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To be a better driver, you have to actually think about driving.  No, not while sitting at the computer, while you're driving.

What do I mean by thinking about driving?  I mean focusing on it, actually thinking about the act of driving.  Most people focus on other stuff - where they're going, what they need to do at work, talking with their friend in the passenger seat, singing along with the radio, the grocery list, whatever.  However, you can't possibly do a good job of driving if you're focusing on something else.

Part of driving is accepting and analyzing a constant stream of information and making the right decision every time a decision has to be made.  And especially when you're driving on the freeway, that information has to be updated literally every second in order to make the right decisions.  That requires a lot of focus.  At freeway speeds, three-second-old information is ancient.  At 70 mph, three seconds is a little over 300 feet, and you can do a lot of damage in the space of 300 feet.

Focusing on anything else while you're driving increases the chance you'll make a bad decision at some point during your drive.  To demonstrate, try this little exercise: sing the first verse of your favorite song.  Now put another song on your player, and sing that verse again.  Much harder, isn't it?  It's more difficult, even much more difficult, to sing that verse, isn't it?  That's because something else is vying for your attention - you can't focus on the task at hand nearly as well.

I may be a bit obsessive, but sometimes, especially if traffic is heavy, I keep up a running patter in my head about the traffic around me.  It helps me to focus, and helps keep me out of trouble.

And that's another way to be a better driver.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (11+ / 0-)

    The road to Hell is paved with pragmatism.

    by TheOrchid on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 06:05:51 PM PDT

  •  I am still thankful that I learned to (9+ / 0-)

    drive in the Los Angeles area; I'm convinced it made me a better driver since I learned to drive defensively.  And, I totally agree with your analysis. Distraction kills, and there are far too many distractions interfering with drivers today.

    Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

    by Ellen Columbo on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 06:24:17 PM PDT

    •  I have driven all over the country and I think LA (4+ / 0-)

      has the absolutely worst drivers in the country.  Red lights are a suggestion, cars in LA do not have turn signals, cutting in and out of lanes at 80 mph is a sport, you must be one the few defensive drivers because everyone else here is on the offensive which is a dangerous situation for everyone.

      •   That may be the case now but when (7+ / 0-)

        I lived in LA (moved back to Oregon in 1978), it was one of the best & most courteous places to drive because everyone was in the same boat, so to speak.  If you needed to change lanes, all you had to do was turn your signal on and cars would slow down to let you get over because they wanted the same courtesy when they needed to change lanes.  There was always the odd exception but, as a rule, you could count on courtesy and cooperation from other drivers on the road.

        I worked in an office w/two other women, one from England and one from Argentina, both of whom said they would rather drive in LA than anywhere else in the world where they had driven previously.

        I think attitudes in general have changed a lot in the past 30 years; people have gotten a lot busier, angrier, and less tolerant of others.  That surely would spill over into the driving public.  I don't think I had ever heard the term "road rage" until several years after I moved back to Oregon.

        Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

        by Ellen Columbo on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 08:41:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  totally true! (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greengemini, TheOrchid, foresterbob, kurt

          I learned to drive in San Diego, but REALLY learned to drive in LA in the summer of 82 when I commuted to Long Beach several days a week to a volunteer job. The Olympics were going on and traffic was really bad all the time, but somehow everyone (most everyone anyways) got where they needed to go through a combination of skill, efficiency, tolerance, and everyone working off the same set of rules (not laws: this is "drivers etiquette").

          Examples: everyone is driving at 70mph with not much spacing between cars (drivers from other areas cringe at this but that's how it has to be on the 405 at 8am), and a driver needs to change lanes. They find a gap, put on their turn signal and slip into the gap. The car behind does not have a cow, slam on his brakes, honk his horn, or speed up to prevent the lane change. Instead he simply slows down to let the other driver in without any of the drama I see every time I drive in Portland OR traffic (talk about awful drivers!).

