As a 23-year-old new driver, Chris Hicke would like to share some observations he’s made from behind the wheel.
I’m a bit of a latecomer to the roads. At 23yrs old, I obtained my license a little over a month ago, and started practicing about two months before that. As of right now, I believe I have logged fewer hours behind the wheel than some of my younger cousins. As such, I would like to share some of the observations I’ve made as a young driver, in the hopes of providing some insight into what may be going on inside the head of that one motorist that you perceive as a nuisance during your daily commute.
I started driving relatively late in life because I had no need to drive before about November of 2013. I lived close enough to high school to walk, which I enjoyed doing every morning with my best friend. My job at the nearby Coldstone was likewise within walking distance, I lived between the beach and my favorite local concert venue, and was close enough to a major light rail station that I had no real need for a car to do any of these things. And, for better or worse, I didn’t really have any friends that I spent a great deal of time with outside of school, so there wasn’t much incentive to travel greater distances than the places above.
After moving to Los Angeles for college, it quickly became apparent that, had I owned a car, I would have had little use for it. Parking anywhere in that city was difficult and expensive, and, being unemployed, the insurance and general upkeep would have been pointless expenditures, as I lived close enough to campus that I had no reason to drive. Even public transportation proved to be unnecessary during good weather. Until moving back home last summer, driving was unnecessary.
Now, I’m sure most people look forward to driving with mixed levels of nerves and excitement. It signifies a kind of freedom and maturity that certainly appeals to teenagers. At my age, or perhaps just by my own nature, I can honestly say that the prospect of driving is not one that particularly thrilled me. Still, it was the best way to hold on to a job I’d landed at a concert venue (different venue than before), and hauling my bass to music class on public transit, at night no less, was hardly a fun time. I saw driving, and still do to a degree, as a necessary evil to further my education and work my way back towards being self-sufficient and economically stable.
My first few experiences while driving were terrifying. I am the kind of person who thinks about EVERTHING, and will easily over-think or over-analyze the most trivial comment or idea to find deeper meaning. While driving, there is so much that needs to be accounted for at once (road ahead of me, behind me, other cars’ behavior, speed, gauges, passengers trying to make small talk while I think I’m going to panic and kill us both), that I got some serious headaches from trying to keep track of it all. I could literally feel my brain working to keep up, and it took several driving sessions for that to subside. For as hectic and, honestly, not fun, as the experience was, I do think having to cope with that much sensory input and demand, on top of my tendency to over-think everything, has made me a somewhat cautious driver.
Now, I have much better control, and even the relatively little experience I have behind the wheel has allowed me to manage the myriad of tasks required to drive safely without as much trouble; I daresay it almost feels natural. With that said, I think waiting until my body finished with the awkward hormonal teenager stage was a benefit, if only because I’m less prone to picking up any reckless, testosterone-fueled habits. I am also glad that my natural hyper-analytical nature generally allows me to look at my behavior while driving and realize what I should and shouldn’t be doing on the road, and my inexperienced behavior makes me less likely to think that some people are simply bad drivers. I am also glad I have the car that I do, as I think it has saved me from myself more than a few times.
I am currently borrowing my dad’s old Camaro. The mileage isn’t great, and it’s got a history of bad brakes, but I’m grateful to have it. My average commute is at least half what it was when I relied on public transit, and I can bring my books and equipment to school without the fear that I’ll be mugged for it. Additionally, having to pay for gas and insurance is imparting on me financial maturity that I know I’ve slipped on in recent years. More than that though, I honestly think that having a car designed for better than average road performance has gotten me out of some tight spots. If I need to pull ahead of someone for whatever reason, it is very easy to do so, and I’ve found that I can make tight turns at higher than recommended speeds without too much difficulty. Combined with the braking system, I honestly think having this car is why I haven’t rear-ended any of the numerous people who change lanes without signaling beforehand.
This leads to the observations I’ve made as a new driver. On one hand, all my assumptions about people being bad (usually impatient and discourteous) drivers is completely true. On the other, I think I’m just old enough to realize when I’m being one of those drivers. I’ve cut a few people off on accident, let my speedometer approach the tempo of my music (bad idea when you like heavy metal), and let my attention lapse for just long enough to be a problem more times than I’m comfortable with. By the same token, every now and then I’ll see a car going just a little too slow, or perhaps being a little too hesitant when changing lanes, and see something of myself in the way they handle the road. Sure, I get cocky every now and then (I’ve legitimately cringed at being passed by a Prius), but I generally have the presence of mind to pull back and remember that I’m not the only person on the road.
I guess if there’s any point to this article, it’s this: cut other drivers some slack. Sure, there will always be pricks weaving through traffic at well over safe speeds for whatever reason, but it’s foolish, and a little unfair, to assume that the driver in front of you is going 55mph in a 65mph zone because they don’t know how to drive; it may be someone who’s just gotten behind the wheel and is still getting used to the phenomenal amount of brainpower that it takes to drive safely.
Perhaps the best driving advice I’ve gotten so far was from my dad: you never know if the people around you are former NASCAR drivers, or kids behind the wheel for the first time. No destination is so important that it’s worth risking an accident to shave off a few minutes of travel time.