With freezing rain blanketing Toronto today, it seemed like an appropriate time to share some thoughts I’d been having recently – in light of conversations with various people about distracted driving, self-driving cars, and the like.
It boils down to a philosophy of mine that’s strange for some, seemingly downright alien to others, but so important to my daily life: making each time I go out for a drive an event.
Unlike the early days of motoring, going out for a drive is an easy, everyday occurrence. For a lot of reasons, that’s a very good thing – democratization of travel among the masses rather than anyone who’s not rich relying on horses, for one. No more hand-crank starters that can dislocate your wrists, for another (the Ford Model T was equal parts revolutionary and terrifying to operate, apparently).
But, on the other hand, I feel like the loss of the that sense of occasion and theatre around driving is part of the reason some people take driving for granted, and pay so little attention to their surroundings or to safety.
When you think about it, driving test standards are pretty laughable in much of the world, and the basic act of driving has been made so easy – just beep the keys to unlock the door, turn the key and go. Come to think about it, with keyless entry and push-button start available on the Kia Rio these days, a not everyone even has to do that.
A lot of proponents claim that these are all good things – that it’s inevitable that people will drive distracted, so making driving as fail-safe and basic as possible is the way forward. But personally, I’d much rather see cell-phone/wi-fi blocking technology be federally mandated than automatic braking systems – and for people to either drive properly or not at all.
Part of my thinking was validated when we went to England a couple years ago, and we were ferried around by my aunt in her old hatchback. Taking roundabouts at speed, engine braking by working the clutch and shifter and dropping two or three gears in quick succession, jumping on the throttle to carry what North American road planners would call main-road speeds through tight, blind winding country roads… that kind of commitment and attentiveness is pretty much relegated to a small portion of enthusiasts on rare back-roads in North America, but she was just a lady in her 60’s going to visit family. Comparing road safety statistics between America and the UK seems to support the weird concept that harder driving = safer drivers.
Which takes me back to why I feel it’s so important for me to make a big deal about going out. Am I awake and healthy enough? Is my car in good condition? Do I have a flashlight, first aid kit, fresh water, etc. if there’s an emergency? Am I in the right state of mind?
By trying to keep all those factors in mind, I make sure I’m not too sick, stressed, rushed or tired to trust myself to look after my own safety, that of my family, and everyone else I encounter. And I feel like being a little thoughtful in that regard goes a long way.