          History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx

          by quill on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 10:57:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  It has completely changed, drivers here are rude (0+ / 0-)

          or at the very least oblivious to everything around them.  There is a reason that traffic is so bad, it is because people just do not know how to drive, they make no preparation for exits, they wait until the last minute and then cut others off. They make extremely dangerous driving moves all the time, driving on the shoulder, driving on and off exits to get ahead of traffic, turning from the wrong lanes, running red lights on a regular basis, speeding(and I mean speeding) through parking lots.  I have seen more boneheaded driving moves down here than I have seen in my entire driving life.  I agree it was not always so, I used to travel to LA all the time about 20 or so years ago and it was no problem but something has changed dramatically.  

        •  Thats (0+ / 0-)

          been my experience in LA back in the early 00's when I drove in LA a few times.  Try 95 between Richmond and Boston (the real crazy end) for some aggressive driving.

      •  not really (0+ / 0-)
        Red lights are a suggestion
        Most people pay attention to red lights, since otherwise you're likely to end up somewhere you didn't intend to go.

        (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

        by PJEvans on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 07:20:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  The 405 is definitely sink or swim territory. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      LA will definitely teach you to keep on your toes.

      The road to Hell is paved with pragmatism.

      by TheOrchid on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 06:13:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've heard 25% of fatalities involve a cell phone (5+ / 0-)

    and at any given time 10% of the people driving are on the phone.

    North of town here the limit is 75 so people do 80 to 85.

    Thank you for trying in your small way to make the world a safer place for my wife and kids.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 06:30:05 PM PDT

  •  Driving is a subject I'm obsessive about too. (9+ / 0-)

    I've driven close to a million miles in my lifetime without a wreck. That is only partially due to luck. Like you, I pay attention constantly.

    The number of inattentive drivers seems to be steadily increasing, with all the gadgets that are available. Here are two examples I observed within the past few weeks:

    In Atlanta, I came up behind a line of 3 cars, in one of the left lanes, all going well below the speed limit (and hardly anyone goes less than the speed limit in Atlanta). As I passed them, I took a quick glance at each. Car #3, driver on phone. Car #2, driver on phone. Car #1, driver peeling a banana. I suspect that the yakking drivers had no clue that they were going so slow. They were just following the leader. And the leader was busy eating.

    In Tifton, GA, I started to pass a slow car on the Interstate. Bumper sticker on car read Hang Up And Drive. Driver was on phone.

  •  "Moving oval" (8+ / 0-)

    In addition to the vital point made by the diary, there is also some strategy to taking the drama out of driving.

    It is impossible to achieve in any real-life traffic, but pro drivers continuously try to come as close as possible to having an oval of empty space around them (longer in the front-back direction).

    Simply keeping two seconds of space from the car in front is valuable and difficult enough to keep you occupied.

    Another component to awareness is knowing what's in front of the car in front of you. It's an overbuilt SUV, of course, so you can't see over it, but every curve gives you a chance to see around it and every hill a chance to look underneath it at what's ahead.

    Freedom isn't free. Patriots pay taxes.

    by Dogs are fuzzy on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 07:08:51 PM PDT

    •  Very important point. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      karmsy, worldlotus, greengemini, kurt, Kevskos

      I want that empty space to include both sides of my vehicle, and I frequently vary my speed to locate myself in the most open section of highway.

      All the while, the drivers I call "magnetizers" are constantly attempting to tailgate, to drive beside me and match my speed, or to pass and immediately slow down. They aren't doing this maliciously; they simply aren't aware of their surroundings.

      For me, driving two hours on a busy freeway is more difficult than a full day on country roads. I drive those back roads whenever I can, even if the trip takes more time.

    •  the driver training (6+ / 0-)

      that I got at work said 4 seconds at highway speed, half a block at 30 mph. You can almost feel the correct distance. (The department manager insisted that all of his people get driver training, whether they actually drove a company vehicle or not, because there was always a possibility that we'd need to do it some time.)

