War games taught me how to drive

Created on Tuesday, October 21, 2008.
Filed under .

These days you hire a driving instructor to teach you the road rules and how to pass the driving test, with the only experience you earn coming from the tame backroad drives you’re guided through. It’s with this handicap that young drivers take to the road, and contribute to the glut of car accidents involving youngsters. The only time they teach you defensive driving is at Driver’s Ed, when you’ve already screwed up.

I’ve never taken a defensive driving lesson, but I’ve read a little on it, and more importantly I’ve played first-person shooter games. Strangely enough, violent, child-corrupting, no-good FPS taught me the most important lessons I carry with me on the road.

  1. To maintain 360° of control.

  2. To be aware of specific danger zones.

I maintain 360° of control by checking mirrors and idiot lights regularly. I don’t turn the music on too loud and I keep the window open at least a crack so that I can hear the traffic around me. Not only does checking your mirrors keep you privy to prowling police cars and emergency vehicles you can’t hear yet, but it lets you place the cars that are around you on a mental grid so that you know the safest avenue of escape if there’s a sudden emergency.

I extend my control further by watching the side mirrors and wheels of cars that I am passing. By the direction the driver is looking, the number of times he checks a side, and the position of his wheels, you can easily predict his intentions. And if you see a mobile phone or a chatty passenger, you can brace for surprises.

“The patrol must maintain 360-degree control - 357 degrees leaves three slivers of time and space open, and this is where the enemy enters and now you are dead.”
— Anthony Swofford, Jarhead

When I mention specific danger zones I am not only talking about things like driveways, blind corners, detritus on the road and so forth. I’m talking about situational things that people don’t usually pay attention to. While playing Armed Assault I noticed that the AI, when driving a Humvee, would stop just outside a town until the whole column was assembled with it and then speed through the streets as fast as it could, returning to a normal speed once it was back on clear road. It made sense that, since being hemmed in by buildings would make an ambush easier to set, the less time spent in that area, and the less of an opportunity given to the enemy, the better.

We all know that there is a blind spot in a car. Someone else’s blind spot is a terrible place to be. When there is a car to your side, never travel beside it such that you are behind its side mirror. Either speed up a little to travel level with the other car, or fall back and hang behind. It might seem counter-intuitive to speed up for safety, but travelling level means that you can be seen even from the periphery of the other driver’s vision.

Another danger zone is a merging lane. Either speed up or slow down to ensure you’re out of the way of merging traffic, or more preferably, change to the next lane. It means you’re away from potential trouble, and also that you can safely overtake the merging traffic which is naturally going slower.

Lastly, there’s roundabouts. Always watch the lane that is supposed to have stopped for you. Always listen for the sound of an engine revving away with no sign of abating.

That’s all the wisdoms I have for you tonight, reader. What it boils down to is mirrors, blind spots and avoidance. The road is to get you from A to B; it’s not a skirmish. We’re not trying to Defend the Lane For Twenty Minutes. It’s okay to fall back or move to another lane altogether.

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
© Desi Quintans, 2002 – 2018.