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Driving Safety for Well-Seansoned (and All Other) Drivers

Updated on December 29, 2012
Well, it wasn't MY first car.
Well, it wasn't MY first car. | Source

Getting Better as You Get Older

I am in the 65+ category. I have been driving, therefore, for about 50 years. That could mean several things about my driving skills:

  • I am good at it.
  • I have been lucky.
  • I have learned to adjust my driving according to what else is going on in my life.
  • All of the above.

The answer, of course, is: "All of the above."

What Drivers Should Learn from a Lifetime of Luck

I did not make it six months into my 16th year before I had my first accident. I backed into a parked car. I lasted six months because the apprehension did not begin to wear off until then. A little comfort behind the wheel produces inattention. This moment of inattention and dealing with its aftermath, i.e., the call to my Dad, learning about insurance, and the like, provided me with a tool that I have used to good effect ever since.

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Over my numerous miles of driving (including some cross-country; many pulling a fully-loaded 4-horse trailer; many with children of various ages; many for work; and many, many just because), I have profited greatly from the lesson of luck. The "lesson of luck" is euphemistic for negotiating the close call.

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The Value of the Close Call

It has long, long been the case that all aspiring drivers must learn the rules of the road. In addition to the rules, driver's license tests still examine knowledge of traffic signs. Signs are designed to control traffic, provide useful directions and information. Most importantly, signs are designed to warn of obstacles and potential danger.

A most important sign of approaching danger is the close call. I submit that we all have had them while driving. I also submit that if you have not had close calls:

  • You do not drive;
  • You are a liar;
  • You are a supplier of close calls.

Close calls raise your attention (not to mention your heart rate) dramatically. You have avoided dents, unknown things in the road, and injury to yourself, animals and even other people. You took a breath; you may even have stopped the car until the shaking stopped. You were thankful for whatever part of your unfocused awareness was on the job.

Close calls bring you back to reality, and return your mind to the road and traffic conditions around you. For some time, your focused attention span (at least while driving) returns in full flower. You may think about your life, what you were thinking about at the time of the close call, and what you need to do about it, as well as what you need to do about your inattentive driving.

For a time in my early career as a lawyer, I served as an assistant city attorney, prosecuting local ordinance and traffic violations in the local court. My very wise supervising attorney pointed out that I would largely be dealing with two groups of people:

  1. Young people who either hadn't learned to pay attention yet, who still felt the invincibility of youth, or who believed that they need not care about the status of their driving life; or
  2. Middle aged people with good, indeed in most cases, exemplary, driving records, who had something else on their minds at the occasion of their introduction to the local police.

I found this prediction to be true in spades. In fact, although the local community was residential and populated by a variety of age groups, I never had occasion to deal with someone of my current age or older regarding declining driving ability concurrent with the fact of aging.

The only driver whom I have known to stop driving because of concern with aging is a close relative. This relative suffered a fender bender (to an older, extremely well-maintained car), caused by a speeding youngster. Luckily, there were several witnesses to the fact that my 84-year-old relative had done nothing in error but be in that wrong place at that wrong time. Nevertheless, this relative was so concerned about an accident not her fault that she attended driving school (something not available in her youth). She continued to drive safely, until at the age of 88, she determined that she needed to stop driving. She did so because she believed that if she was ever in another accident, no one would believe it was not caused by her age alone. She left even the specter of a close call behind.

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Good Drivers Pay Attention

Regardless of the age of the driver, attention is the cure for the close call. Attention while driving is termed "defensive driving." Although traffic at times may cause us to desire the pictured hummer (complete with armory), our best tool, weapon and defense is our focused attention.

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