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Defensive driving saves lives but wrecks marriages

We were recently on the road for six hours in each direction between Maine and New York to see family. I was behind the wheel the entire time so Carol could check Facebook on her phone for friends posting new videos of kittens adorably provoking larger animals without being eaten alive.

While unpacking the car after we made it home, Carol turned to me and said, “You are a defensive driver.” I offered my thanks for her compliment. “You misunderstand,” she responded — “I don’t mean that you drive well; I mean that you can’t accept any criticism regarding how you handle the car.”

I was rather flummoxed by her observation and asked her to provide some examples. “You pass people on the right.” I said that was only when some fool in the far left lane was going too damn slow. “You drive too fast.” I reminded her she was just as anxious to get home as I was. “You fiddle with the radio and take your eyes off the road.” I told her I could not tolerate any country music, had recently become a big fan of hippity-hop, and would listen only to tunes of that genre.

stunt-car“This is what I mean! You have an excuse for every bit of your obnoxious behavior!” I responded she was welcome to take over the driving duties any time if she felt she could do better. She sighed while saying, “You continue to prove my point,” and then walked into the house, leaving me to bring in our overnight bags, her hanging clothes, a half-eaten bag of potato chips, several empty pouches of M&Ms, and the seven pairs of shoes she’d packed for our two-night visit.

But after letting her bitching comments sink in for a bit, I decided to practice what she’d preached and make an effort to become a less frantic, more considerate driver. I had to run a number of errands yesterday and spent a fair amount of time on various roads. Every time someone was merging onto the Maine Turnpike, I moved into the left lane to provide them with a clear path rather than gunning it to get ahead of them. When a car was trying to turn onto the street from a parking lot, I slowed and signaled them to pull out in front of me instead of rolling past and further delaying their egress. When the light changed on a two-way street, I flashed my lights to permit the opposing driver to complete a left turn before I proceeded through the intersection. I have to admit — I felt more relaxed behind the wheel and didn’t even bother to change the station when Fetty Wap’s raspy rap faded and Kenny Chesney’s tremulous voice came through the speakers.

Last on my list was to pick up Carol at work since her car was in the shop. Because of all the courtesies I’d extended and the measured pace I’d traveled throughout the day, I ended up arriving a half-hour later than she expected. But I figured once I told her how I’d taken her words to heart and embraced a more responsible approach to being on the road, she’d understand and be pleased that I’d turned over a new leaf.

I was wrong about that. “What took you so long?” she asked as I hopped out and went to open the passenger door for her. I said driving at the posted speed limit, while safer, also took a bit more time. “Why didn’t you let me know you were running late?” I pointed out that keeping my focus on the road meant I couldn’t allow myself to be distracted by texting or talking on the phone. “I’m going to miss the start of my yoga class, so you’d better hurry up and get me there as quickly as possible.” I stated that as long as I was driving I had no intention of putting her in harm’s way by rushing to get anywhere. Carol looked at me and said, “Fair enough” before pushing me out of the way, jumping into the driver’s seat and taking off toward her appointment.

The setting sun illuminated the evening sky with brilliant pinks and purples, and I drank in the peaceful vista while trying to flag down a ride from passing motorists who obviously could have benefited from the same insights recently shared with me about what constitutes courteous driving.  As the temperature dropped and I started to shiver from the cold, I hoped that Carol was following her own advice and wouldn’t allow herself to become distracted by calling to see where I was; also she’d driven off with my phone still in the car. Once I realized no one was going to stop, I had an epiphany while jumping out of the way of the cars that swerved to feign they were going to run me over:  the safest way to drive was to not drive at all. I would gladly turn over all responsibility for being behind the wheel for future trips to my life partner.

And just wait until she hears what I have to say about the way SHE drives, from the comfort of the passenger seat.

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