Most drivers are not bad, they are awful


I’ve been asked repeatedly, “Why don’t you write about cars?” The short answer is, “I don’t want to,” but a more useful reply is that I spent 40 years doing that, six of them as editor of Car and Driver. That said, I am no longer up to speed on the auto industry.

I am, however, current on the topic of driving, a subject that requires a disclaimer: the following is suitable only for adult drivers and may be inappropriate for some readers.

A corollary is that few of you, based on my experience, qualify as an adult when it comes to driving. If you let me, I can help you with that.

I have four rules about driving. Two are figuratively carved in stone. Violate them, and they may be carved in your headstone. They’re simple: Wear your seatbelt, and do not drive when impaired.

Seatbelts save lives; the evidence is overwhelming. If you don’t believe that, you need counseling - but I bear you no ill will and wish you a pleasant trip through your windshield, a brief but colorful journey that you will someday make. The color will be red.

Impairment is more complicated. People of all ages who ingest mind-altering substances believe that one or two, be it drink or toke or pill-swallow, will not affect their driving expertise - assuming any existed. There is support for the “one-and-done” approach, but let me tell you a quick story.

My magazine did an article about drinking and driving. Our practical research involved a racetrack and four trained drivers. Each driver downed a shot of alcohol every 30 minutes, took a set of keys, got into a car, and took two laps around the track.

At intervals, obstacles appeared unannounced on the track. A traffic cone might appear on lap two but not on lap one. Ditto for a rolling soccer ball, a portable stop sign, or a bouncing football.

The first shot went well enough. Then things headed downhill. After the third drink, one driver neglected to buckle his seatbelt. Another forgot to take keys to his car. A third bunted the football into the infield.

These were excellent drivers, intent on driving. On their worst day, they were better drivers than you are. But, impaired, they embarrassed themselves.

Non-impairment is a choice, your choice. The law, legal intoxication, or DUI tickets do not matter - not if that bouncing football becomes a child.


My high school driver-ed teacher loyally parroted the National Safety Council’s hopeful message: Courtesy is Contagious. No, it’s not. Ninety percent of your fellow motorists, if God granted them immunity, would nose you into the wall quicker than a NASCAR driver.

The third rule is easy, but it requires discipline: Never, ever make another driver put on the brakes. Think about that one and remember it.

Which leads to my last rule, the shortest and most important: Concentrate.

Realize that you’re at the controls of a moving object that often weighs two tons and can go 100 mph. At that speed, it takes two seconds to go the length of a football field. But let’s talk about 45 mph, a familiar speed limit in our area. At 45, you cover 66 feet in a single second. A driving instructor once told me, “If you’re looking 40 feet ahead of your front bumper, you’re looking at history.”

Now, let’s examine distraction. More specifically, texting. Think for a minute, if that’s possible in today’s world, about the word “awesome.” How long does it take to type “awesome” in your little text box? Three or four seconds.

Because you’re smarter and quicker than most of us, we’ll stipulate that you can input “awesome” in two seconds. Glance at your phone, type “awesome,” and then look up. You will have traveled 132 feet and not seen one inch of it. Moreover, you are still moving.

Suppose a Golden Retriever runs into your path? Even with NASCAR reaction times, you’ll take a half-second to hit the brake pedal. That’s maybe another 50 feet. To come to a stop from 45 mph requires about 100 feet.

That means you’ve gone the approximate length of that football field - and typed a single word that put you at risk.

Type an entire sentence, and you have put your life - and those of others - at even greater risk. If you do that, you are not fit to drive. You are worse than a commode-hugging drunk. You should not be allowed near a motor vehicle.

There are more dumbass moves we could discuss, but I may have already sprained your attention span. Learn the four rules we’ve studied today, and we’ll hold class again one of these days.

William Jeanes is a Northsider.


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1. She took her first ceramics class at seven years old at Pickenpaugh Pottery. 2. She and her father got their black belts in Tae Kwon Do together.