Over the past couple of years, I’ve become interested in auto sports. Not racing, really, but just taking a car around a road course. It’s a major niche market for the firm, which is why I started it and why I continue to do it, but it’s also a good time. I’m certainly no expert. However, I have learned quite a bit. As is often the case when learning something new, I’ve been continually surprised by how much there really is to learn. Driving once seemed so simple, but I now know that it really isn’t.
How much braking power do you have? How much acceleration do you have? How does the road surface feel? How does your car feel? Do you have enough grip? Can you push it more, or are you at the edge? Where is the edge? How do you know you’re there? Are your inputs smooth? Where is the weight of the car? Front or back? How is it affected by throttle or brake? Do you need to change it? How and to what extent? Where’s the best line? Can you see it? Where are the other cars? There are countless things to consider, and those are just a few. As you get better on the track, the things you begin to notice on public roads are astounding.
Thinking back about every lap, every group meeting, and every time I’ve had someone else in the car giving me pointers, there’s one thing I’ve never heard anyone mention: the speedometer. Looking down at your speedometer is the last thing you want to do. In fact, it’s a totally useless instrument because the data it provides is pointless. You don’t know when you’re about to lose control based on the speedometer. It doesn’t tell you when or how to brake or to apply throttle. If instructors told wannabe racecar drivers to drive based on the speedometer, every lap would result in a giant pile-up after the first few turns.
The things that make someone a better driver are things that involve awareness. Doing anything well, and safely, requires awareness more than anything. Sadly, though, being aware is a subtle thing. A police officer can’t sit by the side of the road with an awareness-meter, stopping every person who doesn’t meet the minimum standard. You can’t cite someone for inattentiveness unless it’s manifested in some sort of physical symptom that’s prohibited by law. Like most subtle things, awareness isn’t valued by most people. The average driver doesn’t pay attention to much of anything. Most people drive by following traffic signs and signals. Most people are terrible, dangerous drivers who are completely ignorant of their own surroundings.
We have too many rules. I pass hundreds of signs every day telling me what I can’t do. Those signs don’t travel at highway speeds. They don’t have motors and weigh tons and have deadly morons driving them, but we’re legally obligated to obey them. People look out for signs and the iron-fisted bean-counters who sit by the side of the road enforcing them. They couldn’t care less about other motorists. The only thing most motorists lack more than awareness is courtesy.
I put a few thousand miles on my motorcycle last week, riding from Phoenix to Boston. In every single state, I saw someone do something perfectly lawful, extremely common, and unsafe beyond belief. In most states, I saw dozens of people do things like that. Passing one billboard after another telling people to “look out for motorcycles,” I got cut off or had my lane otherwise invaded over and over again. Motorists know an officer won’t stop someone for not looking out for motorcycles. On the other hand, everyone knows you can get a ticket in a split second if you start looking out for motorcycles and inadvertently ignore that little needle in your dash, one of the few things in your field of vision that really doesn’t matter.
I abhor speed limits. When I argue against them, most people roll their eyes as if I’m suggesting we go back to the middle ages. They fear we’ll descend into anarchy. They imagine everyone going as fast as their little cars can go, and it scares them. The idea doesn’t bother me at all. If it gets one person’s head up or results in one person paying a little closer attention to something other than a speedometer and a bunch of worthless signs, I’m all for it. Awareness is never a bad thing in driving or in anything else. It shouldn’t be as uncommon as it is, and the first step to increasing it is to take away worthless security blankets like speed limits. I’d sure feel a lot safer without them.