery

Spencer McDonald
Driving risk is in many ways like buying lottery tickets — only it’s kind of an anti-lottery. You see, the probability of disaster because you take a chance is also slim, but you might just hit the jackpot that one time and end up in a serious crash. And some of us are heavy players in the risk lottery, with much better chances of hitting the jackpot.

The fourth Thinking Driver Fundamental is: Manage the risk. In previous instalments we have covered: Think and look ahead; Anticipate hazards; and Keep your options open. These are basic fundamental defensive driving skills. Managing the risk has much more to do with your attitude or decision-making process once you practise the first three fundamentals.

In every driving situation that we find ourselves in, there will be risks that we face. What we do with these risks and how we make smart decisions about them are what sets a thinking driver apart from a reckless player in the risk lottery — the one lottery that none of us hope to win.

Some of the chances that we take are calculated and thought through before we take them. Like when speeding, we feel late, rushed and have an urge to make up time so we choose to speed and take a risk that with luck, the risk lottery ticket won’t pay off this time.

Other times, we allow ourselves to develop habits that are like the automatic purchase option for a lottery ticket pool: we make the purchase without even thinking about it.

A good example of this is yellow traffic light. While you wouldn’t necessarily know it to watch most intersections, the law — and best practise for intersection safety — is to stop on yellow light unless you are unable to safely stop, in which case it is not required.

Lately, however, it seems like most drivers treat yellow as a message to, “hurry up, it’s almost red!”

When this becomes a habit, you are piling up those risk lottery tickets and increasing your chances of hitting the jackpot one day, when everyone else doesn’t look out for you.

Thinking Drivers drive to minimize risk and prevent incidents in spite of the actions of other drivers and the current conditions, including traffic, weather, road condition, lighting and their own condition.

Minimizing risk requires only that you think about what could possibly go wrong in any given situation and act in advance to reduce that risk. In time, it just becomes a habit. Generally, this practise won’t cost you anything and in the long run, could keep you out of the winners’ circle in the driving risk lottery.

You may hope to, but you don’t really expect to win the 649 or Powerball lottery, do you? But what would your life look like if you did? It could happen; it’s happened to others. Why not you?

That’s what motivates us to keep buying those tickets. No more need to work, security for your kids, their education and future, relaxing vacations in the sun, a new house, new car, no bills to worry about —the perfect life.

What is the possible result of hitting the jackpot in the risk lottery, though? In North America every year, thousands of drivers, passengers and other road users hit this jackpot with tragic results.

No more ability to work, no way to ensure your kids go to college or university, physical pain or disability, medical bills for expenses not covered by your plan, loss of health and, perhaps, mobility.

Play any lottery long enough and, perhaps eventually, it will be your turn to hit the jackpot. If you don’t play, you can’t win, though.

So, which lottery are you playing?