OK, confession time:
I’ve had a bad summer on the road. Really bad. After eight years of driving, I got my first speeding ticket in July. And immediately the week after, I got my second. I know, two traffic tickets in two consecutive weeks?!?! Here’s the worst part: they both happened in the same mile-long stretch on Sheridan road. What can I say? My poor VW Jetta has an uncontrollable penchant for going 12 miles over in a 35 MPH zone or accelerating rapidly and recklessly to prevent some punk for passing me.
But regardless, I had had to pay the piper. I went to court for the first ticket and thankfully it was thrown out because my popo didn’t show up. For the second ticket, however, I had the distinct privilege of taking an online traffic safety course courtesy of my alma mater. (Does this count as graduate studies?)
Not surprisingly, the online course was basically a trivial exercise and an indescribable waste of time. But in the midst of my incredible boredom and frustration, I noticed one common thread in the course that caught my attention. In their explanation of true defensive driving, they emphasized asserting reasonable control over your car, your body and your emotions.
They gave multiple examples of how high stress driving situations– such as the driver in front of you going slowly in a one lane street, or nobody letting you merge on a high way– can raise your emotional level and cause you to make poor, risky decisions on the road. Then they said something along these lines, I’m paraphrasing:
Most people think they have things completely under control, but we are often not in control of a situation, the driving conditions or the behavior of other drivers. A good defensive driver realizes this, however, and tries not to let uncontrollable circumstances affect the things they can control, their emotions, their driving behavior and other choices they make.
I actually think the driving course is expressing a pretty astute philosophical proposition– that human beings have less control over things than they realize. I wholeheartedly agree, both on the road and off. We are not independent beings freely exerting our agency in this world. No, we bend to the will of the masses, to culture, to our loved ones, to those smarter than us, richer than us, sexier than us… and ultimately to the deep desires in our soul that we have done little to create and can do little to control.
But after making such a nice observation, the driving course offers a cop-out as a response. Even though you don’t have control over many things, they say, respond to it by exerted more control on the things you do have, your emotions, your vehicle, your physical condition. (Now I know I’m veering into some esoteric silliness here) But in all honesty, how much control do we have over those as well? How control do we honestly have in our cars, we can get a certain measure of control and security, but not 100%… how much control do we have over our physical bodies? Again, a lot, but ultimately we are susceptible to freak occurrences. And probably least convincing, do we honestly have control over our emotions? Do you think people who suffer from road rage want to suffer from that? No. Its precisely because they lack control that they have road rage. Its like saying to someone, “Why don’t you have more control at moments when you lose control?”
Again, this is kind of inane, I know… much of what they said in the course is very practical wisdom and I’ve decreased my aggressive driving in the past few years by trying to keep my cool on the road… but isn’t that what the blog is for… to go one silly rants and make extended hypothetical arguments…
But in all honesty, I think the driving test encapsulates pretty well the confused state of affairs for people… we think we are in control, but we are really not. We try to exert control over things, but how much of that is just a temporary illusion? And even to add another metaphoric layer, I think its humorous and maybe even a little telling that all those deep philosophical questions are caught up in this online driving course, which is a huge farce and obligation that people like myself hardly take seriously.
Anyways that’s my contribution for today. And just to show you exactly how in control of my emotions I am, I’m freaking pissed off right now because when I tried to log back into my driving test account to get the quotes that I previously paraphrased, I accidently answered one of the security questions (I said my eyes were hazel, when officially brown on my license) and I may be disqualified from taking the online course. I want to scream. Ahhh.
Thank goodness I’m not in my car right now, or there would be some major road rage.