Saturday, 14 December 2013

Habitual Driver Alert

"Snow doesn't actually make some drivers worse, but it sure increases the contrast." @vickersty

Ever feel your mind suddenly shift how it conceptualizes a topic? That tweet did that for me. It was that proverbial "puzzle piece clicking into place" moment authors like to describe in their novels.

Every winter, right after the first snowfall, there's an annual griping about how drivers start driving worse. And now what I realize is drivers don't drive worse in snow. We don't drive any better.

It's an important distinction. Driving is very habit forming. Truly safe, defensive driving requires very active participation, which takes a lot of energy and concentration. The problem is that driving gets very monotonous. It is very easy to lose focus and just stare at the taillights ahead of you while your speed creeps up and the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you decreases. Add in other bad habits such as failing to check mirrors, properly signalling lane changes, unmaintained vehicles, etc. and when the weather turns for the worse these poor habits are more likely to result in catastrophic results. We don't realize that clear roads and good conditions forgive us of many of our bad habits.

When driving conditions deteriorate, drivers have to increase their concentration, increase their situational awareness and better forecast the potential repercussions of how their vehicle is interacting with traffic flow. Drivers have to actively decrease and reverse the accumulation of bad habits to minimize the threat to themselves and to others because the chance a bad habit having a negative consequence has increased dramatically.

And when it is stated that way, we now realize how hard this is, why the situation never seems to improve, and why we are repeating this cycle year after year. Habits are damned hard to break. And just maybe, we can focus on training to deal with this. When we stop blaming "the stupid idiots" and start realizing "hey we all collectively need to avoid bad habits" we might actually make that important step towards safer driving for all.

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