      Our training program was Smith Driving; a lot of companies use it.
      Aim High in Steering - Avoid Collisions by seeing, evaluating, and acting upon all information available.
      Get the Big Picture - Fewer mistakes are made when you have the complete traffic picture.
      Keep Your Eyes Moving - Proper scanning techniques separate safe drivers from people who make costly errors.
      Leave Yourself an Out - All that separates drivers from a collision is space. Use it to your advantage.
      Make Sure They See You - Seek eye contact and use your warning devices at the same time

      (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

      by PJEvans on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 07:35:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When you drive a car, (5+ / 0-)

    you're moving a ton of metal. You can do unbelievable damage, and it can happen awfully fast.

    I'm a very experienced driver with a clean driving record. The other day, driving to a job interview in an unfamiliar neighborhood, my mind was on the interview. I may have been looking for the  street where I was supposed to turn. I was in the far right-hand lane of a boulevard, going about 25 mph. And the car swerved just a tad, and before I knew it, my right tires were on the sidewalk! I narrowly missed hitting a sign-post, which at that speed, I would have flattened.

    Nobody hurt, no damage, but what a shake-up.

    Just a little wake-up call from the universe, I guess.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 08:10:40 PM PDT

    •  Two tons, typically (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      karmsy, foresterbob, Kevskos

      Cars nowadays balance keeping things light for fuel economy against required or above-standard safety elements that make them heavier.

      Kinetic energy scales with speed squared. Twice the speed, four times the energy to be dissipated in a crash.

      Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

      by Simplify on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 01:12:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I find this discussion (4+ / 0-)

    mildly amusing because to me driving in the US is positively sedate - everywhere - in comparison to what I deal with on a daily basis here in the Sultanate of Oman where I've lived for over twenty years.  I love the Omanis - wonderful people who'd give you the shirt of their backs if it would help you - but behind the wheel they morph into something - not sure what - that defies description.  A couple examples:

    1)  Yesterday morning on my way to work I was coming off a two-lane roundabout, but I was apparently driving too slowly for a couple drivers behind me because one passed me on the left while, simultaneously,  the other passed me on the right and nearly sideswiped the other car directly in front of me.  

    2)  On a six-lane expressway (3 lanes each way), if you're in the middle lane, cars will routinely pass you on both sides at the same time if you're going a bit too slowly for their tastes. (100 km/h limit - 62 mph - in town; 120km/h limit - 75 mph - outside)  Or they'll pass on the hard shoulder or pass using lanes that are clearly disappearing a couple hundred meters ahead. Passing on the hard shoulder is really popular when there's a traffic jam.   I stress, this is routine.  I've seen cops do it, too.  (This could be worse.  I've seen drivers pass traffic snarls on the sidewalk in Saudi Arabia.)  

    3) Signalling is clearly optional -- or maybe unfashionable -- because no more than 20% of the drivers on the road bother.  This is particularly irksome when dealing with roundabouts.  You need to know whether cars are coming off or not.  At the same time, most barrel onto roundabouts without slowing down at all.  

    4)Finally, the one key error drivers here make is their almost universal habit of never yielding the right of way to anyone for any reason.  And they never, ever seem to plan their lane changes in advance, so they'll pass someone even if they're getting off the highway a couple hundred meters ahead.  

    -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

    by GulfExpat on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 11:13:10 PM PDT

    •  How do their road casualty rates (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TheOrchid, foresterbob, Kevskos

      compare to the USA's?

      Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

      by Simplify on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 01:14:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's a very negative (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Simplify, TheOrchid, foresterbob, kurt

        correlation here - and not in Oman's favor, I'll tell you.  The country averages in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 deaths per week.  Considering the population of the entire country is well under three million, it puts Oman among the top two or three most dangerous countries in the world.  I've heard Omanis themselves say that they're number one.  I actually doubt that because traffic is much worse in Saudi Arabia or the UAE than it is here in my experience.  

