Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Driving Without Ego

It’s no secret how much ego American’s invest in their cars. In more than just a marketing, self-commodifying, status-seeking sense, our cars (or bicycles, or even our bus routes) are an extension of ourselves. How could our motility in whatever form not have an effect on how we view ourselves interacting with the social world?

My experience of driving is still limited. I’ve had a license for only about 14 years, and for a not insignificant amount of that time I lived an urban, no-drive lifestyle. But I’ve also driven the long way around the USA, from Philadelphia to Vancouver to San Diego to Houston and back, a trip of several thousand miles. I’ve taken numerous other long distance trips. So far I’ve gotten 1 speeding ticket and caused 1 collision (property damage only, no injuries, I’m fortunate). And lately I’ve been delivering Chinese food part time, which has proven to be a somewhat novel experience. I also love to drive.

For a while now, I’ve also been interested in the ways that we live our ethics. Philosophy sometimes has this appearance of being a leisure-time pursuit, a thing somehow outside of the various practices of everyday life…outside of sleeping, eating, working, watching tv, etc. But just a little reflection can usually belie that appearance. When we eat meat or abstain, when we do our duty or follow our heart, when we stare at the boob-tube or attend the cinema, we are living the ideas we have about our place and conduct in the world. Even when we’re just reading philosophy, we’re living philosophy.

And driving style is like this also.

Sometimes it can seem really cut-throat out there on the road amidst the traffic. And we might make of that a kind of metaphor for the world. That the world is cut-throat, a “rat race,” each of us paddling our separate canoes, trying to make our way in spite of everyone else. What I’m saying, I guess, is that while driving can be a metaphor for the larger world it also is the larger world.

And I’ve been thinking lately about how my own driving style could both reflect and embody a more ethical practice of life. It boils down to 3 general behaviors: be aware, be generous, and drive without emotion.


  • I think it’s generally true that if you think you’re a good driver, then you’re not. A good driver is one who always strives to be good, not one who rests satisfied in the knowledge that they are good. A proud driver is a complacent driver.
  • Unchain yourself from that pride in your skill by being aware of the limits of your control. Can your skill prevent another driver from having a heart attack and swerving across your lane? Can your skill ensure that the transmission of the car ahead of you does not suddenly slip or freeze? A person can’t even claim to control their own body except in limited ways, so much of it runs automatically without our conscious input. Remember that and be humble.
  • But what you can control makes you responsible for the safety all of the drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and property within your range of action. Behind the wheel, you vastly expand your potential for harm and destruction. Any time you’re driving, a split-second of inattention could make you a paralyzer or a murderer. You must protect others from yourself.
  • While you can’t prevent other drivers from acting like fools, you’d be a fool yourself not to make allowances for them. Speaking of which…


  • The road does not belong to you alone, so don’t think you have the right to feel abused when someone cuts you off. The difference between them taking the road and you giving the road is only a question of attitude. Be generous and give the road freely.
  • Let other drivers be your guests, not your enemies, even when they are rude.
  • Give the driver in front of you room to brake as you would wish your guests to be comfortable.
  • Give other drivers room to merge as you would open your front door to a friend.
  • Give other drivers the ability to predict your behavior with efficient and effective use of turn signals. Drive with deliberate and clear intent, so as not to put other drivers on edge.


  • Emotion won’t get you where you need to go, and it won’t make traffic move any faster, but it can slow you down by making you sloppy.
  • When you’re running late, stress can build, but there is no malice in the advance of time, just as there would be no ill-will in the crush of steel. These things are not your enemies. You cannot defeat them by hating them. Anger will not slow the passage of time or allow you to pass through solid objects, so keep your cool and your wits about you.

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