Defense, Defense! Defensive Driving?Free Access

I was a “late bloomer.” I didn’t date much in high school and really didn’t seriously date until I was nearly out of college. Part of the problem was I didn’t drive until I was 18. I couldn’t very well ask my parents to drive me on a date. I suppose I could have double dated. One time I was asked out by a girl who drove and had a car. (It was a little embarrassing.)

Why didn’t I drive until age 18? Well, it’s a long story, but I will try to compress it. When I was age 16 my parents moved from our town in Colorado to Grants, New Mexico. I began school at Grants High School as a junior and signed up for driver education. This was in 1957.

One problem: Grants High School didn’t have a driving training car that year. I could have learned on my parents’ car, but it had an automatic transmission and I wanted to learn on a manual transmission, which the school training car would have been. Instead of going out and learning how to drive a car, we spent a year in the classroom learning driving laws, and learning all about defensive driving, and I waited for that stick shift. Meanwhile I did a lot of walking.

By the time I was a senior I had a job and saved enough to buy a car. Late in my senior year I became the owner of a 1951 Plymouth four-door sedan, with a three-speed manual transmission, and I began to learn how to drive it. Learning how to manage that clutch was a challenge, but I did learn and passed my driving test. I was probably readier to drive than I would have been had I gotten it at age 16.

I still like a manual transmission, and driving one qualified me to drive a school bus a few years later—the busses all had manual transmissions where I worked, so I had to be able to drive one. Several cars I’ve owned have had four or five speed manual transmissions, so it was good I learned early to drive one.

I also knew all about defensive driving. You see, those hours we spent in the classroom, did teach me something. I knew enough to avoid an accident by not putting myself in danger. 

Apparently a lot of people on the streets and highways today never got that message. Defensive driving to a large extent is also courteous driving. I may have the right of way, but that isn’t going to protect me if another driver chooses to take it. 

It means we signal our turns. Defensive drivers don’t run stop signs or red lights. That’s not only defensive driving, that’s obeying the law. Defensive drivers don’t pull out in front of other vehicles. Defensive drivers also watch out for pedestrians, bicycle riders and motorcycles.

Am I a good driver? It’s not fair for me to judge that, but I do see myself as a safe driver. I have had a few accidents, some my own fault. And I have gotten a few tickets, definitely my fault. But one benefit of the tickets is several times I have taken to the Defensive Driving Class to get my tickets excused. I’ve learned something every time I’ve taken it. Getting the tickets also taught me about speeding and just paying attention.

Being a safe driver largely means being a defensive and an aware driver. Things like following distance, watching for hazards and basically looking out for other drivers. Defensive drivers don’t cut off other drivers, don’t race on streets or highways and don’t drive impaired.

Some people seem to think a big vehicle keeps them safer. Unfortunately any collision with another vehicle is dangerous and also especially a defensive driver will never take a chance at a railroad crossing—in a collision with a train the car or pickup truck loses every time.

The two extra years before I got my license helped make me more mature and smarter on the highway. I also knew how to learn from my mistakes, and I’ve made plenty of those. And I’ve learned how to be a better and safer driver by applying principles I learned in that classroom all those years ago. Blooming a little late turned out to not be all bad for me.

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