Column by J1 Reporter Bailey Kollasch
My hands gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white as I waited for my dad to settle in the seat beside me. “‘You ready to go?” he asked.
I almost told him no with the fatal car crash scenes and death statistics fresh in my mind. If Driver’s Ed was supposed to scare its students into safe driving, it was working–although, watching Canada’s Worst Drivers with my family didn’t help either. The TV show of Canadians driving in remote areas and failing driving tests in extreme ways was fun to watch when I was little, but it was terrifying now that I was on the road with them, uncertain of whether I would be able to keep myself safe without their meddling. I gave my dad a tense nod and started the car.
The drive certainly wasn’t my first, yet the tension radiating from me was almost palpable and choked any attempt of a conversation. For someone who can easily change topics within 10 seconds, I had to equally balance my attention on all of my surroundings while somehow managing to keep enough focus on the road.
It was me against everyone else, a concept which I shortly grew tired of, both mentally and physically. In all honesty, I don’t have it in me to throw glances at the cars next to me on the road every seven seconds and wonder which one will make a mistake. However, distrusting other drivers is mentioned if not encouraged for new drivers like I was not too long ago. Who could blame them? All people are capable of making bad driving decisions.
During my first month of being behind the wheel, I encountered some of the most annoying driving errors: others speeding and being in the wrong lane. Both are common. And both situations drivers have control over.
In terms of speeding, it’s a simple regulation, “do not exceed this number on your speedometer,” but I know everyone has gone above the numbers in the thick, black bold font on the occasional sign at least a couple of times in their lives. The need for speed is ingrained in all drivers in and out of the car. They want a faster internet speed, substitute a short-cut for a walk that’s much too long in their opinion, or race to meet an oncoming deadline.
When my gaze removed itself from the road to fix itself on my rear-view mirror, I noticed the red pickup truck gaining on me. My heartbeat quickened even more than its already fast speed. Glances at the elevated mirror became more frequent, the car closer every time I did so.
Right before it could ram into my car, Hex, the truck swiftly switched lanes and sped away. In a few short minutes, the experience felt as though it had chipped a few years off my lifespan.
Driving is not bad in and of itself, but other drivers could make or break the practice for beginning drivers. The thrill of stepping on the gas and going at least 10 over is short-lived–especially after the vehicle rams into another car and someone gets hurt.
Since 2017, the fatalities in traffic accidents had steadily decreased, but the pandemic managed to impact another aspect of life with 2020 having more deaths per mile traveled than in 2019. Speeding had been the main cause since the roads are empty, providing perfect terrain for reckless drivers with some steam to blow off.
One would hope the mistakes would end there since road crashes were one of the main causes of death for most Americans annually. Although I have done it once or twice when I was in the wrong lane, pulling in front of others while driving is a risky move.
Everyone becomes at risk, even the person doing the bad driving. People are always in a rush to be somewhere else and don’t take the time to acknowledge what’s happening right in front of them. Drivers have the power to change a life or end one if they are negligent. More often than not, they do not take their responsibility of safely driving seriously. Similarly to human interaction, I am responsible for myself, and they are responsible for themselves, because it is what we have control over. It’s a shame drivers sometimes act otherwise.
Drivers should be mindful of their surroundings and the lives their mistakes could impact.
What could make these mistakes excusable? Emergencies most definitely, but since I have no way of knowing that, I must stick to my version of road rage, silently sending angry thoughts in their general direction with a deep frown.
My muscles are tense as I attentively gaze at the small red car approaching our designated meeting place. It weaves around the narrow parking lot carefully until it stops before me and a man steps out of the driver’s seat. He briefly confirms my identity with short words, and then, I’m behind the wheel of the same red car. “Are you ready, Miss Kollasch?” My driving instructor asks, a pen and clipboard in his hand.
Taking a deep breath, I banish my past worries of dying in a compact metal prison and focus on what I do know. Driving is dangerous, but I am in control of what I do and how I react to other drivers. With that in mind, my voice comes out more confidently than it had been weeks before, “I’m ready.”
I can only hope other drivers are too.