Friday, 2 October 2015

My bad driving

I have 28 years of driving experience. Like most drivers, I think I’m a better than average driver. Yet, this week I committed my worst ever piece of driving. Luck was with me: there was no one in the path of my car as it shot up onto and across the footpath.

I had just reversed out of an angle park and back around and into another angle park a few spaces along - this time facing towards the road so that I could cross to the other side of the road when I pulled out. I paused, waiting for a gap in the traffic. Our new car (my first automatic) beeps annoyingly when in reverse, but my subconscious is capable of blocking such things out: I thought I was in drive. When a gap in traffic came, I pushed the accelerator, and reversed instantly over the curb and onto the footpath! Reaching for the brake in shock, my foot missed the pedal. Panicking now, reaching again, this time with both feet, I finally managed to slam my left foot onto the brake, jolting to a stop half way across the footpath.

Shaking, I changed into drive and rolled forwards. Climbing out, I walked around the car, expecting passers by to be stopped on either side of the stretch of footpath I’d just driven over, glaring at me in horror. But although I could see people strolling past the shops in both directions, none of them were close by; they didn't seem to have noticed. Only the young man in the car next to mine watched me. When I looked across, he laughed at me in a friendly way, which calmed me somewhat.

Returning to the car, I took a couple of deep breaths before checking and double checking I was in the correct gear to pull out.

I don’t like thinking about myself as someone who avoided running down a pedestrian only by luck. But the thought that I could have run someone down is a powerful motivation for figuring out what went wrong and what to do differently in the future ...

First, I presume I was on autopilot and that’s why I didn’t notice I hadn’t changed from reverse into drive. Given the human brain’s tendency to wander while performing familiar tasks, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect myself (or any driver) to maintain conscious focus on driving all the time, but it seems like a great idea to practise mindfulness while driving.

Second, I think I was sitting too close to the pedals. Since we got the new car a couple of months ago, I’ve been sitting closer to the pedals than I used to in the old car, in order to have the steering wheel at the most comfortable distance from me. (The distance between steering wheel and pedals must have been different in our old car.) I think that having less space for my legs reduced the speed and accuracy with which I could move my foot to the brake. I’ve done some experimentation with the seat adjustments and I think it will be safer to sit just a little further back.

It turns out I’m not the first driver to make this mistake. Have you experienced missing the brake pedal or being in the wrong gear and moving off in the opposite direction to what you expected?