November 24, 2010

Driving Miss Crazy

While I was watching a movie set in Manhattan recently, I came to a realization.  The characters never drove themselves anywhere, never fought traffic, never had to gingerly back out of a supermarket parking spot suitable, not for a minivan, but more for a mini-scooter, never had to strain their eyes to see the lines on the road on a dark and stormy night, never had to keep alert to 'new drivers' acting like Mario Andretti, or young cyclists jumping out into traffic without so much as a warning.  They hailed taxis and rode trains and subways, or they walked, and I suddenly envied those people and had a sudden urge to live in a big city with a well developed system of public transit. Instead, I live in a small town twenty minutes from a mid-sized city where most of the shopping is and where my son goes for violin lessons and Saturday orchestra rehearsals. Minor bus service is available between our town and the nearby city, but is not usually practical for our schedule - and taxi fare is out of the question. Driving for me, and most rural or suburbian North Americans, is a necessary evil. 

After my last accident over ten years ago, I confided to a friend that I was scared to drive and his response was this:  "Well, you'd better get back up on that horse, and soon!"  He was right because at the time I was living miles from the nearest town.  Back up on that horse I did get and with practise and time I even became a better driver than before my accident.  The last few years, however, I have noticed an increase in my anxiety level when it comes to driving, and on a bad day, I find it hard to trust in my experience as a driver.  Recently, while reading an article about road sense in the newspaper I learned that drivers who have been involved in accidents, even accidents which were not their fault, have higher anxiety towards driving and tend to make more mistakes.  When my husband and I embark on a road trip now, short or small, he never has to fight me for the car keys.  I hand them over most willingly.  I suppose I could take a defensive driving course or sign up for therapy like the article suggests.  I mean, I'm hardly a candidate for the reality tv show, Canada's Worst Driver, it's more that I've developed a sort of...distaste for being behind the wheel.

When we moved to the Fraser Valley, a sprawling, continuous suburb of Vancouver, I thought, "Here's my chance to become a real city driver."  I imagined myself working up the experience to take trips into the big city, using MapQuest and high doses of caffeine as 'courage water'.  Seven and a half years later I am no closer to being a Vancouver driver than I was before.  In fact, I may even be farther away.  I simply just do not fit in with the aggressive, tail-gaiting style of the other drivers and I sincerely doubt I ever will.  I like a reasonable amount of space between the next car and me when on the freeway and I don't feel safe driving over 120 kms per hour.  I never was very good at intensely crowded situations, let alone on the road at autobahn-like speeds or at a bumper-to-bumper crawl.  Sometimes when I'm out on the freeway I begin to think like a Woody Allen character - one of those sort of neurotic philosophers obesessed with death:

What does it all mean anyway?  Look at all these cars, these killing machines travelling at crazy speeds.  Don't these people know they are risking their lives, not to mention the environment?  We're hemmed in like sheep, except we're like sheep with high powered engines and wheels careening down a six lane freeway.  Why do we do it?  Look at that girl in the next car talking on her cell phone, laughing away.  She's got one pinky, the only finger not holding her Starbucks, on the wheel.  Look at her change lanes without signalling.   Doesn't she know she's going to kill someone with her bad habits?  Maybe I should envy her lighthearted view of existence.  

Okay, so maybe now I'm starting to sound crazy, but I think I'm old enough not to care about that sort of thing.  And besides, my husband says he knew that I was crazy when he married me and he still loves me, so I have decided to be content with my lot, and leave the big city driving to the experts:  the experienced commuters who listen to books-on-CD while weaving their way through rain-soaked traffic; to my husband who in his younger days, on his trips abroad to New York, Paris, Stockholm and Philadelphia with a certain Swedish modular furniture company, was always asked to be the rental car driver among his workmates; and to the bus and taxi drivers.  I salute them all.  You go! - I'll hold the map.


