This summer, I’ve touted my perceptions of the positive aspects of road trips. While currently in the midst of another 5000-miler, there is ample time to ponder some more.
Covering wide-open stretches by auto allows one more time for thought than typical day-to-day drives. While we should practice avoiding the phenomenon, local driving duties are more easily prone to mental distraction. During a commute to the job, for example, attention might be diluted with thoughts of the impending workday. Driving to a crowded event may invoke concerns of where you will park, and taking the kids to school can involve worries about tardiness.
So, due to built-in mental distraction while in town, it sometimes takes a concerted effort to afford proper attention to the driving task. On the road, free of daily obligations, it’s much easier.
On this drive, I heard a radio broadcast of the top ten ways to avoid vehicle accidents, which got me thinking about that topic. There were a couple good tips mentioned (avoid distraction, maintain your car or truck), but as I listened and reflected, I felt that the most important one was left out.
Okay, I agree that distraction is an important thing to avoid while driving. As I just indicated, being too mentally “busy” during our local commutes, errands and kid chauffeuring can rob us of valuable driving alertness. Distraction should be nixed, whether it’s the mental variety or among the physical distractions often covered in this column (texting, rubbernecking, using navigation devices, adjusting radio, grooming, eating, etcetera).
To me, after shunning distraction and giving full attention to the task, the best way to avoid accidents is to drive defensively. That means not only being in control of your actions, but accounting for the actions of every other vehicle in sight, and even being ready for potential actions of vehicles not in sight.
It’s obvious that anticipating road conditions, and controlling acceleration, braking, cornering and speed, will help you avoid a single car crash. But staying out of multi-car mishaps requires looking out for “the other guy.”
I’ve always believed that most accidents involving two cars require two drivers not driving defensively. If I am always driving defensively, it’s impossible for that scenario to play out. Again, my attention is always directed to my driving AND everyone else’s. Part of that is borne of a wish to preserve myself and my vehicle, and part is from years of motorcycle riding during which my vulnerability forbids any crash.
While we must be aware of traffic and situations close to us drive successfully, it’s equally important to look ahead as far as possible. Washington State Patrol Troopers have told me that many drivers fail to look much past the front of their hoods.
On the open roads I’m now travelling, it’s possible to see ahead for more than two miles. Looking that far ahead allows sighting of crossroads, construction, truck traffic, curves, or vehicles stranded on the shoulder in plenty of time to accommodate them.
Driving in the congestion of a city doesn’t offer as much sight, but it’s still important to look ahead to where your vehicle will be in 10-20 seconds. You don’t want to miss what is happening close by, but it’s equally bad to be surprised suddenly by what’s happening ahead.
Everyone can develop and hone his or her own version of defensive driving. For example, though it involves prejudice, I pay special attention to vehicles that are filthy or have body damage. I believe that it’s more likely that such a vehicle is piloted by an inattentive driver. Similarly, a vehicle that is weaving or bumping the curb gets my special consideration.
I don’t expect a vehicle to turn just because its signal is flashing, or not turn in the absence of a signal. More so, I don’t expect cross traffic at intersections to be stopped just because I have a green light. I won’t blindly glide through any such situation without lifting my foot briefly from the accelerator and scanning for red light runners as I approach.
If you drive defensively, get better — if you don’t, it’s time to get started!
Readers may contact Bill Love via email at email@example.com.