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Why won't anyone admit to being a bad driver?

How do you handle a lousy driver – when they're behind the wheel of the car you're in?

Maybe you're going to luck out. Maybe this is a one-off, and you'll never see this person again. A friend of a friend who offered to drop you off one day. Nothing a little door-handle clinging won't cover as you dig around for your mental rosary.

But what if it's your spouse? Your wife who panics at a yellow light, or your husband who insists on looking at you the whole time he's talking to you? What if you have a driver with tunnel vision – are you really the only one who can see that kid stepping off the sidewalk just up there, or the car backing out of that driveway?

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How often is too often to warn someone you love that this is a stop sign? How many physical warning signs do you employ before you give up and scream, "Watch out!"? A sharp intake of breath can be used like Morse code. Jamming your own imaginary brake pedal is pretty obvious.

I admit it; if I'm in a car, I prefer to be the driver. I'm not a control freak, but I'm a car control freak. I can't remember the last time I dozed off with someone else behind the wheel.

There are actually a lot of factors that figure into becoming, and staying, a good driver. Cars are changing so rapidly, that even the purchase of a new vehicle after a few years will present new challenges. When you get a new computer, few of you pull up a chair and instantly know everything the new one is capable of doing.

It's the same with a new car. Better handling might lead to over-correcting at first; that doesn't mean anything except you have to adapt to better handling. Manufacturers are getting a lot of power out of smaller engines, so be prepared to adjust things like merging. Stability control makes a huge difference in handling a slide in winter, but you have to know what your car is doing. Same with ABS, which will hand you a lot of control in stopping, but can actually lengthen the distance you need to stop on things like ice or gravel.

If you've been driving for any length of time, simple bad habits can become ingrained. You brush your teeth the same way every day, and twice a year your dentist tells you to floss more. If you took an advanced driver training course, you'd hear something similar. But nobody does, so we all know we should floss more, but we don't realize our driving patterns are becoming more dangerous with each passing year.

Of course, some people are just flat-out lousy drivers. Impatient, inattentive, aggressive, timid, arrogant or oblivious. And optics can be deadly; one of the worst drivers I know believes they are excellent, yet I won't even get in a car with this person. I've tried addressing the matter, but was totally stonewalled.

There's a big difference between driving with your still-learning teen who should get better, and your senior parent who might get worse. As our population ages, we still haven't tackled what can only become a herd of elephants in the room. When should mom or dad stop driving?

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Family doctors are required to petition for licence suspensions when a patient is no longer fit to drive. I have a friend who is a physician, and she had a family stage a meltdown in her waiting room, fighting her. Gramps understandably didn't want to give up his car; his family, remarkably, didn't want him to either. It meant disrupting their own lives to accommodate the huge changes the loss of freedom would bring, and they said as much. I still wonder if they let the grand-kids drive with him.

Police are now trained to not just spot drunk drivers, but impaired drivers of every stripe. We pop more pills than any generation in history, and for more reasons. It's Big Pharma turning that key in too many ignitions, yet how do we yank the keys from what is arguably the most entitled segment of our population – drivers?

That idiot who just passed you on the right thinks you're an idiot for stubbornly sitting in a passing lane. That idiot who merged so late thinks you're an idiot for refusing to let him in. That idiot anticipating a red light thinks you're an idiot for not looking far enough down the road. That idiot who pulled out right in front of you thinks you're an idiot for speeding in his neighbourhood.

It's a funny thing about driving. Nobody will admit to being bad at it. Someone being untalented in most areas – skiing, karaoke, backgammon – will only endanger or embarrass themselves, for the most part. How do you handle a conversation that involves someone you love? Or might be afraid of? Or do you? Maybe you can avoid them and save yourself, but what about the rest of us out there? Maybe a more important question to ask is, how would you handle someone you trust having that conversation about you?

Everybody can't be great at everything. Except driving. Our roads are populated by the best drivers, anywhere. Just ask them.

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About the Author
Drive, She Said columnist

Lorraine Sommerfeld began writing when she was about to turn 40, because it was cheaper than a red convertible. Her weekly column Drive, She Said, while existing in the automobile section, is a nod to those of us who tend to turn the key rather than pop the hood. More


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