On Driving

Christmas Eve of 2015 was actually pretty boring for me. My family doesn’t celebrate, and we spent most of our day-off hanging out and catching up on work (though my brother was insistent that we set up a Christmas tree and dole out gifts). That afternoon the local paper sent out their daily email with all the latest headlines.

The first one read: High School Student Dies in Car Accident. 

He was in my graduating class.

I hardly even knew him.

And I was depressed.

I’m not sure how to describe the feeling of knowing someone who has died in such a horrific way. He was driving of course, and he’s the type of kid you’d probably expect would drive irresponsibly. But those kids usually grow up to be just fine as adults. Totally fine. And there was another kid in the car too. He was only a freshman.

Relatives pass on quietly in their old age. You can mourn them, but you knew it was coming and you’ve already accepted it deep down. A kid though, young and my age and just at the turning point of his life – that’s hard to accept. In some ways I had more sympathy for his family. These were people who may never have seen the bad side of him in school, but perhaps saw more good in him than any of us ever did.

I wanted to post this for two reasons, because as much of a tragedy as it was, there are lessons to be had. First off, do not be stupid with your life, and if you can’t find value in your own (which I sincerely hope you do, but some days it’s easy to lose sight of that), at least value the lives of others. Many people in my town are going to look back on this kid’s life as if it was one to aspire to, because he’s gone now and we feel we have to celebrate his life. While I agree (I’m actually editing the memorial article on him that is going in my school newspaper), it wasn’t . He was incredibly irresponsible, and not only did it cost him his own life, it cost his friend’s as well. Have fun, be a teenager, be a rebel, but don’t be stupid. Understand consequences.

Second, learn defensive driving. If you are going to learn to drive – I can’t stress this enough – defensive driving is absolutely essential.

When I got my permit I was required to drive with an adult – in particular, my father. I love my father, I really do, but as a hobby mechanic and closet race car driver, he is probably the scariest backseat driver on the planet. Scary. As. Hell. 

I think the first time we went on a drive together he starting yelling at me so loudly that the driver in the other lanes could hear him. I’d merged lanes poorly, and my hands started to shake because I was terrified that 1) my crappy driving would probably get us killed, and 2) my crappy driving would get crappier if he continued yelling, and we’d die for sure.

Turns out most of the things he yelled at me were actually very useful tips. Keep your eyes on the next turn/obstacle instead of the one directly in front of you. Learn to slam your brakes hard and without regrets. Don’t let other drivers on the road dictate the way you drive (someone is tailgating you – screw them. someone honks at you – screw them. you get the idea). It’s easy to “mimic” the way the person in front of you is driving, especially on the highway. If they swerve left, you swerve left. If they slow down, so do you. It’s psychological, but learn to fight it. Falling into that trap normally means you’ve spaced out, so snap out of it.

I learned to drive very well in the snow, without snow tires and without traction control (if you’ve seen drifting in Fast and Furious, it’s kind of like that). I discovered that driving slowly can be equally as dangerous as driving fast. I also learned to stay in tune with my car and with my surroundings. Lots of people think the car is just a means of transportation. It’s not. Cars need some TLC too. Learn to change your car’s oil, tires and coolant. Make sure you’ve got snow tires on in the winter. Give your car time to warm up in the winter. Take your handbrakes off before you switch from Park to Drive/Reverse. It’s often the little things that count.

There was one very scary moment a few months back when I was driving and I’d just picked my sister up from school. We were passing an elementary school to get home; I was doing a little under the speed limit. A car behind me honked his horn, and in my rearview mirror I could see him mouthing “Go faster!” When I brought my eyes back to the road, a nine year old had tossed his basketball into the street and was running to retrieve it.

I slammed so hard on my brakes I got whiplash.

Then I threw the guy behind me the middle finger.

Drive with caution and drive with care. It’s the one thing that brings us and others closest to an untimely death every single day, and if we’re going to be honest with ourselves – passing a road test at 17 is not enough of a guarantee that we are ready for the road.

Don’t be negligent.