You read that right: the school curriculum! California’s high school curriculum used to include driver education & training,¹ which probably did a lot of good, judging from all the dangerous driving behavior rare back then but frighteningly common these days!
Defensive driving wasn’t taught only in school, but was heavily promoted in public service spots on TV and other media. Essentially it means to “watch out for the other guy” – to pay attention to what other drivers are doing. If you anticipate their dangerous maneuvers, you’re prepared to take evasive action. Thus, defensive driving can save your life, since you never know when another driver is drunk or distracted . . . or a homicidal sociopath out to ruin your day!
(Incidentally, since we have long known that using cell phones while driving is at least as dangerous as drunk driving,² it’s disturbing to realize that many of our friends and neighbors really are homicidal sociopaths, no matter how nice they seem when not behind the wheel!)
There’s no doubt that defensive driving has saved my life on several occasions, most recently just a couple of months ago. I narrowly missed being T-boned by a woman driving an enormous SUV who blew through a red light at about 45 miles per hour (in a 35 mph business zone). I was too busy braking and swerving to notice whether a cell phone was glued to her ear.
Even though defensive driving saves lives, for some of us it comes at a price. Paying too much attention to other drivers can threaten our peace of mind – especially these days when we’re suffering a national epidemic of extreme self-centeredness, nowhere more apparent than in people’s behavior while driving! Sure, everyone with a license has sworn to conduct themselves by rules established to make driving safe, but all too many ignore that promise as soon as they get behind the wheel and selfishness overwhelms honor & common sense.
It’s hard for me not to take the threatening behavior of other drivers personally. Not that I think they’re out to get me, personally, but I’m still emotionally affected by it. I seem unable to deceive myself into believing other cars are just things with no consciousness or volition – “rocks in the stream,” as one of my old friends puts it.
Instead of seeing other cars as automatons, just things with no moral conscience or spiritual dimension, I’m always aware that they’re controlled by other human beings. And that’s what weighs on me emotionally: the constant in-your-face evidence that so many people are so spiritually sick that they happily risk maiming or even killing others with scarcely a thought other than, “Me first, get out of my way!”
At least I have a pretty good idea that’s what they’re thinking, for that’s how I thought for much of my life. And not just when drinking, but during the first few years of recovery as well. “If you spot it, you got it.”
As if that’s not humbling enough, knowing that I can still be like that in a heartbeat any time I start putting self ahead of God’s will makes it pretty damned clear that it’s grace and not personal merit that makes the difference in my behavior today!
Driving is more than a skill enabling us to transport ourselves physically around the world. Like virtually every other human activity, it’s also a window on the soul that reveals an enormous amount of information about our spiritual condition, both individually as persons and collectively as a species.
If we learn to drive defensively, not just “watching out for the other guy” but watching out for ourselves as well, it will make us better drivers but also better in other ways we might not expect. Paying attention to the choices we make while driving can tell us a lot about ourselves . . . about our spiritual condition right now, in real time, where the rubber meets the road (literally!).
That awareness not only enables us to defend against our own worst selfish impulses, but also gives us plenty of practical opportunities to put spiritual principles into practice every time we get behind the wheel, simply by driving our own car.
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¹ See Jill Tucker’s San Francisco Chronicle article, “High Schools Curb Driver’s Ed as Interest Dies.”
² As early as 2003, scientific studies began to show that “Drivers on Cell Phones Are as Bad as Drunks.”
And for more about spirituality and driving, see “Driving Is Spiritual?” right here on MyLifeRecovery.net!