So you finally have your driver's license. Congratulations! That plastic card (or in our case, a piece of printed paper) is far more meaningful than most of us even realize. It signifies a world of freedom, one where a driver -that's you- can literally chart his or her own path through personal mobility.
There is no feeling quite like being in control of your own vehicle as it takes you places that you want to go. At the same time, however, that means you'll have to fend for yourself amidst the mayhem dealt daily by metro traffic or fast highway driving.
The presumption here is that you've been taught how to operate a vehicle, manipulated the controls, how to read road signs and markings, how to negotiate turns, and the like. But to be an effective and safe driver, there are many things that you'll have to learn on your own; lessons that many of us have acquired through events and incidents that we, more often than not, charged to experience.
To help you get started on being a better, safer, and more confident driver on the road, here are five important lessons that I'd like to share based on observations I've had of beginners behind the wheel. Hopefully, these can help younger drivers out there to be more alert, be savvier, and ultimately safer users of the road for years to come.
Keep Your Head On A Swivel
One observation I have of beginner drivers is that they tend to be frozen while behind the wheel. Sometimes it's a combination of inexperience and fear, sometimes it's tension caused by having to negotiate our streets, but really a driver should always be relaxed.
The point, however, is this: a beginner driver -or any driver, for that matter- should always be moving his or her head around.
When I drive, my head almost always in motion, especially in urban driving. It's not about snapping your head around left and right, but continuously scanning around. My eyes always transition from my primary field of vision to my mirrors, street signs, road markings, cars, motorcycles, buses, pedestrians, jeepneys, stray animals, and more. The reason is simple: better direct vision leads to better awareness of the situation around you.
There are those who argue that they have good peripheral vision, and that's true; a person's field of vision is usually about 120 degrees. The problem lies in the fact that while our peripheral vision is good, our eyes can only focus on one small point at any given time. And given that most of the things we have to observe are moving themselves, it's better to see them clearly by scanning to be better aware of what is going on around and respond.
Keep your head moving and continuously check your surroundings while behind the wheel and don't be afraid to look like a bit of a bobblehead.
Give Space Even If It Hurts
If you've noticed, many of the typical accidents that we encounter in the metro are really low speed collisions. These are the fender benders that often result in dings or even just a scratch; essentially nothing in the grand scheme of things. Still, these minor avoidable accidents have an ability to ruin the day of those involved, not to mention bring traffic from the crawl it already is to a total standstill.
Most attribute these accidents to things like being distracted by a phone, not paying attention, or just a driving error. I would, however, categorize most of these accidents under one simple cause: not giving each other space.
I've seen drivers so stubborn as to not give space to a properly signalled vehicle merging into his or her lane. I've seen drivers push another to the wall, the curb or the island in order to get ahead. Most of the time it can even be ironic, as these drivers have some kind of sticker denoting their prestigious school or even their house of worship.
If someone is pushing into your lane like he owns the road, ask yourself this question: is it worth it to push back? If you think it is, then by all means, do as you wish; just be ready if there are any consequences from possible contact. If you don't, then you've probably made the wiser choice; saving a minute or two by defending your position in a line pales in comparison to losing half an hour or more in the event of an easily avoidable accident.
Pride is one of the biggest problems on the road. Be prepared to give space to others, especially the ones that don't deserve it.
Trust Your Gut
We see them all the time; driving maneuvers and acts that are so dangerous and baffling to the mind, yet are still done by drivers despite the warnings that a reasonably experienced person will generally get.
I've seen drivers turn towards a street with all the cars parked on the roadside are facing towards him; it's a sign that it might be a one-way road. I've seen drivers miss their exit on the expressway, yet they think it's perfectly OK to turn on the hazard lights and put it in reverse, all while other cars are going 100 km/h.
The most common sight is the growing number of drivers that choose to cruise slowly on the overtaking lane on an expressway. Perhaps the most dangerous of all are those who choose to speed up when being overtaken on a provincial road; it's relatively harmless if you're on a slow moving boulevard, but it's incredibly risky on a fast provincial highway.
This can be summed up in one statement: if it feels wrong, don't do it. If alarm bells aren't going off in your head during some risky driving maneuvers, you may need to research a bit more on common driving errors.
Distracted Driving Is Dangerous Driving
I cannot stress this enough: put your phone away while the car you're driving is in motion.
Our streets are already distracting enough, and that's a problem if a driver has to be alert of every single moving object and person on the road in front of him. It's stressful to be on the road on a daily basis, not to mention the fatigue most of us get if we have to endure 1 to 2 hours of rush hour traffic each way.
Roadside billboards have also become quite distracting as of late. The ads posted on them have become more and more risque in the past couple of years, and the LED versions can be blinding at night.
So don't add to the distraction willingly. Eyes on the road and on whats going on around you. Put that phone on mute and on silent. If you have a Bluetooth handsfree kit installed, use it. Also avoid getting too distracted by Waze or Google Maps.
This is what they won't tell you in driving school: never assume that those around you know the rules and proper safe practices on the road, or are willing to follow them even if they do.
The thought itself is controversial, but presuming that other drivers have a capacity for ignorance is the mindset that I found to be essential to safe and secure driving, not to mention help keep you sane on the road.
By presuming this ability to completely disregard safe driving and road rules, you won't get too frustrated when others counterflow while you drive patiently in line. This line of thinking should also cause a driver to give others a wide berth, even if it means losing a place in line, or letting a jaywalker by. More importantly, it should help us be more cautious on the road.
While ignorance of the rules, of safety and of common courtesy should never be tolerated, such is the reality of motoring in the (supposedly) third-world; while we absolutely don't like it, we do have to live with it. We can try to enforce proper road use by being vigilantes on the road like blocking every counterflowing vehicle, but that in itself is inviting danger through confrontation. If you really want to make a difference in changing this situation for the better, complain to your Barangay Captain, Mayor, Congressman, Senator, or even President. Or you can just start setting a better example for future drivers.
At the end of the day we all want to get to our destination with as little frustration as possible, so why bother inviting it in and ruin your drive?