Reflection: Rules of Driving Applied to Life

By Rachel C. Thompson


Who remembers drivers education?

It appears, as I drive, that few people have. How may remember that crusty, perpetually annoyed instructor or that first day we got to drive without a learner’s permit?

But didn’t we quickly forget the actual rules. Some of them were important then as now. What I didn’t know at sixteen is that the five rules of defensive driving from drivers education are also rules for life. Not dogmatic rules but certainly practical guidelines.

What were those drivers ed rules?

Stay in your lane, yield the right of way, look before you go and so many others but foremost, I recall the five rules of defensive driving. Different schools name these five rules differently but the five rules amount to the same key ideas. Today the wording has changed but the ideas remain.

In my mind they are:

  1. Aim high and look ahead to leave yourself an out.
  2. Be aware of blind spots. Know that you can’t see it all.
  3. Slow down at intersections. Think before acting.
  4. Maintain a safe following distance.
  5. Avoid distractions

That sounds like a life plan to me.

Let’s break it down:

Aim high and look ahead.

That tells me to look forward and move toward my goals. That is, to look forward and plan and anticipate ways to reach the goal. The road just doesn’t happen to us, we have to drive our lives forward to get anywhere and if we see where we are going, or want to go, the road is not so random and mysterious. We can sail our own boat and steer our own course better if we look ahead and see what is before us. This way, trouble is anticipated before it happens and we can turn off a troubled road and find another rout.

Be aware of blind spots. I disagree with Donald Rumsfeld on nearly everything but this, in concept, he got right. “…because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are things and events beyond our control and knowing, which may or may not happen.”

We do not know all that can happen but we should be ready for such possibilities.

“Is he pulling out? What, no turn signal!”

We know there are cars on the road we can’t control or see and they can’t see us. What does that say about conducting our lives? Plan for unanticipated obstacles. Save a little money, for example, say you’re studying law but your aging parents, who are paying the bills, are in bad health. What happens if they pass and tuition money dries up? You don’t know when or if, but to be ready for the worst is to suffer less when things go wrong. Expect the unexpected. Like Monty Python’s flying Circus said in a sketch. “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Rule three goes well with rule two, slow down at intersections. Why is easy; if you don’t know what you’re looking at, why forgo caution? That’s nuts.

You approach the intersection and there are a lot of roads going different ways ahead. You aren’t sure which is best and flying through increases your chances of making a wrong turn. When life gets complicated slow down and consider your road ahead. Stop and think when necessary.

Which way do you really want to go? Is traffic pushing you mindlessly along? It’s the same in freeway traffic. You see a semi-truck way ahead with its flashers on. You plan a way around it, change lanes. The lady texting in the slow lane next to you runs right up on the semi’s tailgate before she sees it. She gets stuck there while you sail by.

You slowed down to plan before hitting the gas, she didn’t.

How about the safe following distance rule? This gets metaphorical and esoteric. We all must follow others. Everyone can’t be the boss or the leader and many of us aren’t qualified. But we are qualified to decide if this leader should be followed and obeyed or not.

From a safe mental distance of consideration and critical thinking, we can indeed see if the bus driver—the bus we’re on—is drunk, crazy, greedy or otherwise out of control. When taking the long view intellectually, emotionally and otherwise, we see deeper. We know where the bus is going. Get too close to the driver by trusting blindly—cults and ideologies—you’ll be stapled to your seat when the Greyhound flies over a cliff.

Rule five is to avoid distractions: be it your cup of coffee, screaming kids or phone. Focus keeps you alive longer. In life, distractions are everywhere on every level and some are unavoidable while others are necessary and beneficial. The baby laughing is a joyful distraction at the football game in my view. Choose your distractions well.

You can decide to do Facebook manically or you can learn something useful. You can waste time or use it effectively. Some distractions are helpful: That car pulling out suddenly is a distraction and dangerous but you’ll have time to employ the brakes if you followed the other rules.

Knowing what’s important about life-driving will preserve and enhance one’s life. Drivers ed tells me to steer well with eyes peeled in order to decide what turn to seek, but be aware of the road’s pitfalls. An undistracted, focused life-driver, anticipating blind spots and planning contingencies embodies how and why people get things done.

It’s how drivers survive the road.

I’m not surprised theses common driving rules reflect and support life. Like fractal geometry and the Golden Ratio, some concepts are universal. People that drive aimlessly are where most accidents come from. Those who drive through life with open, attentive eyes may not get there first, the destination may change, but they stand a better change of arriving.


This is Louise. We also call her “Louisa Bear” or “Louisa May Alcott” or “Louise Margaret the Peg Leg.”

Louise was an abandoned pet who friendly neighbors cared for and built a heated shelter for… but one day Louise suddenly had a serious injury so the nice neighbors called Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab. FURR took Louise to the vet, and the vet said it looked like poor Louise had been hit by a car, but she was spayed so she had been someone’s pet. No microchip though.

Louise came to a foster family who had experience with tripod cats healing after amputation. She is extremely shy and aggressively afraid of dogs. She doesn’t even like most other cats and will hide under the bed if they are around. She’s the kind of cat who needs a quiet home and will reward you by sitting with you will you watch TV and sleep curled up against your body.

When she first came into foster care, she was terrified of yawns, coughs and sneezes. That, and her uncharacteristic aggressive behavior toward any size dogs, makes her foster family wonder if she was attacked by an animal.

To adopt Louise or look at other cats available through FURR, visit FelineUrbanRescueandRehab.org.

Published by Angel Ackerman

Writer, Editor, Traveler, Fashionista, Francophile, Student and Mother

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