How many of you remember learning to drive before you got your license? I had a couple of different methods of learning this important but overlooked skill. When I was 14, I was able to drive my Uncle’s sweet Ford Fairmont through the winding, sandy back-roads of Florida and even drove on the beach. That was a highlight in my life as I would imagine any 14 year old boy’s life when I could slowly cruise the shore and wave at girls who must have thought I was older than I actually was. I also learned how to drive a stick with my Dad in an abandoned parking lot and still remember the lessons he taught me as I jerked and revved the engine until I finally got the hang of it. Lastly when I was 15, I drove with my mother to a conference for her job and stayed in the hotel while she was away during the conference. Actually, I was supposed to stay in the hotel, but in truth, I cruised the neighborhoods around our hotel and took ever increasing risks at getting caught. I never did get caught and I admitted this to my mom years later. Fortunately, I never hit anyone or more importantly to me at the time, hurt the car which would have brought instantaneous death from my father in my imagination.
I did learn to drive in an actual drivers education class too at one point in high-school. The only thing I really remember about those classes are the horror movies they made you watch first to scare you to death of doing anything behind the wheel for fear of ending up all over the pavement like the unfortunate souls in the training videos. That type of scare tactic quickly wore off a teenager who at the time thought nothing was more important than getting my license and being able to drive anywhere I wanted.
Each of my teachers taught me some lessons through the various interactions I had with them, but no training videos can prepare you for what actually driving is like. No parking lot instruction can take the place of driving 80 miles an hour in the traffic of a large city around the holidays. No cruising slowly on the beach can tell you everything you need to know, but they all helped me as a teenager start a process of learning.
My own children are approaching the age where questions are starting to be asked about driving and I sat down to think of some tips I could share with them as they begin their own journey of discovery. I tried to think of defensive driving tips that might be a little different than what you would get from your typical drivers education instructor to impart to my younger preppers, so here goes.
Leave room in front of you.
This is one of the simpler ones to employ but it has a couple of different advantages. By leaving room in front of you, you can see what is going on ahead and stop before you need too. This goes for sitting at a stop light too. If you stop your car far enough back that you can see the bottom of the tires on the car ahead of you, you can go around it if needed. Imagine if you pull up too close and the car in front of you is broken down. If you can’t back up, you are stuck too.
Even worse, if the person in the car in front of you jumps out with the intent of doing you harm and you are trapped behind their car, what will you do? I recommend this same philosophy for drive through lines and anywhere cars are queued up. Leaving a little room gives you options.
Always watch your mirrors
I check my mirrors all the time and try to know what is around me in case I need to move. Some people check their mirrors when they are going to change lanes or back up, but I check them constantly as I drive. I like to know what is behind me and on either side. Checking your rear view mirror can alert you to emergency vehicles approaching and keeping tabs on the cars next to you can ensure you know a clear spot potentially if you have to make a sharp avoidance turn.
Half a tank minimum, period.
This is one of the old prepper maxims that is simple common sense. Never let your vehicle get below half a tank of fuel. The reason is that is you just never know when you might not be able to get gas again. It never fails; if you let your gas tank get down to E and the red light is on, you won’t be able to find a gas station, or there will be traffic or the pumps will be out of service. Leave yourself options and keep a half tank so that when you need to find gas, you have plenty in the tank still if you need to look for a little while. If you have half a tank of gas and the pumps stop pumping you can get that much closer to home or wherever you are going.
People are out to get you
I am sure that all of you have dealt with the people who weren’t paying attention and their car slowly drifts over into your lane as you both approach quickly. Either that or someone will start coming over into your lane without checking to see if you are there first. Others will seemingly pull out right in front of you. It isn’t really that everyone is out to kill you, but some days it feels like that. You have to be able and ready to react to any car in any situation. Don’t count on the driver of the other car to do the right thing.
Lines and signs are bound to be ignored
Which brings me to my next point. Even if you are in your lane and someone starts coming over, arguing with them won’t help. Take action! The simplest thing you can do is slam on your brakes. If you risk going into the other lane or off the road you are adding to the problem. When you pull up to a green light, watch the intersection because someone else could not be paying attention and smash right into you. Just because we have lines on the road and signs that tell you what to do, the driver of all of these other cars can still do the exact opposite so you need to watch out for them.
Situational awareness isn’t only for the battlefield
Along with observing the other cars around you I like to keep an eye on what is happening further down the road. It is easy to become hypnotized almost and simply stare into the tail lights of the car ahead or the lines on the road, but you need to know what is happening up ahead too. I have seen a few instances where the car in front of me slammed into the back of the car in front of them. If I had only been watch the car in front of me, I wouldn’t have seen all the other cars stopped and adjusted my speed accordingly. The same with other cars driving around. You have to watch what they are doing and don’t count on them to stay in their lane or do what they are supposed to do.
Know how to fix a flat
Yes, this is important. That can of fix-a-flat is great but they don’t always work. You should know how to change a tire in case you need to.
Use the steering wheel
One of the simplest ways to avoid a collision is to turn the steering wheel. I know this comes with its own risks depending on where you are and how fast you are going, but you can steer around an accident in some cases more easily than you can stop. By knowing who is around you, split decisions can really alter how events play out. I know this is more of a seasoned experienced driver trait, but its worth mentioning. Also, the anti-lock brakes today allow you to steer away from an accident too so if someone crashes in front of you it’s possible to slam on the breaks and steer around just like you see on all the tire commercials.
Your car can carry things besides coffee
The basics of a good car survival kit should accompany anyone who gets in a car. There are some simple items you can throw in the trunk and forget that could help you if you get in a jam so make use of that trunk space. It isn’t like you are hauling firewood in the back of that sedan.
Get over it
I get angry sometimes when people do stupid things or I have to react to another driver quickly in order to avoid a collision. People will drive slow in the fast lane, cut you off or do a million things that will get under your skin. Almost nothing is worth getting mad at and I try to show that to my children. Do I talk to the people in the other cars? Sure I do and my children always say ‘they can’t hear you Dad’ but I have never been the jerk who pulls up next to someone and gives them the finger or screams at them at the light. It just isn’t worth it.
What ideas or driving tips do you have for your children as they learned to drive?