        That said, the UAE has instituted some fairly draconian fines and penalties over the past few years, so the situation there has improved.  I mean, when cabbies strictly adhere to speed limits even when there is virtually no traffic at all, they've got to be pretty painful.  This was clear from what we experienced in a cab going from Abu Dhabi to the airport.  It was a Friday afternoon, Friday being the Muslim equivalent to Sunday, there was hardly a car to be seen, but he didn't exceed the limit even once so far as I noticed.  When I asked about the penalties, he said the fine for the first speeding violation is 500 dirhams, which is roughly $130. With each succeeding violation, it's doubled...  And with the third, you lose your licence, you lose your car, and you go to jail for three months.  

        -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

        by GulfExpat on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 02:32:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Re: #2 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TheOrchid, Kevskos

      ...if people are passing you on both sides, you're in the wrong lane.  Get over to the right.  Slowest traffic goes right.  Unless you're passing someone, get right.  I've driven in but one or two states where people seem to consistently do this, and it takes 90% of the frustration out of highway driving.

      The crazies passing on the shoulder or about-to-end lanes are retarded, though.  Cops passing on the shoulder's OK so long as they're using their lights; it's presumed that they've got better places to be.  Usually the accident a mile up on the other side of the divided highway that's causing your lane to slow down. (F*ing rubberneckers...)

      I'd like to add #5: The assholes who always wait to the end of an entrance lane to get over, in spite of the fact that they had ample opportunity to do so before that.  Then they can never shit or get off the pot, either, so you wind up doing that I'll-slow-down-no-they're-slowing-down-I'll-speed-up-no-they're-speeding-up dance until one of you either desynchs, you change lanes, or they slam on the brakes 'cause they're out of road.  What's so hard about getting up to the speed of traffic and getting the hell over ASAP?

      •  I was on the way OFF the roundabout, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TheOrchid, foresterbob, Kevskos

        signaling my intention to do so, so no, I was not in the wrong lane, I was merely moving over to exit it.   No one should pass anyone while actually on a roundabout, after all.  I learned that long ago when I first encountered them on a regular basis in the UK.  

        Regarding passing on both sides, I drive at a speed matching the main traffic flow.  Theoretically, yes, the right lane should be the slow lane and the inside lane the passing lane.  Not here.  A lane is a lane is a lane, and you use whichever one seems to put you ahead faster - and that also means the hard shoulder if needs be.  If that means that someone is passing the car ahead of you and you can't go there, you simply pass in the right hand one instead.  And those cops?  No lights.  No sirens.  

        -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

        by GulfExpat on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 03:01:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  My take on #2 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        In Georgia (the state, not the country), the typical non-urban Interstate highway has three lanes in each direction. Big trucks are allowed to occupy the two right lanes.

        I generally drive in the center lane because the right lane tends to be more cluttered, AND, very importantly, people are merging into the right lane at every interchange.

        Georgia drivers, given the choice of passing me in a wide-open left lane, or a busy right lane with merging traffic, will choose the latter more often than not. I've stopped asking myself why.

    •  Yes, driving is very safe here... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...considering the miles traveled.  

      You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

      by Rich in PA on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 06:17:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes and no (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheOrchid, Oh Mary Oh

    I think it's not only useful but fun (at least for me it is) to be thinking at every moment about which side I'd bail out to if the  vehicle in front of me exploded or stopped or turned into a sci-fi monster.  But I remember once I was driving a van on the NJ Turnpike and as I got more aware of what I was doing (dude, you're driving a van on the NJ Turnpike!) it made me so paralyzingly nervous that I had to get off the road for a while. Driving is one of those things that, if you think about it certain way, will make you like those people who never drive because they think about it in a certain way!

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 04:19:05 AM PDT

  •  I grew up in Ohio (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but I've never learned to drive. I keep trying to do so, but I'm too scared. Every time I sit in a car, I think about all the hapless infants and pedestrians I could mow down with a careless muscle spasm proximate to a pedal or in a millisecond of inattention. I think "[a]t 70 mph, three seconds is a little over 300 feet, and you can do a lot of damage in the space of 300 feet" is the guiding principal of my aversion!

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