“Defensive” driving has killed driving in this country.
It is a regime defined by hypercautious passivity – that being fundamentally at odds with attentiveness and acting on it, expeditiously. Active-tense used to be associated with good (i.e., competent) driving. What is styled “defensive” driving turns the driver into someone who occupies a seat.
The distinction is important.
Many American drivers – the term is used generously – change lanes as slowly as oil pours on a cold day. If they even notice it’s time to get out of the way.
It’s really more of a gentle meander – initiated only after faster-moving traffic has already rolled up behind the car blocking the passing lane – and only performed if drivers in the right lane graciously slow enough to open a hole for the eventual lane-changer.
Who will signal – and wait – until it does.
Hitting the turn signal used to be a declaration of intent. Not a plea.
The “defensive” driver won’t take advantage of holes – nor assume the initiative. He will wait until someone else takes it for him.
This assumes he will even make the attempt. Often he will simply carry on, passively-aggressively indifferent to the blockage he has created and will do nothing to unblock – justifying this because he is “doing the speed limit” and the cars he’s blocking seek to go faster, exceeding it. Which the “defensive” driver has been taught to regard as both illegal (which it technically is) as well as “aggressive” and synonymous with “unsafe.”
Which it is not.
At least, not necessarily.
It would be safer for all concerned if, in the first place, the driver at the head of the conga line had kept out of the passing lane if he isn’t passing – or at least going faster than the traffic behind him.
If he had anticipated the need to get out of the way before faster-moving traffic was compelled to slow down (and stack up) behind him.
That would be more than merely courteous driving. It would be safe driving. Proof of this being the better track record for safety – in terms of fewer accidents per capita – on the unlimited-speed German Autobahn, where the opposite of “defensive” driving is practiced. Drivers are expected to take the initiative, to act in anticipation of the need to act. As by staying out of the passing lane, unless they are passing. And to change lanes proactively – and quickly – before another car runs up the tailpipe of their car.
Attentiveness and preemptive action, based on awareness – are part of the German driving culture. A driver who does not yield is considered presumptively at fault if there’s a wreck. As well as someone who needs to learn how to drive.
Bottlenecks and frustrated drivers reacting to problems created by bad driving are the source waters of an unsafe driving environment; this polluted stream also creates more “drivers” who are in need of “advanced driver assistance technology” – such as brakes that slam on automatically to avoid the wreck that would otherwise have resulted from their inattentive, incompetent driving.
And Lane Keep Assistance – to electronically crutch a fundamental incapacity that ought to be considered prima facie evidence of the “driver’ having no business attempting to drive.
“Defensive” driving theorists respond with an injunction to be patient – and that the driver who is impatient with the “defensive” driver is the problem. This is topsy-turvy, akin to blaming the person walking down the sidewalk for being annoyed by the person just standing there, watching the birdies – oblivious to his being the cause of delays and compelling people to either wait for him or negotiate around him.
“Defensive” driving also teaches that speed limit signs are sacred totems, to be obeyed mindlessly – italicized to emphasize the fact it is mindless to obey a sign based on nothing more than it being a sign and because one fears disobeying the mindless legal requirement to obey it. (This being very much of a piece with the mindless obedience displayed toward signs requiring the wearing of Face Effacers, just because – and because Or Else).
Signs are sometimes stupid. There is often no harm in ignoring them – and it can be sound policy to ignore them, sometimes. As, for example, a stop sign at the top of a steep hill – which if obeyed during a snowstorm will likely result in the driver sliding back down the hill. Also signs forbidding U-Turns and rights-on-red when it can be plainly seen there is no danger in ignoring the sign.
It is obviously not “safe” to pass slowly – but legally – when doing so results in not finishing the pass quickly enough to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. A safe pass may require “speeding” – and a technical violation of the law. But it is much safer to flout the law – to ignore the sign – than to attempt a slow-motion pass.
Of course, the “defensive” driving position is that the pass should not be attempted if it requires “speeding” to do so. In which case, almost all passing becomes “unsafe.” Which leads to the slowest-moving car defining the pace for all cars, leading to bottlenecks and frustrated drivers – who are gaslit as the “aggressive” ones for wanting to get where they’re headed rather than spend all day waiting on the “defensive” driver.
Another dangerous driving practice encouraged by the “defensive” driving school is eggshells-under-the-accelerator acceleration. But it takes acceleration to get a car from zero to whatever the speed of the traffic one is merging with is. The gap closes fast – and it is dangerous as well as discourteous to expect traffic to adjust to your (slow) speed. Good driving – as opposed to the “defensive” version of it – schools accelerating as quickly as is necessary to match the flow of the traffic one is attempting to merge with and to not expect the traffic one is attempting to merge with to accommodate you.
Such things used to be taught – and were part of the culture of driving – before this business of driving “defensively” became the culture. It’s as frustrating for people who can still drive as it is for those who still have their wits about them to see face-effacers everywhere.
Many of them driving “defensively.”
. . .
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