Saturday, 10 December 2011

Absolutely Avoid Absolutes!

One of the things I have wondered about over the last few years is whether driving is an art or a science?  By that I mean, whether you can learn to drive by learning and applying a set of rules alone i.e., science, or whether there is an element of judgement and interpretation i.e., art.  Of course the reality is that it is a combination of both.  I find that many people when starting to learn to drive tend to think of it as purely a science, a set of rules which must be applied in each and every situation, and application of those rules can deal with every road situation which might occur.

However, whilst the initial learning is predominantly scientific in nature, the good driver will learn to be more flexible in the application of the rules learned, adapting them when required so that they more aptly fit different situations that the driver encounters on the road.   I call this roadcraft - the ability to interpret and appraise different driving situations and apply learned skills appropriately according to the circumstances.

So often I see drivers applying their learned skills rigidly, usually because that is what they have been taught to do.  Whilst technically correct, this unbending application does not necessarily make for good driving.  We all have to be flexible, allowing conditions on the road to influence our decision making and our subsequent actions when behind the wheel.

On some of the forums I frequent there are often requests for advice about how to deal with common difficulties such as stalling when pulling away or how to handle roundabouts.  Very often these requests elicit responses which contain advice such as 'When you get 30 metres away from the roundabout change into 2nd gear at about 20 miles an hour...'.  The problem with this is that whilst the advice may be valid for some roundabouts, it is not necessarily valid for all and to suggest that it is, is very unwise.  Every roundabout has to be judged on its merits because every roundabout is different.  Regardless of the actual layout of the roundabout, the traffic will vary hugely between roundabouts and also on the same roundabout.  Therefore, there is no absolutely cast-iron method of defining how to handle a roundabout.  Yes, there are guidelines for how to do so, but these guidelines need to be applied with judgement.  Therein lies the problem, and the difficulty for most learners.  Roundabouts require judgement and judgement cannot be learned in a scientific way.  It is an art.

There are no absolutes in driving, other than the law (arguably), and it is unwise to think that there are.  Each of us has to drive with an open mind, observing, assessing and reacting to dynamic, fluid and constantly changing situations.  This is the art of driving!

My advice to any driver, learner or experienced, would be to absolutely avoid absolutes - because there aren't any!

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