Safety Tip From Lila’s Dad: Drive Like You Know Where You Are… Even When You Don’t

Posted on September 5, 2014


Lila has had the misfortune to live in one of the nation’s worst-rated cities when it comes to traffic. The traffic gurus define this as congestion and length of commutes. I would like to add to that: the sheer density of clueless drivers, who seem completely incompetent to maintain a steady speed or even to stay more or less in their lane. Clearly, these were the kids who could not color inside the lines back when they were in kindergarten.

Usually the problem is distracted driving, and with summer in full swing, we have been plagued by another phenomenon which greatly magnifies that distraction: drivers who don’t know where the heck they are, and it shows. Oh, it shows. The slowing down at every turnoff and intersection; the turn signals initiated then cancelled, as the car speeds up again; the drifting over the lines, threatening to run off the road or into oncoming traffic; and finally the sudden braking and sharp turn across several lanes of traffic to reach the destination.

Dangerous? You bet, but for more reasons than you might realize.

Lila’s Dad was CIA and had been through all the fancy defensive driving courses. Lila’s driver’s education was perhaps a little more interesting than what most kids get when their parents ride along. The topic of how to drive when lost most definitely came up, and Dad’s advice was: drive like you know where you are, especially if you are lost. Don’t panic if you miss your turn; the car goes in all directions! Maintain speed, stay in your lane, stay alert. Use your eyes to look for signs to a major highway or some obvious landmark. If you must consult a map, don’t do it while driving; choose a parking lot, park, figure out where you are, then get back on the road.

Having GPS does not relieve a driver from this last responsibility, because the whole idea is not only to actually drive competently, but to look like you know what you are doing. Having your face stuck in a map, or having your head craned over the GPS while you fiddle with the buttons, just screams that you are a babe in the woods, no clue where you are… or that you are just terminally oblivious and unprepared, which can make you a target for crime (carjackings have been a fairly regular occurrence in the DC area the past few years).  And then there is the whole phenomenon of people blindly following their errant GPS directions into lakes, or Death Valley, or any number of other obvious no-go areas.  Get your eyes out of the car and on the real-world road, and you might see the signs and barriers for these things… or you might even see the obstacles themselves and actually know what to do about it.  Radical, I know, but just give it a try.

For Dad’s purposes, “driving like you know where you are” helped him avoid detection in strange cities; lost people stick out like a sore thumb (one of these things is not like the others!…). For my purposes – a young single female at the time – it helped reduce the chances that some goon might try to victimize me. Confidence (or at least, looking like you are confident) can be a deterrent to bullies, criminals and other such charming sorts.

Then there is the more immediate and everyday concern: traffic safety.  Since lost drivers are generally distracted drivers,  the obvious immediate danger is a collision, whether with oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or inanimate objects. Distracted driving is the number one cause of traffic accidents in America. So back to that part about having your head craned over the GPS while you fiddle with the buttons: yeah, not much different from texting while driving, and just all-around not smart.

So, from Lila’s Dad: act like you know where you are, confidently and competently drive to a parking lot, park, and then fiddle with your GPS.