Don't Let This Become Your Default Setting

Default Setting IconDan is a friend that I occasionally get together with to discuss road safety. He's a commercial trucker and driving instructor with a lot of experience behind the wheel. The last time that we had lunch together he made a comment that struck me and I promised to borrow for a column topic. "Don't let that become your default setting" made a lot of sense to me.

How Our Default Setting for Driving Develops

When we start to drive he said, we try to do everything properly all the time. As we gain experience and become more comfortable with the complex task of driving we occasionally slip away from the ideal. We may drive a little faster, stop a little further into the intersection or take other chances that we have come to think of as minor in nature. If we don't pay attention to this tendency and consciously decide to return to what is proper we run the risk of making this our "default setting."

The Default Setting is Good Until Something Happens

In traffic law enforcement dealing with some driver's default settings often earned an angry response. They had done whatever behaviour caught my attention so many times that it was now normal to them, carried little or no perceived risk and should have been beneath notice. From my point of view, I had seen some pretty horrendous consequences from the behaviour and knew that if I didn't try to return them to the proper settings eventually I would be investigating another serious collision.

Your Reset May be a Bad Experience

No driver will ever be perfect, regardless of how much we try to do the right thing whenever we are driving. I do think that we owe it to the traffic that we share the highways with to try our best so that we can all be safe. It would be nice if we came with a reset button, but we don't. It's up to us to look at our driving in our own rear view mirror and make sure that our default settings are the correct ones.

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These days it seems most people's setting is "me". As a professional myself I have grown very cynical because of what I see every day on the road. Behind the wheel, most people seem to have little to no common sense or courtesy toward others. It's all about "me" and what "I" want. Driving is the only thing left in our lives that our attitude, or the way we think isn't checked or scrutinized. People seem to think driving is a "right", as well as the way they drive, rather than treating driving as a privilege.

Absolutley agree.

As you say, those whose default mode is now normal are quite belligerent if confronted too.

I always smile when in traffic that travels over the speed limit until a cop or cop car is around and then magically they drive properly until they are past or the cop turns off and then they return to "default setting". Of course the cop was wrong (input your own swear words here) for being in the way and slowing down the proper flow of the traffic! :)

My son,who is an N works for me now and shortly after he passed his test, the guys at work labelled him "You drive like your old man" meaning that he stayed at the speed limit, did not race around, etc. I would like to say he has stayed this way however I can't. He is coming back towards it though.

Dan sounds like a clever fellow, with a good understanding of human behaviour.

As a Driving Instructor, he's probably familiar with the concept that the most effective way to teach anybody anything is to give them ownership of it.  Let me explain: suppose that you're teaching a new driver that they ought to stop at the stop line, and always conduct a 360 degree visual sweep prior to reversing, instead of the way they see so many others (including maybe their parental units) driving. 

You could advise them that they will have to do these things as it will be marked against them if they don't do so during their Road Test; this is true, but provides them with little incentive to continue the practice once they're licensed.

But if you point out that the stop line is placed so that they have the opportunity to notice and yield to pedestrians and other sidewalk users who may be imminent at the crosswalk (marked or unmarked), perhaps asking them if they have ever been in a position where they felt threatened or forced to yield right-of-way to a vehicle when they were walking along about to cross at an intersection, you've given them a rationale that will stay with them.  Also pointing out that their primary vehicle conflict may be coming from the right - not the left - from another car turning into their street from the main road (and they will be wearing 100% of the blame if there's a collision) will give them pause for thought.

And if you point out that the driver who reverses without ensuring that there isn't anything or anyone in, or approaching, their path of travel is quite capable of driving over their younger siblings right in their own driveway (yeah that's a horrific picture I know) then you had better believe they will always want to know whether there's any imminent danger before they back up, even to the point of walking around the vehicle to take a look at the blind area behind it before they get behind the wheel as a matter of habit.  And habit is 'default' behaviour, defined.

As is pointed out in the initial post, the more we drive, the more comfortable we become with the way we drive.  And the longer we drive without incident or accident, the more we become confirmed in our own minds that we're doing it right.

I've always liked to draw an analogy between the person who plays a game of Russian Roulette - where you take a six-shot revolver with one bullet in it, spin the chamber, and then point it at your head and pull the trigger - and a driving (mis)behaviour such as not bothering to signal any more; very common with some drivers when it comes to changing lanes, for instance.

If you try that Russian Roulette game, your odds of surviving are better than 83%, which is pretty good.  If I could buy Lotto 6/49 tickets with the same odds I would be fabulously wealthy by now.  But supposing you're actually nuts enough to try it.  Want to try again?  And again??  Oh, go on, just one more time ...

So what about that driver who doesn't bother signalling?  Didn't get him into any trouble the first time.  No tickets.  No accidents.  No obvious reaction from other drivers.  So what's the big deal?  So he does it again.  And again.  And again.  He even does it as he passes radar cops on the highway, and nothing happens.  So obviously, he must be doing things right and has been for ages!  What do those stupid Driver Examiners know, anyways?

So for sure, being a perfect driver is impossible.  But it's certainly a worthy goal to aim for.  What else are you going to do?