Driving Schooled: I Make Driving Fun Again . . . AND Make You a Better Driver

Thursday, May 7, 2015 | 0 Comment(s)

When I was 16, the majority of my best friends lived in New York State, with me living a stone's throw over the Massachusetts border.  Six months later when I got my first car, a used, light blue, 1986 Volvo 740 GLE that I called the Matt-Mobile, I was off.  Every weekend that didn't involve a family or sport's committment, I hopped in my freedom ride and took to the relatively open road of Route 20, headed toward Albany.

I loved driving. I didn't need a souped up engine under the hood or a flashy spoiler on my trunk to enjoy the experience of getting behind the wheel.  Rolling down the windows was enough for me.  The act of driving meant that I, for the first time in my life, got to choose my own destination.  I was no longer at the mercy of car pools, ride shares, and asking my parents for a lift to the mall.  The independence my vehicle afforded me helped guide me in the direction of the future I wanted for myself, which I had not found in Pittsfield's Wendy's or Dunkin' Donuts' parking lots.  I know, cause that's where i looked during most lunch hours throughout high school.

My Dream Car: 1970's BMW 2002 -Daytona Orange
Somewhere along the double yellow lined highway of life, I started to enjoy my time behind the wheel less and less. There were a bunch of factors. I drove across the country six times. My back turned on me, making sitting for long periods of time painful. When I lost a great deal of sight in my right eye a few years ago, it was the final nail in the coffin for driving as anything other than a means of getting me from place to place.

But that sucks. With the weather getting nice and with the new tires just put on my present car, a 2004 Volvo S60 with some giddy-up, I miss the relaxation of a long drive to nowhere in particular. So, I decided to make up a driving game to re-engage me with the road.

The basic concept is to try to drive your car like a fixed gear bicycle. No, you don't have to buy new pants that are way too small, grow a mustache, and buy black frame glasses. The game is not to be a hipster, it is to try and revise your driving strategy to waste as little energy as possible.

For example, for those of you non-bike enthusiasts, most fixed gear bikes have no brakes. You stop by pedaling backward, or more accurately you slow down by applying force in the reverse direction. I've also seen badass bike messengers use versions of a hockey-stop for emergency brakes, but let's not get crazy here. So, if your car didn't have breaks (do not cut your breaks to increase difficulty) you would want to keep it moving at a pace that is both "road appropriate" and leaves enough room in front of you in order to coast toward any future stoppages without the need for pumping the brakes. If you are tailgating the person in front of you when they decide to turn, you are forced to either brake or accelerate around them -- both no-no's of the game. So leave a cushion.

"Hold on, the roads a bit ruff!"
There are a number of factors that must also be taken into consideration. Traffic, of course, is the main variable. And I will reiterate the number one rule of this game: Playing it does not mean you should drive like an asshole and inconvenience everyone around you! My emphasis added. Part of the game's challenge, in fact, is pacing your vehicle so that despite the fact you are forgoing any excess force, you are also inconspicuous amongst other travelers. This being said, some drivers are real jerks. They'll be angry no matter what you do. Those people don't count. That applies to this specific situation and more broadly to life.

Anticipating the terrain is integrally important. A successful competitor uses downhills for acceleration and then calculates the effect of the upcoming hill on their spacing between other vehicles. You quickly learn that depending on how you handle turns, they can be used to speed up or slow down. Some of my favorite local areas to play the game have long runs of hills and curves that are in decent enough condition to allow the car to coast for a mile or two without touching a pedal.

But I promised to make you a better driver, and I know you're anxious to get to the part that relates to making you better. So here's the best part. Just by playing the game, you will be a better driver. No extra steps, no hidden homework. I've integrated a number of mechanisms of action to change your driving behavior without you feeling a thing.

First, this game requires maximal awareness of the road, other vehicles, stoplights, potential hazards, road conditions, traffic flow, etc. One of the fastest growing causes of car accidents today comes from a lack of attention paid to the road. With phone calls, texting, and sweet sound systems vying for drivers' attentions, the art of scanning your periphery has been forsaken in favor of checking your phone. Just lifting your eyes up and out increases your abilities immensely as a everyday driver.

While minimizing usage of the gas and brakes serves as the framework for the game as a whole, it's also one of the most energy efficient ways to drive, and therefore decreases your carbon footprint! Using less energy makes you a better driver . . . for the planet!!!!! Not to mention that once you play the game enough, it can start to affect which route you take, opting for well paved roads with a faster traffic flow. Knowledge is power.

The final benefit of this revolutionary car competition revolves around one's inner well-being. I'm a holistic healer after all. I don't know about you, but oftentimes when I'm commuting home, my mindset is . . . GET ME HOME NOW!!!!!!!! >:- []  I catch myself riding closer and closer to the bumper of the car in front of me. When did I become a monster?

Until I start playing the game. It's calming, I swear. It takes that feeling you create, that one where you have to constantly feel like you're in a desperate rush to feel at all productive, and removes it completely from commonplace commutes. The game is a trusted friend reminding you to take a few deep breathes.

The game is my breath of fresh air. Breathe it in.

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