I don't drive very often anymore, but on the rare occasions I do, I have come to realize that after spending the last three years depending mainly on my bike and my own two feet, I have become a better driver than I ever was in my fourteen years of being car dependent. I am so aware of everything around me, whether it's the person riding next to me on the bike, or the pedestrian nearing the crosswalk while I wait for traffic to clear for me to turn, or even the other cars on the road around me.
As a mainly non-motorist, I feel very strongly that motorists really do need to try walking a mile in my shoes. Experiencing the world outside of a car is the only way to truly appreciate how their actions when in a car can be terrifying to pedestrians and cyclists. It is what has made me a better driver. Cars are very large metal boxes, built to protect the people inside them, but can do very serious damage to those outside them. Sadly, though, each and every day I experience a motorist more focused on getting to their destination a few minutes faster than on the road they're using. This has meant motorists cutting me off while I'm riding, driving way too close to my children riding their bikes on the bikeways at speeds that are just too fast, or the main offender, not stopping at the crosswalk for my children and I on our way too and from school.
The other day, I watched a comedy special from Louis CK that pretty much summed up the experience of driving. He said:
"When I'm in my car, I have a different set of values. I am the worst person I can be when I'm behind the wheel, which is when I'm at my most dangerous. When you're driving, that's when you need to be the most compassionate and responsible of any other time in your life, cause you are driving a weapon amongst weapons."
He then goes on to talk about some of the horrible things he's said to people because, as he put it, they made him test his reflexes and it worked out fine. That is really what it comes down to sometimes. The simple act of a cyclist or pedestrian causing a driver to stop and wait for a few seconds, or move their steering wheel slightly left or right can send drivers into a rage, forgetting the damage they are capable of behind that wheel.
Truly, the best way to understand the effects of our actions on another person or group is to experience a day in their life. Having spent so many years behind the wheel of a car, I understanding that running in front of a car in order to jaywalk is infuriating to a motorist and dangerous for me, so I do it as little as possible. I also know that assuming a motorist can see me while on my bike and will respect my space on the road is not realistic, so I am sure to ride in a way that I am almost always visible to fellow road users. So it seems only fair that if motorists are going to get up in arms and drive dangerously around me, that they should get out of that vehicle for more than five minutes and truly experience what it's like for those of us non-motorists. Maybe if that happened more often, the roads would be just a little safer and people would be a lot more relaxed while travelling from point A to point B.