By: Brad Manock
I have been a pretty good driver so far during my six year driving career, no accidents or tickets. However I really do not enjoy driving. I find it very stressful, a necessary evil. Since the source of most stress is: people and their emotions, expectations, and judgment, the road is a natural stress-factory. In this article I will discuss the stress of navigating the current road system as an awkward and sometimes clumsy driver.
“Go Before It Gets Dark Out”
I really hope that someday there will be some kind of automatic system that will replace the current system of roads. Perhaps there will be electromagnetic paths where people can enter an address or location and then be take there automatically without any danger. But for now, that idea is still in the realm of science fiction. We are stuck driving vehicles manually and having to navigate this imperfect system.
When I do have to drive somewhere, I usually wait until 3 or 4 in the morning if I can help it. One of the top perks of living a nocturnal lifestyle is that you pretty much have the world to yourself during your peak-performance hours. My family members who would worry about me would always tell me to go somewhere before it got dark outside, they thought that this was safer. But I knew that it would be far safer to go when there were no other people on the roads.
“What Are They Thinking?”
People tend to have different opinions and philosophies for any type of activity. This becomes blatantly obvious when it comes to driving because there is basically no way to communicate with the drivers around you. If another driver decides that the best action is to: pull out in front of you and accelerate to the flow of traffic, then you have to react to it and really have no say in what the best option is. Perhaps there would be a situation where there is a yellow light that you would normally drive through, but because the person in front of you does not go through yellow lights, you are stuck to wait as well. The only way to communicate between cars is: the blinker, the horn, and the “brights,” but this doesn’t allow for much back-and-forth coordination.
There is also the different levels of skill and experience between drivers to think about. Knowing how to react in certain situations doesn’t always come from common sense, it takes experience as well. I was on the highway once, there was a van behind me that was accelerating and then slowing down over and over again. I thought this behavior was odd since people tend to use “cruise control” on the highway. Once the van passed me, I saw that the driver was an Amish lady. Amish as in, never uses anything with electricity Amish. She had the hat and everything, the van appeared to have a whole Amish family complete with large beards and hats. So clearly there was nobody in the vehicle that could coach the driver in terms of what cruise control is or how to use it, they only knew that “gas petal = go.”
Driver’s Ed Didn’t Teach Enough
When you take the “Driver’s Ed” class, it is usually at age 15 before you have any experience behind the wheel and know what questions to ask. Driver’s Ed teaches people some of the basic etiquette on the road and what to do in ideal traffic conditions. Driver’s Ed usually does not teach you what to do in heavy traffic. If you are trying to merge onto a highway, the other car moves over so that you have room to get in, but if both lanes are packed with cars so that nobody can move over, what do you do? The technically correct answer is to wait for a clearing, but it was a few years of driving before I ever encountered this scenario. I live in a small town, I was not used to heavy traffic. What I ended up doing was just driving on the shoulder of the highway until I found some room to merge.
Something that Driver’s Ed also fails to mention is the fact that, sometimes you will not be able to wait for all of the cars to pass. So when do you wait and when do you “gun it.” Eventually I developed a sense of when the windows of opportunity are when there are constant streams of traffic coming from both directions. But this was not something that was natural immediately, especially when I grew up in a town where I might see one car every half-hour or so. You are taught to not take risks on the road, but sometimes the cars never stop. If I waited for all of the cars to be gone and the road to be clear, I would be sitting there for a long time. This is especially true when other cars are behind me waiting to go. When this happens I tend to be more trigger-happy in terms of when to “gun-it” because I know I am being judged by whatever standards they have. I have been honked at in the past for playing it safe and waiting for cars for too long.
Semi-trucks have got to be the most intimidating thing on the roads. Crashing into a car would suck, but it is usually not a death sentence. Crashing into a semi-truck is almost certainly fatal. Semi-trucks are the grim reaper of the road. Semi-trucks also have some odd rules when it comes to driving: they cannot accelerate too much because their vehicle is being monitored by whoever hired them, they have to wait longer to make turns because they turn wide, and any mistakes made have larger consequences. If I am in my car, and I make a wrong turn, I can turn around easily. But if a semi-truck makes a wrong turn, it is not so easy to get back on the right track.
“Just Drive and Figure It Out As You Go”
When I drive, I like to be absolutely certain of every detail. If I have driven somewhere many times before and know the route, I am comfortable with that. But if I am driving somewhere new, I go on Google Maps and look at all of the roads I will be on, what they look like, and what to expect. I also figure out where construction is happening and if it will impact my trip. What I absolutely can’t stand, it to be driving while being uncertain. Being uncertain causes mistakes and makes me more likely to make a mistake by being nervous about being uncertain, it is a stressful cycle.
Why are street signs so small? This is a pet peeve of mine. Street signs should be clearly readable from at least a quarter-mile away. I would like more than a fraction of a second to determine if a street I need is the correct street or if I should keep going. People who drive behind me seem to be frustrated every time I slow down to read a street sign. Usually when I am driving, it gets very stressful right near the end of a journey. Highways are big and simple, but streets are small and difficult to locate without going slow and reading every single sign.