Tuesday, 9 February 2010

So you think you're a good driver #1: Lack of accidents

What makes a good driver?

When you first start learning to drive, the technical skill of handling the vehicle is all you can think about. Once you have mastered that to a basic level, with a lot of input from the instructor, you start interacting with other road users. By the time you pass your test, the idea is that the basic elements of handling the car - accelerating, braking, changing gear - are second nature, leaving you enough time to think ahead and notice and assess the behaviour of other road users and act accordingly.

For some people that is all they ever manage to do and they are happy with that. Others think they are really good drivers but what do they mean by that?

What are the criteria that people use for judging what is a good driver?

Lack of accidents in life time

Lack of speeding tickets or other infringements

Skill in manoeuvring the vehicle

Adherence to driving rules as they were taught

Adherence to rules as laid down in highway code

Adherence to set of rules they have made up

Let's take these in turn:
Lack of accidents in lifetime. For a start the word 'accidents' is problematic to anyone trained in the driver training industry. An accident is something unintentional and unavoidable. On the whole, traffic collisions are avoidable. If you look where you are going and think about what you are doing and about what other people are doing, you shouldn't really be hitting anything. Fair enough, those who are involved in so-called 'accidents' don't intend to actually hit anything but not intending to hit anything is not the same as making sure you don't hit anything.

So on to lack of accidents as a criterion for judging good driving. Well done, you have never driven into another vehicle, pedestrian or item of street furniture but that doesn't tell the full story. You could be driving down the road leaving a trail of destruction in your wake in a cartoon style, screaching brakes, handbrake turns and emergency stops being the aftermath of every journey. You could be driving in such as way to create a bad atmosphere on the roads so that all who come within your personal driving space are left more annoyed than they were before, thus spreading ripples of road rage throughout the area. It is easily possible to do this while still never coming into physical contact with another road user.

So next time you hear yourself claim to be a good driver because you've never had an accident, take a look in the mirror.