When your job is to write about safe driving practices, a lot of interesting things can come across your desk. Like - did you know that there are 1.4 billion cars on the planet? That's around 1 car for every 7 people. Or how about this - in Massachusetts, it's illegal to drive with a gorilla in your car (what a shame).
Sometimes, the things you come across are more directly related to safety. Like the fact that, according to the U.S. National Center for Statistics and Analysis, men are 8 times more likely to die in a cyclist/vehicle collision. Or that 78% of fatal crashes involving large trucks occur on a weekday.
If there's one thing that stands out in amongst all the weird and interesting stats I've come across, it's this - the only predictable thing about driving is that it is unpredictable. Maybe that feels like a corny thing to say, but it can be easy to get caught up in the routine of driving and forget that things can change at any minute.
Here is one of my favourite examples of the unexpected occurring on the road. A few years ago, a man driving in Yellowstone National Park looked in his rearview mirror and saw... a grizzly bear chasing a bison down the highway (seriously, check it out). I'm not saying that you're likely to see a bear giving chase to a bison in your rearview mirror any time soon (at least, I hope not), but stories like these have always helped reinforce for me just how necessary it is that we be aware of what's going on around us.
The truth is that no matter how routine driving may seem to us, we never actually know what's coming around the next bend of the road, or what drivers we will encounter. The unpredictable can occur after dark on a Friday night or on a slow Tuesday morning. It could come from the kid in the next car over who just got their license or the driver two lanes back who has been driving for 40 years.
If this is sounding a bit 'doom and gloom,' that is not my intention, I promise. We might not know what will happen when we get behind the wheel of a car, but we can learn to drive in a way that prepares us for the unexpected.
Driving defensively is one of the best tools that we have in our arsenal when it comes to facing down the unpredictable. It's like an emergency preparedness kit that we equip ourselves with as drivers, and we get to choose if we want to take it with us each time we get behind the wheel. It includes things like being aware of our surroundings and maintaining an appropriate following distance, but it's more than that, too. It's a mentality about driving, one that is about learning to expect the unexpected, so that when you see that bison and bear in your rearview mirror, you can take stock and make the smart and safe choice.