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If You Don’t Like My Driving, Stay Off the Sidewalks!

April 3, 2009

280zxFor years I’ve lived with the misconception that I didn’t have a hobby.  I mean, I don’t knit, carve wood, tole paint, or build hot rod muscle cars.  I don’t do crossword puzzles, bird watch, sail, or drive noisy two-wheeled vehicles through pristine forests.  But it suddenly occurred to me, I do have a hobby – it’s driving.

I started driving, solo, when I was about 10, and my Dad put me behind the wheel of a 18-wheeler lo-boy and had me drive it across the parking lot.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t drive – whether sitting in my Dad’s lap for the last block before we got home, or getting my license the day I turned 16.  For the first 10 years of my driving “hobby,” I either got in an accident or received a ticket – at least one of those every year.

Now, less you jump to conclusions that I was a bad driver, you need to know that none of those accidents were my fault – in the strictest sense of the word.  I deserved every ticket, and many more, except for the first one I received in Sherwood (but that’s another story).

I pushed the envelope and was very aggressive – but I was smart.  My favorite car, of all the cars I owned, was a 1992, Datsun 280zx.  It was zippy, sporty, cruised well on the freeways, and was great around town.  In less than three years, I put over 100,000 hard miles on that car – most of them over 85mph.

You need to know that none of those accidents were my fault!”

I prided myself on staying sharp, aware, and well practiced.  Not only did I read, watch, and pay attention on how to drive, but because of my emergency services career, I had opportunities for training that most people never receive.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum – I lost my edge.

Somewhere around the age of 27-28, I got a ticket.  I shouldn’t have gotten it either.  Oh, I deserved it, but despite my radar detector, my upper-hand in the traffic situation, and my attempt to elude the police, they still got me for a very expensive ticket.  A short time later, I narrowly missed crashing into another car on top of the Marquam Bridge – he was going faster and was driving more aggressively than I – and surely we both would have been killed.

At that point, I sold my fast cars and bought a slow-moving, 4-cylinder Toyota pickup.  Around that same time, I got my first cell-phone.

There was a lot of talk about cell phones and safe driving, but I couldn’t see where it was any different than having another person in the car with me – and carrying on a conversation.  Sure, there were a few times when I found myself at a destination other than the one I had planned, because I was engaged on the phone.  And yeah, I’ll admit, there were a couple of lapses in my attention that resulted in near collisions, but due to my superior lucky driving skills my Mom’s prayers, I was able to avoid a mishap.

Over the past 20 years, I haven’t paid too much attention to my driving.”

Over the past 20 years, I haven’t paid too much attention to my driving.  I suppose it has ceased to be a hobby for me and my focus was on other things.  I’ve been vaguely aware that a combination of my age (don’t ask) (my detiorating eyesight, reactions, and hearing), and other distractions were causing me to be less safe than I should be – but I really wasn’t paying that much attention.  Until two weeks ago!

Although I wasn’t on the phone, wasn’t texting, nor was I surfing the Interwebs.  I was not attending to my kids, wasn’t fooling with the stereo/iPod/CD/radio, and I wasn’t shaving.  Not that I would ever do any of these things while driving <sigh>.  I wasn’t arguing with my wife, setting the GPS, or trying to clean the windshield while driving.  I wasn’t tired and the weather was good.  So why, all of a sudden, did I find myself about to plow into the back of a car that was nearly stopped on Highway 30, between St. Helens and Scappoose?

As I swerved to avoid a collision, many of my old driving skills kicked in:  I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was in the lane I was swerving into, I stayed off the brakes, and rapidly swerved back to keep the 4Runner from rolling, or spinning into the other lane.  It was a very close call and it could have been devastating to my family.

A few minutes later, I decided I needed a month of intense focus on my driving skills.  No cell, no Internet, no distractions – period – I need to get my act together. So, I posted that on Twitter.

Less than a week later I found my self South on I-5, engaged in an intense discussion on the phone.  I was using my headset and was doing my best to stay abreast of traffic.  I checked my mirrors and looked over my right shoulder before changing lanes, but just as I crossed the line, I caught a flash in my mirror.  Someone else had moved into that open slot.  I jerked the wheel back and avoided the collision.  The amazing thing is, the other person hadn’t even noticed me.  She was so engaged in her phone call that she sped past me without a second thought.

As I’ve been more aware of this, I have been appalled – appalled, by what I see happening inside the cockpit of cars on the road.  One would think all of our cars are on autopilot and there are no safety issues on the road.

The temptation to check email, SMS, and other messages is great while on the road…”

While the temptation to check email, SMS, and other messages is great while I’m on the road, I’m resisting.  Phone calls seem harmless, but in my advanced age, I’m swearing those off too.  My kids, when with me, are a constant distraction – I’m trying to figure this one out – any ideas?

It is my desire to treat my vehicle for what it is – a couple of tons of steel propelled through time and space by an explosive liquid. – being piloted by an aging guy who has other things on his mind.

I can take a hint.  It’s good to pay attention to these experiences and adjust accordingly.  The key is to always be a learner.  Are you with me?

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