Are You a Good Driver?

By John Carr, NMA Massachusetts Activist

         “… where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”some boring guy on public radio

It is well known(*) that most drivers consider themselves above average. Maybe they are right.

I’ve never hit anybody, she always obeys the speed limit, and he is courteous at merges. Each of us claims to be a good driver for those reasons. Meanwhile, she complains that I speed. I point out that she keeps crashing. We both notice Mr. Polite Merger gets a little tailgatey(**) once he moves into the left lane. So each of us is better than the other two, i.e. above average, and has the facts to prove it.

Being a “good” driver is too vague. What’s the best bank? Is it the one with the highest interest rate on CDs, the biggest fee-free ATM network, or the lowest fee for deposits under $1,000?

Civil engineers have a mathematical model of a bad driver, who has slow reflexes and is afraid to brake hard. They generally design highways so bad drivers can safely exceed the speed limit.

But it’s not a good model of a bad driver. Braking a little harder rarely makes the difference between a hit and a near miss.(***) Accidents usually involve a combination of bad judgment, bad luck, and failure to pay attention.

I was in the right lane in heavy traffic approaching an exit. A truck threatened to change lanes on top of me. I accelerated from beside the cab to just ahead of it. Traffic ahead of me stopped while my eyes were looking left. I stopped in plenty of time. The guy behind me also had plenty of time to stop, but he didn’t notice for a couple seconds that he needed to.

So his insurance company wrote me a check.

Government statisticians will file that under aggressive driving (following too close), but it wasn’t. We all started with plenty of following distance, moving with the flow of traffic at 25 in a 55. If the truck driver hadn’t started to drift OR I had braked instead of accelerating OR the guy behind me had been looking at the road ahead OR he had swerved onto the shoulder, no accident.

The mundane is a bigger cause of accidents than the spectacular. Failure of situational awareness. Complex situations. Mistakes. Putting yourself in situations where somebody else’s mistake could ruin your day.

If you still want an objective measure, here is one. Count the number of accidents each driver has had over the past 5 years. Fewer is better. Most drivers have none. You will find that the median driver has fewer accidents than the mean. In other words, the average driver is better than average.

You can decide if you like that definition. Or if it’s below average.

(*) Meaning I haven’t bothered to look up a source.

(**) This might not be a real word.

(***) If you nearly missed him, doesn’t that mean you hit him?

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3 Responses to “Are You a Good Driver?”

  1. Spike Roberson says:

    The difference between good drivers and bad ones could be easily established in a moser driving simulator, where the driver would be tested with multiple complex problems and situations — much as airline and military pilots are tested in flight simulators. Unfortunately, our economy is built on the automobile and our society would rather live with the egalitarian notion that virtually everyone can drive than the alternative — which is that many should not.

  2. Brother John says:

    The problem is that the state's definition of "good driver" is at variance with my own. I understand that in most cases, those two-digit black-on-white signs are meaningless and arbitrary; the state sees them as holy writ. I understand that most traffic ought to remain in the right lane; the state wants all lanes used equally. Must be some sort of brainless "equality" thing — wouldn't want the left lane to feel left out. I get that some dangerous situations can be avoided with acceleration; the state's view is that the slower traffic moves, the safer everyone is.