Driving in the USA… and Better KPIs

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Even though I have driven cars and motorcycles extensively on three continents, I only claim to have above average driving skills. The best drivers by far are to be found in Germany. I’m nodding head, taking off hat, and bowing down to them.

There’s much complaining about American drivers – some deserved, some way off.  Everyone, and I mean everyone in the US, fundamentally needs to know how to drive (well, at least own a current driver’s license). This is not the case in the high-density parts of Europe and Southeast Asia, with all their public transit, albeit slow and expensive. Here in the US, however, nearly anyone can afford a car. Perhaps not a good one, but something that’ll get them from point A to point B. This is made possible by the fact that fuel prices are quite reasonable here, not taxed to near death at $10 per gallon as in Italy and other parts of Europe (even in oil-rich Norway!).

Where we do fall short in the US is in driver’s training. By the way, this shouldn’t be part of the DMV’s job. In fact, we’d be better off without any DMV! Consider letting the insurance companies figure out what form of training and certification they want to see in order to let you insure a car at a given price, and then the market will sort out the rest. No need for a driver’s license that has almost nothing to do with actual driving skills. But this is a topic for another day.

Back to driving. Consider the many flat-out incompetents out there that you run into every day – though thankfully only figuratively, most of the time. Let’s see how many of these behaviors you recognize:

  • Parallel driving (just pass the darn car beside you or fall back already)
  • Driving slowly in the fast lane
  • Changing lanes without signaling
  • Sleeping at intersections
  • Crossing multiple lanes while pulling out from a side street (and slowly at that)
  • Braking for absolutely no reason – even on the highway – some people just have to hit the brakes if the highway turns left or right, or if there is a grade change…
  • Sticking to exactly the speed limit no matter the speed of traffic around you or the number of cars behind you
  • Inability to merge – left, right, left, right – why is it so hard to blend two lanes in a civilized manner?

Personally, I try to read traffic as far ahead as possible, to identify vehicles and predict their behavior. This is a habit honed to a craft back when I lived in Japan and commuted to work on a Harley. Cabbies are dangerous to be behind in Japan, for example, as they drive all over the place and without signaling.

There’s a lot to be said about a vehicle and the kind of driver likely to be behind the wheel. Just think of how carefully marketing teams try to identify their target audience. Well, I know who drives them! At least here in the US. Here are some of my observations (those that are fit to print). This is massively anecdotal, so your own experience might be different, but these are folks I pay attention to:

  • Gold badges. By and large found on vehicles driven by people who don’t really like to drive – the “transport me from A to B” types. Correspondingly, not very good drivers.
  • Accessories. Chains and flags hanging from the rear view mirror, loads of stuffed animals, Kleenex boxes, and other junk in the rear window. Clearly driven by people who mosey along, oblivious to the world (maybe because they see so little of it behind all the stuff in their car).
  • Chrome wheels on cars that didn’t come with them from the factory – or other oddly oversized or outlandish rims. Likely someone more focused on the looks of their car than actually being able to drive it properly. FYI, massively oversized wheels (most rims larger than 20” on regular cars) are terrible performers on the road at any speed – braking, accelerating, maneuvering, vibration levels, it all goes bad. Ferrari stops at 20” – and they use ultra-premium material – so get a clue, everyone.
  • Prius drivers. I try to steer clear of them. They seem to think that the “green” message of the car gives them a halo effect that excuses them from any and all traffic rules and common sense.
  • Lexus – this is the new Volvo – driven by people who fundamentally don't like driving, aren't interested in driving, and are even afraid of driving. They want a safe car – if they absolutely have to drive. A Lexus with gold badging and plush animals and Kleenex boxes in the rear window... that's three strikes right there. Give them a wide berth, as they are likely people who just cannot drive.
  • Mini vans. Actually, I will not make fun of them for driving poorly. I think they’re a horrible choice from a safety point of view, but I can’t say that they stand out in traffic for being piloted by bad drivers.

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I can go on, but the above are some of the more flagrantly dangerous and frustrating behaviors. And I don’t think I have ever seen anyone pulled over for any of them.  Cops would rather catch the easy wins with a radar or laser gun than actually do something worthwhile – not part of their quota most likely. This, again, is a separate topic.

And no, I’m not writing this because of a recent ticket. In fact, I haven’t been caught speeding in a decade or so. Depending on visibility, familiarity with the road, surface conditions, vehicle and its condition, alertness of driver and other factors, a given speed limit can be dangerously high or ridiculously low. Personally, I always drive at a safe speed.

There is a lesson in here for procurement too. It tells us how true KPIs (not engaging in any of the above behaviors) would be better measures (in this case to improve traffic flow and reducing accidents) than blindly adhering to pseudo-KPIs (e.g. a certain speed limit) just because they are easy to measure.

Safe driving everyone!

First Voice

  1. Thomas:

    Just found this story:
    http://jalopnik.com/science-confirms-that-bmw-and-prius-drivers-are-the-wor-1120783177

    “in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the status-symbol Prius was marked down as a luxury vehicle, researchers found their drivers to have a higher tendency to commit traffic infractions than most.”

    Somewhat more diplomatically stated than I would like to put it.

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