Chances are, if you’re looking out your window at traffic or you drove somewhere today, you’ve encountered a bad driver. After all, they seem to be everywhere we go.
But, exactly what makes someone a bad driver? Are they speeding? Failing to yield proper right-of-way? Distracted by a smartphone? Falling asleep at the wheel? Or just acting crazy or inattentive?
The word “safety” often gets bandied about without us having the slightest clue how to properly define it. Safety managers, companies, law enforcement and government agencies assume that we all know what safety is. But ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. I don’t speed. I don’t tailgate. I use Bluetooth for my cell phone. I haven’t had a crash or speeding ticket since the last Ice Age.
Studies reveal that up to 93 percent of us believe we’re above-average drivers, thanks to a social-science phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.
We think we’re the exception, and that’s just human nature.
In this article, I’ll explore what safety means and suggest ways your employees can be safer drivers the very next time they get behind the wheel.
Instead of following rote rules, here’s maybe what we should be asking ourselves:
- Have I ever been surprised by a vehicle, motorcycle, or pedestrian suddenly appearing “out of nowhere”?
- Have I ever been startled by my vehicle losing traction on slippery ice, snow, or rain?
- Did I have to apply my brakes in the last curve I took?
- Have I ever started to feel sleepy or even dozed off at the wheel, but kept on going?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then reconsider what being a good driver means:
- A good driver never sits passively but always works to be situationally aware.
- How often do I check my mirrors and when? Before I brake, accelerate, change speeds, or enter an intersection—in short, every time before I enter a situation that I might change?
- A good driver not only constantly looks for hazards but the possibility of them. A shredded tire on the roadway may mean a disabled semi truck ahead, or garbage cans set out along the curb are a clue that a refuse truck could be stopped ahead on a blind hill.
- Do I actively look at parked vehicles to see if any doors are open or lights are on inside? They may indicate vulnerable people in or around the vehicle.
- Do I practice being risk-averse? Can I take three right turns instead of the more dangerous single left turn at a very busy intersection with bad visibility? Can I skip traveling through the busiest parts of a parking lot to avoid unnecessary interaction with pedestrians and other vehicles?
- Do I reverse into a parking spot to avoid having to back out blindly into things or people I can’t see coming?
Good drivers also pay attention to how they affect the world around them:
- Good drivers never cause anyone else on the road to unnecessarily slow, stop, or swerve. They don’t cause panic or anxiety for others.
- I should never be going so fast that I can’t stop safely on my own side of the road in the distance I can see to be clear.
- I’m aware that my choices can cause extra danger for others. For instance, my running a yellow light when an oncoming driver is waiting to turn left in the intersection means that the other driver will probably have to complete their turn on a red light, putting them in a far more dangerous situation.
Do you adjust to changes in your environment and mental state?
- Do I slow down when it starts to rain, snow, or get windy?
- If I get a phone call or text message while I’m driving, do I resist the urge to respond to it or do I let myself be distracted?
- If I drive different vehicles, do changes in engine power, seating position, and general comfort affect the way I drive them? Do they increase my confidence and thus my tolerance for risk?
We all drive exactly how we are as people, whether we’re aware of it or not.
- My personality, ego, habits, life values, ability to plan and make decisions, confidence levels, social skills, and general outlook all directly affect how I drive.
- Do I look far ahead and anticipate? Or do I tend to operate only “in the present”?
- Can I let little slights and insults go? Or do I pick fights and feel the need to react to them? Do I do it behind the wheel too?
- Do I see myself as a victim violated by others, or do I feel empowered to protect myself?
- Do I focus on improving for the future, or obsess about what went wrong in the past?
The good news? What makes you a better driver are exactly the same things that can make you a better person in other areas in life. With patience, practice, and habit, they also reduce your stress, anxiety, and conflicts with others. And who wouldn’t want that?