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The Cookiepus Conspiracy

Mindless ramblings, leading to perfect clarity.
Monday, November 11, 2002
I have been fascinated with the psychology of driving ever since I got my license and started motorvating around our nation's roadways. I was taught that the way to be a safe and efficient driver is to get into the heads of the drivers around you - understand them, predict their reaction, and stay one move ahead of them.

You can learn a lot about a driver before you even see his or her face. The way he or she handles their car can betray their mood, mindset, and situation. For example, you can always tell someone who's in a hurry, even when they are crawling along in dense traffic at 10 mph.

Seeing what the driver looks like, however, betrays even more about him or her. For example, when I am doing 40 or 45 in a one lane road with a 30 mph limit, if the driver behind me is a woman, I can pretty reasonably expect her to NOT roar into the opposite lane to pass me. Even if she's driving a very fast car. A young white male will do this once in a white. Young Asian males tend to do it most often (though never middle aged Asian men.) In this sense, women are much safer drivers. They don't try to show off, and don't take as many conscious risks, which increases their margin of safety tremendously.

On the other hand, men handle their cars much better. I've never met any guys who were truly inept at driving, and 90% of men whom I've seen get into dangerous situations did so knowingly, whereas women had a higher rate of getting into a dangerous zone unknowingly.

I can't say one way is preferable to the other. Men are better able to handle their cars, but they take stupid risks that more than cancel out this advantage. I am not sure if genetics are 100% responsible. For men, driving with skill is a matter of pride. Responsible men take pride in their safety record. Irresponsible men test their skill by driving dangerously.

I don't know many men that truly hate driving, but I know many women who do (even though they drive.) Because of this attitude, they don't take pleasure in driving well. They just want to do it well enough to pass the road test. Like men, this lack of skill can lead to both a positive and a negative outcome. The positive outcome is women who know they don't drive well and therefore are exceptionally careful. My dad's wife is a great example of that. She is so uncomfortable driving that she never goes in reverse. Not even to pull out of a parking spot. She drives the car into the backyard, and my dad drives it out to turn it around so she can leave driving forward in the morning. But her advantage is that she knows she is not a good driver and because of that she's extremely careful. 5 days a week for the last seven years, she has made the 30 miles (each way) commute from Akron to Cleveland without a single accident or a close encounter. That's 110,000 accident-free miles, both ways in rush-hour (though traffic/drivers aren't crazy in Ohio. She'd really not make it in here in New York) and that's a lot more admirable than some hot shot man who handles his car exceptionally, but crashes all the time because he weaves in and out of traffic and passes people in the oncoming lane. On the other hand, a woman who has no interest in the skill of driving can be very dangerous. She can assume that just because she has a car and a license, she is qualified to drive w/o directing any further attention to the road. Basically, it's up to the other motorists to avoid crashing into her when she merges blindly into the freeway, etc. And indeed, most drivers out there are alert for this kind of stuff. But eventually her luck will run out. As one such woman is blindly merging into the expressway, another such woman is mindlessly barreling down the said expressway. Neither have the skill to avoid each other. Drive enough and it will happen.

I also think that aside from skill, there's another factor that differentiates men from women. Men are, on average calmer and relax easier. And you need to be relaxed in order to be a safe driver. I think that it took me about a year and a half before I started getting into a "zone" when I drive. I pay no conscious attention to the road whatsoever, but am very alert subconsciously. When you relax and don't stress, driving becomes as natural and walking and breathing. Men have a better chance of getting into this zone because (perhaps due to nature, perhaps to nurture) we are better equipped to deal with inevitable risk. When I drive, I realize that something can happen and I can get hurt, but I don't actively stress about it. It's like the inevitable risk associated with a hunt. You just don't think actively about it. On the other hand, a woman is more likely to give more frequent thought to just how dangerous driving is and therefore stress about it, thus making herself a worse driver.

And since we are on the topic..... here's a story of my most notable drunk driving. I needed an excuse to type it up anyway. Hope it's good for a laugh, as well as anecdotal evidence.

I remember being so drunk that I stumbled out of the bar not knowing which way is up or down. Somehow I got into a fight with the bouncer in which my gf wisely intervened before it came to serious blows, and then she had to lead me to the car, since I had no idea where it was. She was buzzed but in control. However, she doesn't drive, and there was no choice but to either get behind the wheel or sleep on the street. She looked into my drunken eyes and asked me if I could drive this drunk. I said I didn't know but I was willing to give it a try, if she promised to tell me if I was doing bad so we could pull over and sleep in the car or something. She said she wouldn't have it any other way. And so it started.

At first, I thought it was funny that I couldn't remember how the ignition worked (there's a little catch that locks the wheel, which I usually switch off subconsciously) but as I got the motor purring, it was time to get serious. I turned the AC on full blast in my face to keep from getting too cozy I sat up straight, and put it into gear. We were off...

The streets were empty (Friday night on Long Island) and when I am sober I like to go 80 down these twisting, hilly roads. But not this time. The speed limit was 55. I started off going about 40, but felt that I could handle it quite well (the GF looked intent on watching the road but not scared) and went up to 55 not to seem suspicious (I wasn't 21 at the time and if I got pulled over by any reason, and found to be drunk, my license would be revoked automatically.) As we hit the first sequence of traffic lights, I found myself quite capable of measuring the distance to stop in front of them. I didn't let my confidence go to my head - I knew I was still piss drunk and it was no time to get comfortable. As we hit more populated areas, I slowed down and kept significant distance from cars next to me, just in case.

As we got onto campus, and to my dorms parking lot, I decided to jar my gf a little, and did one of those "hit the breaks and jam the wheel to the side and skid into the parking space" things. Made it in perfectly.

I asked the GF how I did, and she said that expect for that last thing, I performed quite well. I relaxed and tried to exit the car, only to drip over the mat and nearly fall down. She supported me to the building, and asked me if I was capable of going up the stairs.

I thought I was, and nodded to that effect. But it was not to be. Half way up the first flight, I tripped, fell a few steps down, and decided to crawl up the rest of the way. As I reached the landing, I found it funny that I had previously fallen down. I also found the floor quite welcoming, but the GF came up the stairs and insisted that we progress down the hall to my room before passing out.

The moral is that if you've got some skill, and the mind to be responsible, then your blood alcohol level isn't a tell-all of your capacity to drive.


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