Driven to distraction by driver education

Driver Ed BooksOn Good Friday morning, I quickly discovered it was not going to be a good Friday, no matter what the calendar said. I’d started getting sick after work the night before, not helped by having to watch a track meet, playing piano for a Maundy Thursday service, then returning to work while awaiting one kid getting out of driver education class and the other returning on the track bus.

It would have been a grueling night under normal circumstances (as if there has been such a thing in forever), but the back-to-back responsibilities became unbearable as illness overtook my body. My back started aching, my head throbbing and I felt overheated, then chilled, without identifiable cause.

Finally back home, I did the minimum before crawling into bed at 10:45 PM, knowing full well I should have drugged myself to the gills with cold and flu meds four hours earlier and hunkered down to ride out the illness storm. But that luxury was not available. Pulling over and puking onto the shoulder of the road between responsibilities was. So I took it. Work with what you’ve got.

Doing my best to clean myself using fast food napkins and a winter hat some unfortunate person made the mistake of leaving in the car, I couldn’t help but wonder if this scenario was covered in my son’s driver education manual, perhaps in a chapter called “Driving During Illness and Other Times When You Really Shouldn’t Be on the Road, But Have No Choice.”

That chapter could cover things like selecting the right angle for the seat to minimize vertigo; creative ways to disguise roadside diarrhea detour behavior when there’s no bathroom for miles when most needed (including creative use of bank envelopes and road maps in the absence of toilet paper); and use of wiper fluid to help rinse down expired medications you fortuitously found down the seat.

I could barely lift my head after putting it on my bed pillow, but I held the Michigan Traffic Safety Education Student Manual above my face, making its wisdom visible by lamplight. Half the cover was torn off, as if by a hungry student in the backseat who had forgotten to eat before a practice drive with a partner, and it was bound by duct tape: a fitting metaphor for how I would characterize my nearly 40 years of driving experience.

Chapter Five outlined the SIPDE System, which stands for “Search, Identify, Predict Decide and Execute (meaning to take action, rather than kill someone),” the recommended approach to proactive driving. In other words, taking charge of those things over which you have control to improve your driving. I didn’t like that the chapter began, “You should consider it improper to drive when a factor that will negatively affect your ability to drive is present.” I knew they were talking to me, but I ignored it. Cough, cough.

In addition to the driver education manual, my son also had a booklet from Michigan Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, “What Every Driver Must Know.” If I were Secretary of State I could save a whole lot of trees by supplying kids with a single, bookmark-sized paper that says, “Assume all drivers are idiots and drive accordingly.” That pretty much sums it up.

Over the years, most of my driving-related discussions/arguments with my backseat-driver son have centered around his single-dimension perspective of being in the driver’s seat, while I have emphasized that driving is as much about the context you are in as it is your intentions. Snow and rain storms don’t care that you’d like visibility; other drivers don’t care that you have limited time to get somewhere; road potholes are oblivious to your need to stay within your lane and deer don’t give a darn about keeping your front bumper and car hood dent-free.

I told my son that I even do the unthinkable: when I need to pay extra attention to traffic, I sometimes turn off the radio! What?! That’s ridiculous! How extreme! When my son takes his driver education test, he will likely parrot all the “right answers.” However, like most education, they are only the fundamentals. The real fun begins further down the road.

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