Working with people injured in car accidents is a straight path to insanity when I start to think about my own kids behind the wheel. I am not sure I will ever feel comfortable with them borrowing the car, getting a ride with others, or even taking their siblings anywhere. I apologize to my kids in advance for being a basket case when we get there.
But the fact that I now allow my 13 year old to ride in the front seat has made me acutely aware of the very important responsibility I have to model safe driving. She watches me drive, asks questions, and is trying to understand the rules of the road. I have three years to demonstrate to her how important it is to take this privilege seriously, and what safe driving looks like.
The problem is this: driving, like many daily tasks, becomes highly overlearned. This means that the brain can manage it without really “thinking”. That explains why sometimes you might arrive somewhere, somewhat oblivious to the path you took to get there, or the sights you saw on the way. This is especially true if the brain is distracted en route – via phone calls, checking messages at a stop light, enjoying breakfast, belting out your favorite tune, or talking to a passenger. So driving, as a skill, is something we can do without a lot of conscious thought and our behaviors when driving become more and more ingrained as we log more hours behind the wheel.
In being hyper-diligent about this new responsibility to model safe driving for my daughter, I have become attuned to some of the bad habits people have developed. Some people drive too fast, some too slow (I see these as equally dangerous). Some don’t signal, and some don’t turn the signal off. Some people are too aggressive, too risky, and too impatient. Others are too nervous, lack confidence, or don’t seem to recognize how dangerous it is to be hesitant and unpredictable. Too many people are still holding their phone to their ear, or think that using the speakerphone instead of a headset is less-illegal (it is not if the phone is still in your hand). People are still texting or emailing when driving, usually while controlling the steering wheel with their knees (if that were safe people without arms would do that too). I see many people (especially in my neighborhood) that don’t “stop” at stop signs, but kind of “roll” through them – often after they have crossed the stopping line, and the sidewalk curb cut, and are already entering the intersection. Pedestrians beware. Traffic circles are another new problem. When I was 16, my driver’s ed classes did not include “traffic circle 101” and based on how the teens drive near the high school in my neighborhood, I am not sure it does now either. All too often I see people cut the circle, or when going straight fail to yield to someone already making a turn. But the best (worst) thing I saw recently was a guy with a mini-van who was trying to transport his new mattress by holding this to the roof of his car with his left hand (while driving with his right). Luckily when the mattress flew off into the traffic behind him, it didn’t cause an accident.
Motor vehicle accidents are one of the top five leading causes of death and injury for Canadian adults and children. Getting a license at 16, that is not reviewed again until 80, should not be an automatic ticket to oblivion. Take a moment to review your own habits behind the wheel. Old habits die hard, and you don’t want these to kill you, or anyone else. And if you are driving children, remember that little eyes are watching you and your children are likely to drive just like you – good or bad.