Dear Tom and Ray:
Today my question is about safety. My husband, who has not had an accident in the 20 years I’ve known him, drives in a way that makes me nervous. Specifically, I feel like I am in a video game when I sit in the front seat with him. Images of cars, people, trees, etc., appear to fly in my face as he drives up to cars really quickly and then around them just as quickly. With great effort, I have stopped screaming in terror and hiding my face in my hands when I ride with him, because honestly, he has never had an accident, so maybe it is some perspective problem that I have. Mostly, I try to keep my eyes squeezed shut. However, sometimes I open them, and this is when I notice that he does not hold the steering wheel when he drives.
I told him I thought that wasn’t safe, but he said he has always done it that way and it is fine. He agreed to consider stopping if I found evidence that it is dangerous. But of course I could not, just as you cannot find evidence that it is important to be conscious while driving, because there are few statistics on this. To be fair, he does hold the steering wheel sometimes. And sometimes he will use his knee. Other times, he will lightly rest a finger on the wheel to help guide the car. He has always loved you guys, and listens to your radio show and reads your column. Is there anything you can do to help? We have two children, ages 11 and 13, who ride in the back seat, and I am seriously thinking of joining them. Is he right, that all this is safe?
RAY: No -- he’s a nut bag, Maria. And the fact that he listens to our show and reads our column only confirms that.
TOM: Of course it’s not safe to let go of the steering wheel, or to drive with your knees. Why do you think you so rarely hear driving instructors say, “Keep your knees at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel”?
RAY: The reason is that stuff happens, and it happens quickly. You’re driving along, and a dog runs into the road. Or a king-size Sealy Posturepedic mattress goes flying off the roof of the station wagon in front of you. It’s in those situations -- when you need to change the direction of the car instantly -- that your hands are far better at moving the steering wheel than your knees are. And two hands do a better job than one hand.
TOM: Racing up to a car in front of him before passing it also is highly dumb -- for the same reason. You’re going 70 or 80 mph, and the car in front of you is going 15 or 20 mph slower than that. If that car should suddenly stop, because a car in front of him stops, or a truck loses a tire, there’s no way Hubby will be able to stop in time.
RAY: Can he get away with driving like this for some period of time without having an accident? Obviously, he has. But at some point, his luck will run out.
TOM: You say he hasn’t had an accident in 20 years. I wonder how many “Holy crow!” moments he’s had with close calls. Or how many accidents or near-accidents he’s caused by driving so aggressively.
RAY: So here’s the deal: You tell him that until he shapes up and drives more safely, you and the kids will be riding in the back. And wearing crash helmets and football pads.
TOM: And screaming in terror. Don’t forget the screaming in terror, Maria. That will provide some crucial negative reinforcement here.
RAY: I hope it works, Maria. If not, stop driving with him, and take out a good life-insurance policy.