Last night, actually early this morning, like 3 in the morning, I was driving home after returning from vacation. It was late and dark, and I was tired. Surprisingly, I was not the only person on the road at that hour, even though I was driving secondary highways. Usually, it was nice to have another car on the road to keep my focus and pace, but sometimes it wasn’t, with people racing up behind me or pulling me faster than I was comfortable. In those instances, I had the usual thoughts of “idiot” and “moron”, but I got to thinking about why people drive like they do.
Usually, you can attribute slow drivers behavior to a unhurried lifestyle. Where I live, there’s no shortage of old people to drive 10-15 under the speed limit because they have nowhere to go. What else? Tourists, we have plenty of those, too. People that are looking for something in particular among the clusters of business along the road. Those are both understandable cases. What about the cautious and the reckless, though? That’s the situation I was in. I was being cautious and I felt others were being reckless. And my mind wandered to the concept of wisdom, earned by experience.
The conclusion I came to is that living life is a perpetual game of risk management. Let’s put this in a totally different perspective. If presented with an opportunity to walk a tightrope between two buildings, most normal people would do a risk assessment. “I have never walked on a tightrope before, so my experience in this endeavor is zero. Let’s then say that makes my chances of success, zero.” A moderately skilled tightrope walker would do different evaluations. “I’ve walked that distance before. The winds would be stronger than what I’ve experienced, and the height might cause some extra distraction. I have a decent chance of success.” A skilled walker would only have to do a quick evaluation. “I can do that. Distance and height aren’t an issue. What’s the weather going to be like?”
I consider myself an experienced driver, so my evaluation of driving conditions is pretty quick. However, experience has taught me that there are many variables that need to be considered. Road debris and wildlife are chief among those concerns. Driving late at night in the woods doesn’t give you much reaction time. Yet, some people drive like it’s broad daylight.
I assume these drivers just don’t have the experience I have. And you don’t even have to experience something personally to gain from it. Have you ever had a moment of thought like, “If I’d left a little bit earlier, that could have been me.” Or maybe “If I’d left a little bit later, that could have been me.” After enough of these moments, the wisdom comes. “It doesn’t matter when I leave, it can be me.” And so you have to be aware of what could happen at any time. Maybe these drivers haven’t seen enough yet. “I’ve never seen a cop on this road” is popular. Replace that with “never seen a tree down”, “never seen a deer”, “never blown a tire”,”never slid on a turn” or any number of other things that I’ve seen or done in my years.
But experience brings wisdom. I was once in their shoes. As a reckless youth many years ago, I was driving on a slushy highway up north. Inexplicably, I had the cruise control on. Even more incredibly, when I caught up to a car, I simply moved into the passing lane – up a hill, on a turn, with the cruise control on – and promptly lost all traction. My car spun 360 degrees around, and the other car slowed down to give me room to do my thing. Now in front of the other car, I spun another 180 degrees, slid off the road backwards and slammed into the mountainside. The other car slowed down enough to make sure I was ok when I got out of my car, then promptly left me there to die. Middle of winter, probably 20 miles from anything and long before cell phones existed. It’s a really good thing people were more helpful back then.
Since then, I’ve grown up a lot and put a lot of experience into my mental file as to what could happen when you do the wrong things.