  1. What you need is a trip to a go-karting place. Someplace where you can knock a bit of fun out of the experience.
    Lets see if I can remember the numbers. You're now fortyish with a kid thats seventeen. I know you have younger but they are not germain at the moment. So basically you have been driving with the responsibility for not only yourself other road users, but also your kids.
    Ten years ago it was not so much that you needed to get back in the saddle but there was no way in hell you as a family could have survived IF you hadn't returned to driving. However a car crash is a trauma and no matter how stoic you were brought up, it still leaves its mark. Now while shellshock might be over egging to pudding nevertheless you probably have the remnant of PTSD.
    Further, you might need a cholesterol test. And no harm either if you had a blood sugar test. As your blood pressure might be kicking an slight astigmatism which might be the cause of the feeling of distortion.
    You could of course go to the Bumpers.

    Anyhow, now is not the time to hang up your keys.

  2. Awwwww...that's too bad. I love the freedom of being able to drive, and will do so under any circumstances to get where I need or want to be. Although, I gladly sit in the passenger seat when I can, because like you, I have to drive my kids here and there so often and it's tiring.

    Vince has good advice about the go-karts! :)

    Keep working on getting rid of the anxiety.

  3. Hmm. I didn't not know that my cell-phone talking, starbucks-drinking sister and law had been to Canada lately, but she has been in several accidents.

    I wish you luck out there.

  4. Vince: Thanks for all your thoughtful ideas. I have astigmatism and depth perception issues -that's why my glasses are so expensive! I am not hanging up my keys, just resigning myself to the fact that I'm not, at this time, cut out to be a Vancouver driver. I funtion just fine as a driver in the mid-sized cities where I live and have lived, I just can't say, unlike Anita, that I enjoy it. But I'll have to admit the go-karts sound fun :) And yes, I do thing I have some residual PTSD from the four accidents I have been involved in, so thanks for the support in that. It's not an easy thing to get over.

    Anita: See, you are one of those 'experts' I was talking about!

    Tracey: Believe me Tracey, there are thousands of that type out on the roads around here, even though cell phone use has been banned while driving. Bring on those future cars that drive themselves :)

  5. I had an astigmatism caused by blood pressure a few years ago. And what would really cause havoc was the gap between the corner of my eye and the lenses of the glasses. This was crazy on the motorways where there are three lanes. Where cars would jump back and forth like some insane Jack in the box. The medical idiots eventually discovered the problem. Then a few years later while on the lash with a bunch of mountaineering types at UCG. One of them handed me a case with prescription sports glasses like the ones you see cyclists wear. The ones that wrap to the temple of the eye.
    You live in an area that lifts sport to the obsessional so there is bound to be a eye-quack that will do something for you.

  6. OH my! I am with you in that I do NOT volunteer to drive in heavy traffic and avoid it at all costs. We live in the country which calls us to DRIVE to go anywhere or get ANYTHING! My husband says I make it sound as if I am hooking up the cart and pony when I announce I am "going in to town." I think I would rather get into town by pony than by car!

    I do have to admit that I like being in the car ALONE with some good music and a coffee but I do not hold it in my hand but simply sip on it from time to time. I am a VERY safe driver!


  7. The person holding the map or programming the GPS and reading the directions to harried driver are omniimportant! Entertaining reading.

  8. Driving is scary - certainly - if you think about it too much, and once you have kids nothing ever feels completely safe again in my experience. All you can do I guess ( all I do) is drive steadily and carefully and leave a big gap whatever the idiot behind you thinks. And trust it'll all be ok. I spend a big chunk of my time trusting it'll all be ok....

  9. My husband doesn't drive! And to be honest, after years of nagging him to learn (four children, semi-rural house, I mean, really?) but at this point the idea of him driving terrifies me! Not HIM per se, but OTHER drivers. I am a great driver, and not a scared one, (maybe because I've never had an accident) but the idea of not having a car, of living in a city or town that means I can give it up, really appeals to me!

    Some day.

  10. Thanks Jill, Paul, Kate and Ciara for your thoughtful comments. Ironically, I am teaching my eldest son to drive. I have been a fairly relaxed teacher, believe it or not, and he is progressing well. His younger brother finds it unnerving to be in the car with him driving, though and grips the back of the seat with every brake. Kate, you are right, so I try not to think about the dangers when I am driving. The thing here is, if you leave a gap, someone the car behind you roars past and fills it in!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!