I’ve let myself go over the years. No, I’m not talking about the almost 100 pounds I have gained since I left hallowed halls of Snohomish High School almost 30 years ago, I’m talking about my driving habits. 10 and 2 has slipped to 7 and crotch, with crotch occasionally slipping to 6 to steady the wheel while 7 moves around for added leverage. Know what I mean? I know you do…
Like most of the people who read TTAC, I would like to think I am an above average driver – knock on wood. I bolster that claim by citing the low number of accidents I have been involved in over the years. I can think of just three – one when I was 17 and put my Nova in the ditch, one when I was 18 and put my Nova in yet a different ditch and another in my late 20s when I slid my Geo Metro off of Interstate 90. In the first case, I ran off the road because I was doing doughnuts in the gravel (oops!), the second was on a dark snowy night when I came up over a hill and found the road full of little kids sledding and the third, which should have been the worst, was when I got crossed up on black ice and blew of the Interstate going full speed. In every case, I was able to fish the car back onto the road and go home without a single bit of damage. I have never struck another car (unless you count the times I may or may not have bumped someone parallel parking) nor have I ever caused anyone the slightest injury. Considering that I have been a licensed driver for more than 30 years and have probably driven somewhere north of a million miles in my life, I think that’s a pretty good record.
In the twisties I have a good sense of my cars’ abilities. I know how to corner, understand how the car’s weight shifts around when you brake and turn, and how traction varies in different situations. When I want to, I can make a car hustle and although I have never driven on a track feel like I would do that pretty well, too. Of course real racers will jump on me now, accuse me of hubris and say that my supposed street skills don’t count for anything on the track – to which I reply, “Give me a race car and some track time and we’ll see..” but I digress.
I’m not saying any of this to puff myself up or get a ride in a race car, I’m saying it because I think most people who read TTAC feel like I do. As enthusiasts, we know we are above average drivers, right? But how do we know? So, in the interest of science, on my way home from work yesterday, I took a good hard look at the reality of my driving habits.
I did some things right. I wore my seatbelt and made sure my mirrors were adjusted before I set out. I looked far down the road to read traffic as far out as possible, used my signal religiously and checked my blind spots before I changed lanes just like I was taught way back in driver’s ed. I didn’t linger in people’s blind spots either, something I learned from a lifetime as a motorcyclist, and whenever possible I used my vantage point on freeway overpasses to look down on the roads I would be merging into before I looped back around to them on the backside of the cloverleaf. Not bad, right? This old dog, I think, has some good tricks.
But I did some things wrong, too. I didn’t grip the wheel in the right places – not even close – I held the wheel at the bottom, with my hands in my lap and only moved them up when I needed to negotiate a turn. There were times I followed too close because I was worried someone would merge between me and the car in front of me and, because of that, there were times I had to get on the brakes harder than I would have liked. I passed on the right, something I have heard referred to as “undertaking” and for much of the journey stayed above the posted speed limit. There were probably other things too, and I will keep looking for them as I go along. Hopefully, I’ll catch all of these small mistakes and be an even better driver for my efforts.
There it is, my own honest assessment of my own abilities. Despite all the puffing myself up at the top of this article, the truth is I have some things I need to focus on to ensure that I stay ahead of the curve. I wonder, however, if there might be other things I should be working on and so I want to ask you to set aside your egos, and check your desire to criticize the people who share, in order to really discuss our bad driving habits. What are they? How serious do you think they are and how can we fix them?
We can all do better. What’s it gonna take to get back our “eye of the tiger?” Probably at least one more montage….
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.