So, you think you can drive?

Spencer McDonald
I have been in the driver safety/training business for almost three decades. I hold pretty much every vehicle-related training license available. I have been hired as a consultant to two different governments to develop licensing programs including road testing. I have trained hundreds of emergency vehicle operators including police pursuit training and authored numerous training courses, manuals and articles. But sometimes, when asked what I do, I claim to be a house painter. Not that I think painting houses is a more worthy line of work than mine or that I'm ashamed of my profession; it’s just that few people have strong opinions about house painting — how it should be done or not done — or wants to start a debate to prove that the way you paint isn’t really right.

If I say, “I'm a house painter,” my conversational partner will often reply in a rather disinterested tone with eyes glazing over, “Oh, how interesting,” and look desperately for someone whom they judge to actually be interesting.

I lie because if I say I'm a driver safety training professional and have to explain just what that is, the next question or comment directed towards me is usually about the accident that someone was in or ticket that someone got that clearly was not their fault. They want to tell me the whole story of how the weather that day was particularly nasty, how the road has that strange dip, how the car in front “just stopped” for no reason making them run into the back of him. They want to tell me why the policeman who wrote them a ticket was wrong to do so. I have listened while otherwise seemingly intelligent people argue that they should not have received that speeding ticket because everyone else was speeding too!

What they really want is for me to agree with them.

I have learned to engage in these conversations at my peril. You see, as soon as I offer even the slightest of professional opinion about the apparent circumstances of the crash that they were in, mention the concept of preventability or point out that indeed, if they were speeding, the fact that everyone else was too isn’t a very good excuse. (Mom always asked me if everyone else jumped off the bridge, would I jump too?)

As soon as I disagree at all with the rightness of their position, or offer a different perspective, any credibility that I may have had with them initially, is gone. I become, in their eyes, an idiot. And I wish that I had said, “I'm a painter.”

Funny thing about driving is that everyone thinks he or she is an expert, when in fact most people are woefully uninformed about some of the most basic of rules and regulations, defensive driving principles and tactics. Moreover, most people have an overinflated opinion of their own driving ability. A dangerous combination, I believe.

This condition, I think, points to one of the most fundamental reasons why we continue to have so many crashes. If we all believe that there is nothing wrong with our driving, that we know all that there is to know about driving, that we are all superbly skilled, expert drivers and everyone else is the problem, then we are unlikely to expend any energy to make improvements or to even learn from our mistakes.

So the next time you climb behind the wheel ask yourself, “How’s my driving?” Really analyse how you are doing instead of noting everyone else’s mistakes and complaining about how bad everyone else is.

Ask yourself if there are any bad habits that have crept in over the years that you could work on. Just don’t assume that you couldn’t possibly get any better. When life sends you feedback on your driving by way of a close call or a ticket, don’t be so fast to blame someone else, there may be a valuable lesson that you are missing.

Who knows, you may just prevent that next ticket or incident.

Me? I'm still banking on never meeting someone who actually needs a house painter at one of those gatherings. So far, so good. . .