In 1967, when Tatsuo Yoshida’s anime Mach GoGoGo (better known to us as Speed Racer) hit television, kids went wild. Especially this kid, as the sound of roaring engines filled the room and that infamous jingle began, “Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer. He’s a demon on wheels.” It was the perfect show, at the perfect time, as I was already a race car fanatic at the age of 9; the adrenaline rush of racing having subconsciously wormed its way into my psyche. This grip held me as I realized my racing dream years later when I too would begin racing; a demon on wheels.
While many might think these speed demon racers are a little insane; the truth is, race car drivers are skilled in both athletic and mental functions, having to constantly process lots of information at a fast pace – really fast. Racers endure high G-forces, have great instincts, superior peripheral vision and rapid reflexes. It’s a learned skill. So, what’s the point of all this?
Every day when we pilot our cars onto roads and highways, we invariably encounter someone who imagines (the operative word here) that he or she is a professional race car driver, or at least a true talent behind the wheel. Added to the mix are those who believe they can multi-task while driving; texting, eating, applying make-up, smoking, holding their phone and gesturing while driving with their knees, petting their dog, and other very un-racer-like activities. It’s dangerous enough just driving. So, when you decide to use a professional driving service (read: Uber, Lyft, taxi, etc.), is it too much to expect their driving skills be above the average?
I have spent decades thinking about how drivers could be so much better, so much safer. It’s pretty easy. Awareness and control. Those two things could save so many wasted lives. But I’m not here to preach. I’m here to make a point: Why in hell do so many drivers think that resting a thumb or two fingers on the bottom of the steering wheel is driving? Worse, when a paid “professional” driver, a la Uber, Lyft, yellow taxi, etc., feels that resting his thumb on the wheel is adequate skill to keep us both safe, we are all in trouble. Whether cruising on the highway in Boston rush hour or winding up a mountain pass in Park City, I am constantly made uncomfortable in the knowledge that another vehicle, an errant moose, debris, or ice could mean curtains given my “pro” taxi driver’s inability to do anything remotely defensive given the total lack of grip and control. Response time be damned – because in real terms, it would be. No thumb driver could possibly have the reaction time required to avoid an accident if one was coming our way. No longer is the Speed Racer tune playing in my head. Instead, I often find myself humming the Door’s Roadhouse Blues, “Keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel…” And as the paying part of this car escapade, I now don’t hesitate to confront Mr. Thumb Driver about his grip, hoping it will permeate and inspire more overall awareness. Which brings me to this ultimate point.
Searching the “driver requirements” for companies such as Lyft or Uber is akin to finding KFC’s secret batter recipe (good luck with that). While they divulge that they do background checks and search driver records; neither of these confirm you are entering the car of a skilled driver. Just because someone has never had an accident doesn’t equate to being a good driver.
Too often, when people feel frightened by their driver’s ability, or lack thereof, they sit in tortured silence, perhaps becoming suddenly religious with prayer. As a culture, we’re more likely to complain about a cold meal, unfriendly service, or standing in a long line. The irony here is none of these things can kill you – but bad driving can, and does.
You’re paying for the service, so as with anything unsatisfactory, speak up. Sing the Roadhouse Blues if you must interject humor, but don’t sit passively, hoping the airbags or seatbelts can compensate for your relaxed driver. I’m not the vocal kind when it comes to poor service. I usually express my dissatisfaction by not returning to the business in question. But when it comes to paid car services, if it’s an unsafe ride you may not get that opportunity.
You needn’t be a Kimi Räikkönen, Jeff Gordon or Danica Patrick to know when your gut isn’t feeling the car ride. Let the driver know that he or she can drive however he or she wants; just not with you in the car. Get a grip. A good car ride often ends in a tip. A bad one…well use your imagination.