Let’s have a short talk about driving. I don’t mean driving a golf ball or a point home. I am speaking of driving a car, a motor vehicle.
People in general – I am not saying all people, so don’t bury me with ‘not all people do that’ comments – treat driving as a routine, everyday, casual thing. If you have been driving for a number of years, it almost feels routine. Half the time you go out to the store, you do not even remember the turns you made, they are that ingrained.
But the fact is that driving requires 100% concentration. From the time you start the motor until you are stopped at your destination, you must watch not only ahead, but also both sides and behind. You have to anticipate what other drivers will do, because we all know they are crazy.
But some insist on eating burgers, making out with their sweetie, talking on their cell phone, adjusting the radio, even texting or reading a newspaper. I have seen them do it. Inattention and distraction cause many accidents, some fatal. Why is it? Because people do not keep their mind on the job of driving.
Everyone cuts airplane pilots slack because of their hard job, and we all think piloting a watercraft is very hard. Even a choo-choo train driver gets some respect. But none of those vehicle operators have anything like the job a car driver does.
Think about it. A pilot has to know some stuff to get off the ground and back onto the ground without killing himself. That true. But while he is at altitude, he loafs. He has an autopilot that maintains his heading, speed, and altitude. He can sleep. Why not? He has alarms that will tell him if he strays or if anything changes.
A boat pilot has to know how to get in and out of crowded harbors. But at sea, he can sleep even more than a pilot. The boat is slow moving and obstacles are far apart. All modern watercraft have autopilots that maintain the direction and speed, and alarms if something happens.
And a train, ha, don’t even talk to me about a train. It is tied to the tracks. Not much steering there. They are almost all computer controlled now, so the engineer just sits and stares at the starlit rails running into the distance.
An airplane has much freedom as far as direction and speed and altitude. They can go off course or drift up a hundred feet and no one cares, there is nothing there to hit. A boat can’t go up and down, but the side-to-side movement is wide open. Except for rare shoals, this patch of water is the same as that patch a hundred yards away. And a train cannot vary from its path by the very nature of the wheels and tracks.
But a car has to stay on line and on the road to a very tight tolerance. No drifting six feet left or right. And there are obstacles for sure. There are vehicles overtaking you, vehicles meeting you head-on, vehicles entering from side streets. And they are close. Too damn close for you to even think of drifting out of your lane.
On top of that, you have constant traffic control devices demanding your attention: lights, signs, information painted on the road surface.
Driving a car requires an order of magnitude more attention and effort than piloting an airplane or driving a boat. I have done a lot of boating, and I know. I have not flown airplanes, but I had been a passenger for years on corporate prop and jet planes where the pilots are either sleeping of shooting the shit, while the plane flies itself. It is true that both the boat driver and the pilot have to stir themselves as their craft approaches a harbor. But so what? The car driver has to be aware when approaching their destination as well as all along the way.
My point is that when you get behind the wheel of an automobile, treat it with as least as much responsibility as you would if you were flying a plane. Make it your full time job. Not eating, not swatting children, not reading or talking on the phone. Just driving. Remember, the life you take may not just be your own when you crash a two-ton monster into a carload of nuns. If you live, you will go to jail. If you die, those nuns will be waiting at the narrow place for you and administer a beating like you’ve never had.