February 28th, 2011

The Bad Driver Chronicles

I was once a fairly awesome driver–I could navigate street-parking in downtown Toronto without getting (too) flustered and drove solo to Ottawa and Massachussets. Not truly champion material, but I was damn good. It didn’t come naturally to me though; I struggled learning to drive and only got my license on the third try. It didn’t help that my driving instructor turned out to be crazy (he mainly played the magnetic fish game and chanted hymns while I drove), so I had to learn to drive from my father. The adage that you should never learn to drive from someone who loves you is true–it’s just too scary for them to let you drive the speed limit. Add to that that my dad is the best driver I know, and can’t really accept that I could be less good than him but still competent, and also at that time he hadn’t been a passenger seat in 20 years (I’m barely exaggerating) and you have basically a year of shouting matches. But he taught me well, and after I was finally able to drive unsupervised, I had jobs that caused me to drive long distances every day, cementing my lessons.

However, there was a period of, oh, the last 10 years, when I’ve only occasionally needed to drive, and rarely had a car available otherwise. And my skills, such as they were, atrophied. It took a long time to get into trouble–like I say, I was actually pretty good, so I had a long way to fall. But I realized this summer, too late, trying to drive through Quebec City on the TransCanada, that I’m not all that good anymore. I still know the rules of the road, and I’m still fairly smooth most of the time. But I’m no longer a good enough driver to deal with bad drivers–and as anyone who’s been on a public thoroughfare knows, one really has to be. If you cut me off and it’s a close call for me not to hit you, I’m so floored that it’s miles before I’m able to pull it together. I don’t know what would happen if this happened twice in close succession.

I also have a huge problem with tailgaters–they scare me to death. I actually tried to look up if tailgating is illegal in Ontario but couldn’t figure it out (but did find out that the only time it is legal for an airplane to take off from a provincial highway is when it had to land there for emergency puroposes). Do you know? Anyway, to me tailgating is following so closely that you would not have sufficient time to stop if the person in front braked suddenly (ie., if a cat ran in the road, a sudden slowdown in traffic, meteor shower). I think people do it to subtly remind me that I am driving too slowly, or perhaps to punish me for doing so.

And I do occasionally drive too slowly. Good drivers and bad drivers alike both speed, but only bad drivers ever drive too slowly for conditions. It’s really really hard to convince one’s reptile brain that when piloting a tonne of hurtling steel amid other tonnes of hurtling steel, the safest thing to do is not to slow down but speed up. Mainly I can force myself, and since I’m not driving alone these days, otherwise my passenger/coach will tell me to pick up the pace. However, when really startled or panicked, yes, I admit it, I’m that idiot going 70km/h in the centre lane on the Gardiner.

I’m sorry! I really am, and it usually only takes me a minute or two to get it together. For the folks behind me who are infuriated by that 70k minute, please just honk or give me the finger or something that does not imperil our lives. Because trust me, giving me a new thing to be afraid of is not going to speed things along!

I’m a little worried that this post makes me sound like a public nuisance and/or a danger, and I’m really not–I’m just not 100% as a driver. I want to be, and am trying to practice, but since there is almost no time that I *need* to drive, and anyway, I don’t have a car, it’s a bit of a slow process. If you have any tips about how to get back in the saddle as a confident driver, how to shake off tailgaters, or even a Toronto driving instructor that teaches not how to drive but how to driver really well, I’m all ears!

5 Responses to “The Bad Driver Chronicles”

  • Rosalynn says:

    This post made me laugh out loud, mostly because I see myself in it — I didn’t learn until I was 25, and passed my G test on the second try. I practiced with my dad, too, who was fantastically patient and relaxed (if totally bewildered that I did not inherit any of his depth perception, or common sense, or whatever it is that allows one to back in or parallel park without sweating and muttering four letter words under one’s breath). But I also practiced (just twice, I think) with my other half … we stopped after that because we wanted to stay together!


  • Andrew S says:

    As it happens, one of my former hats is driver instructor. ;)

    It is, in fact, illegal to tailgate. If the tailgater hits you, he’ll likely be charged with following too close. But in practice, nothing happens to him until he hits you.


  • Amy Jones says:

    As a (possibly, some might say, overly) aggressive and speedy driver, I have to say that although I have very little patience for people who behave stupidly in cars, I do have respect for people who are cautious drivers as long as they follow cautious-driver rules–the number one of these being, if you are going to drive slowly, for the love of god don’t do it in the passing lane. If you want to go 70 in the right hand lane, go for it! I promise you I won’t give you the finger when I pass you.


  • Rebecca says:

    Rosalynn, thanks for the empathy, Andrew for the legal advice, Amy, for the driving advice! And with regard to the last, believe me, I want no part of the “fast lane” and never go over there if I can avoid it. My undoing is left-side on/off ramps–forcing me to spend minutes of my life trying to drive with the big fish, when clearly I am not their kind. All on/off ramps should be on the right, in my humble opinion.


  • AMT says:

    i also laughed out loud.

    the first time i drove around the block, my dad was in the passenger seat. he was used to me being good at things. and he was not a driving instructor.

    he prepped me for lots of things, like turning and stopping and starting. we went a block without incident. then:

    him: ‘ok put on the right turn signal’
    me: ‘um. where is that?’
    him: ‘… i have no idea!’

    bit of a setback. muscle memory is not helpful when the muscles are on someone else.


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