You’re not as awesome as you think you are

One of my least favourite things is getting into a car with a motorhead who thinks he’s the world’s most awesome driver. I had to do this not so long ago with someone who approached each new street as though it was his own personal race track. You’d think we were being launched into space from the Battlestar Galactica, rather than popping over to the hardware store for some tap washers.

I suspect he was trying to show off, but I was the wrong audience. Sure, he can make his big car go vroom-vroom, but it’s not like he’s Greg Murphy. Accelerating like a race car driver doesn’t make you a race car driver.

Greg Murphy – the actual Greg Murphy – has suggested this week that professional driver training should be compulsory for anyone who wants to get a driver’s licence. I think that’s a great idea. It will come with extra expense and inconvenience, but if it helps to create a generation of better motorists then let’s give it the green light.

In fact, it probably wouldn’t hurt for established drivers to take refresher courses too. I’d love to get some tips from a professional driver.

I was 17 the last time I did any sort of driver training. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been doing your own thing unchecked for years, reinforcing sloppy driving habits you don’t even know you have.

Forgive me, I don’t mean to imply that you need driver training. You’re no doubt a very competent driver. Just like me. I’m excellent.

After all, who is the one person that you trust the most behind the wheel? Is it you? Do you secretly assume that you’re a better driver than everyone else?

I would never admit this out loud, but I’m totally the best driver in my family. In my mind, at least. (I’m pretty sure I can hear my wife scoffing over my shoulder about now.)

I don’t think any of us is as consistent behind the wheel as we like to think we are. It only requires a split second to make a permanent mistake. There’s no room for arrogance when you’re piloting a metal machine that rockets past other metal machines at 100kph. It’s amazing that we hand over the keys to these things without more training.

Cars are such an integral part of our lives that we forget just how effective they are at squashing us. We are soft, breakable creatures unsuited for hurtling around in missiles. Our bodies weren’t exactly made to withstand impacts at those speeds.

If only we were just a bit more careful, a bit less cocky about our own ability.

It’ll never happen to me, we think, sneaking a peek at that cell phone or reaching into the back seat for the chips. Every tragedy on the road is an unnecessary one.

What’s the rush anyway? What is it about cars that makes going faster the most important thing in the world?

I admit that slow drivers can be infuriating. Worst of all are those who clog up the road and then speed up as soon as they hit the passing lane. Yeah, those drivers deserve a good honking.

In general though, I try to take a breath and take it easy. Admittedly, it’s not hard to take it easy in our Honda Odyssey.

Yes, I drive a big fat lumbering automatic. There goes my street cred.

So don’t take it from me, take it from a professional driver. Here’s what Greg Murphy told the Herald: “We could have a lot more young Kiwis, and New Zealanders as a whole, still with us if we just changed a few simple things.”

Murphy says New Zealanders are “terrible” drivers and that the issue is driver training. You don’t have to respect the guy in the Odyssey, but the Bathurst winner might be worth listening to on this one.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 7 March 2014. Reproduced with permission.

A year ago today…