Driving 101

Rules? What rules?

I’m sitting in the passenger seat while my son is learning to drive. He is doing well. He is focusing, checking his blind spots, and watching his speed. He signals, turns, and continues onto an open, two-lane, country road. I am relaxed. He is in control. It’s a pastoral setting, although the day is still a wintery grey.

After a few moments, another car turns onto the road behind us and speeds up. I can feel my son grow a little nervous, as his grip on the wheel tightens and his glances in the rearview mirror increase in frequency.

The car behind us gets closer.

“It’s ok,” I say. “You’re doing the speed limit. Hold your ground and don’t let him pressure you into going faster.”

The car behind us is now dangerously near our back bumper. My son is visibly agitated.

“Why does he have to get so close?”

There are currently enough cars in the oncoming lane to make passing us temporarily out of the question, yet, the car stays close, with no alternative but to hold his spot in the parade.

My sister was on this road last month in a similar situation. She was driving as part of the end-of-day traffic, at a safe distance from the car in front her. The car behind her was exceedingly close so that when the car in front of her suddenly put on the breaks, and she did the same, the car tailing her went flying into the ditch.

This is on my mind as I keep an eye on our pursuer and continue to prompt my son to stay calm and drive on. Perhaps the only thing worse than tailing us is not passing us when the opportunity presents itself. Which it eventually does. This is the most infuriating kind of driver–the one who drives close behind, intending to pass, but then loses interest and just hangs out close enough that I can read the date of the next service check on the windshield.

I’m no prude on the road. Yes, I speed when it’s necessary or appropriate given the traffic conditions around me, but I’m usually pretty law abiding… although, I was busted last summer for doing 144 km/hr on the 401 on the way to Ottawa. In my defense, I was driving a rental car and had no feel for its speed, and my son and I were listening to some pretty invigorating tunes. I was feeling like Tom Cruise in Top Gun driving on the Highway to the Danger Zone. The officer seemed to understand my “need for speed” and let me off with a small ticket and no points.

It might be worth mentioning that the car behind my son and me was a BMW, and, at the risk of offending those of you who drive this make of vehicle, I had to give my son some education about some (not all) drivers of this particular Bavarian brand. “You know how you have to study the “Learn to Drive” book and pass a written test before you can get behind the wheel?” I began. “Well, BMW drivers have to do the same, however, once they get behind the wheel of their BMW, there is a new book they get to use, more of a leaflet, really, with guidelines:

Speed: You got it. Use it.

Signaling: Not required for you anymore, mate. Congratulations.

Right of way: Yours. Always. Because you’re just that awesome.

Please don’t be offended because I’ve singled out BMW drivers, because I don’t have a personal vendetta against them–it’s actually drivers of BMWs, Audis and Mercedez Benz that are in this elite group of vehicles. And don’t shoot the messenger. There was an article in the Toronto Star last week about a Finnish study, which concluded that drivers of these high-end vehicles tended to have “less empathy, they are more disagreeable, and they are more willing to fight.” The article goes on to say, that as previously thought, “…it wasn’t that owning a high end car created a corrupting effect of money on a person’s morality, but that already disagreeable men are particularly drawn to high-status products.” It is worth mentioning that the article stresses that these traits apply to men only. It also says that this could be a cultural perspective because, as a democratic socialist society, fancy cars tend to stand out in Finland. So take solace in the fact that these findings apply to Scandinavian drivers…as well as the guy behind my son and me on Victoria Avenue.

I should add that the only thing worse than the Beamer driver with this attitude is the Kia driver with the same attitude. You should know your place in the hierarchy of entitlement on the road. You do not measure up, even if you do have a spoiler on your Optima’s trunk lid. Stay in your lane.

You know who else needs to go re-evaluate their driving skills? Moms in mini-vans. I can comment on them objectively because I was one for many years. We are oblivious to the havoc we create, all in the name of getting little Logan to his peewee practice on time so that he doesn’t forfeit ice time in the next game. IT’S IMPORTANT, OK? Or at least it’s important until older Logan is learning to drive–then everyone else is a maniac on the road, which is my new reality.

Last week, I hopped into my car to pick up my kids from school. Suddenly there appeared a mini van behind me, which quickly moved to within a couple of feet of the back of my car. I sped up significantly then readjusted my speed just to gain a comfortable distance between us. She sped up and continued to push me. I stopped at a stop sign. She rolled through the stop sign and kept up.

This must be an emergency, I thought, so I took my foot off the accelerator, signaled right, and moved over onto the shoulder slightly, inviting her to pass me, which she quickly did.

I watched her van shrink as it picked up speed and moved farther away. I kept her in my sights, despite the growing gap between us and was surprised when she pulled into the parking lot of the school. I pulled in a moment later, parked across from her, and watched her begin texting while she waited for her kids. This is mommy mode, and she likely had no clue how uncomfortable she made me.

What  surprises me is that this is happening in the small town of Pelham. When I go back to Toronto to visit, I expect this kind of chaos and road rage. I know I’ll be cut off and honked at and tailed, so it doesn’t bother me. It’s the name of the game on urban roads and it’s one of the reasons we left that place. It’s not what I expect here though, in lovely, kind, patient, borrow-a-beer-from-your-neighbour’s-back porch, Pelham.

Now that my son has passed his road test, he comments on the mistakes I make. Sometimes he’ll even tell me something I forgot, or didn’t even know. After we’ve been driving for so many years, it seems as if we turn on our autopilot, use our instincts, and forget some of the more subtle rules of the road, but it’s good to have some fresh eyes and reminders from my son (to a point.)

So when you’re out there on the daily grind going to or from work, or the to the gym, or to soccer practice, or grocery shopping, or whatever, please be patient with others. There are new drivers out there and there are older drivers out there, who need your patience and understanding, not your anger and frustration. And now that I’m in the passenger’s seat, I will be able to take a photo of your license plate and track you down for being an a@*#+^% on the road. (I’m kidding. I would never do that.) But do be careful please. Imagine it’s your offspring or your parent in the car in front of you and take a deep breath.  And if you think little Logan is going to make it to the NHL (and aren’t they all?), then leave a little earlier for practice and take the stress away from all of us out there trying to get through the day alive.

1 thought on “Driving 101”

  1. This was clearly pre-covid, didn’t even need to look :). Shows how much our lives have changed and makes me think about the importance of the new rules that bind us – do you skip the soap and water and go straight for the hand sanitizer, do you walk one or two meters apart from your buddy from a different household, and more. Please keep writing and share your experiences all of us to consider!


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