There’s a lot of bad drivers out there. Most of them don’t know it. It’s really hard to measure something like that. Heck, there’s a lot of obese people that somehow don’t know it too, and that’s easy to measure.
In an effort to quantify what it means to be a bad driver, I’ve provided what I believe to be two clear symptoms. These are highly generalized insofar as most specific cases of bad driving dilute down to these.
For some reason when everyone get’s behind the wheel, they suddenly think they’re always right and the other guy is a blithering idiot. So it’s worth noting that even good drivers will fall prey to either situation on occasion. Evaluating against these criteria are also a great way to tell if you’re in the wrong in a given situation.
If you’re surprised often on the road
I don’t mean by this that once a year you’re amazed when a bike flies by you at 110 mph. If you’re surprised often by something, on a regular basis, you might be a bad driver. As a general rule, all of the good drivers on the road are extremely aware of their surroundings. They’ll see that car edging out of the side street and considering jumping in front of them. They’ll see the guy coming up behind them at speed. They’ll know that the girl two lanes over is looking over her shoulder and planning to switch lanes.
Knowing your surroundings means knowing what’s happening ahead of you, on your sides, and behind you. If you are surprised when someone turns a blinker on, or changes lanes, or moves past you at a reasonable speed delta.. you should be paying more attention. If you suddenly hear a honk because you started moving towards that gap you thought was there that isn’t really.. you should be paying more attention.
Corollary: If you hesitate a lot. For example, when switching lanes.
Corollary: If you’re on your phone. I’m not religious about this like some are, I use my phone at traffic lights. But it’s a slippery slope. Corollary - If you have no idea how your car’s ABS works or what the limit of grip from your tires feels like. To be fair, this may not be your fault. For some reason, our driving schools and license requirements require no practice in situations of stress or accident prevention. This means that, for most people, the first time they feel the ABS kick in or hear the tires squeal they’re already in a bad situation and are freaking out. We need better education. Corollary - Premature optimization. I see this all the time. There will be two left hand turn lanes and one lane is empty while the other is backed up ten cars deep. Awareness also means understanding where you’re going and how traffic around you is flowing on your route.
You create large speed deltas compared to the flow of traffic
This symptom speaks to at least one of two things. The first is arrogance. It portrays the following viewpoint: “I know better than everyone else and they should all drive like me.” Hopefully that thought doesn’t feel familiar.
Far more insidious is a lack of knowledge. It could mean you have a lack of knowledge of the rules of the road. As a consequence, it means you don’t understand the real problem. This is probably not your fault, as the government bodies designed to teach you such things perform abysmally. The assumption they make is that high speeds are bad. This is absolutely false. It just requires a very basic, simple set of rules to follow, and everything would work just fine. Unfortunately, those rules are almost universally disregarded. Differences of 10-15 mph aren’t large. It would be easy for a four lane highway to have a very safe gradient from 55 up to 90+ if we just followed rules across the lanes of traffic.
Interestingly, an equivalently false statement you’ll hear is that speed kills. That isn’t true - if you’re traveling at speed the default state is to maintain that speed. Drastic changes in speed kill. For example, changing very rapidly from 80 mph to 0 mph won’t be pleasant. Less extreme examples of that are generally what cause accidents - one car doing 80 and another doing 50 or one car stopped at 0 and a car behind it hitting at 10. If you know what the real problem is - then you can develop a set of rules to provide for that problem. If you think the problem is that speed kills, then you get stuck with byzantine rules like 55 mph speed limits.
Corollary - If you’re a punk that enjoys racing on the highway through traffic. I wish there were a highway in the US like the Autobahn that allowed 100+ mph speeds. But while the flow of traffic is generally 65-80 mph, doing 100 is stupid.
Corollary - If you’re a slow driver that sits below the speed limit, e.g. that Camry going 40 mph trying to merge onto a freeway with 70 mph traffic.. and then STAYING at 40 mph. Dangerous.
Corollary - If you think everyone slower than you is an idiot, and everyone faster than you has a death wish. Corollary - If you think it’s fine to drive in the left lane during rain storms. Sorry, still the fast lane.
Corollary - If you think troopers are your best protection. You’ve all seen the bumper stickers that say this. It’s junk. YOU (or your driver) are your best protection. A trooper is not. There are circumstances when troopers come in very handy, and we should all have huge respect for the civic importance of police and the men and women who admirably perform that duty. But in everyday driving, they have very little to do with you. And that’s the way it should be.
Travel in (parts of) Europe a bit and you’ll notice two interesting things. First, that everyone follows certain rules. For instance, passing on the left (or right, on the British Isles). The equivalent is that if you’re not going that fast, you stay on the right (or left). And second, you’ll see very few cops. The only time I’ve ever seen cops on the road while not in a city is when passing an accident. That’s it. Their function is to protect, not as an additional tax revenue source. They have cameras for that.
If we accept that the real problem is speed deltas, we’ve done lots of things very stupidly when designing our road system. Exit/Entry lanes for highways should provide proper merge lengths. Exit/Entry lanes should only ever merge onto the slow lanes, not onto the fast lane. Cloverleafs are typically decreasing radius, slowing you down the most right before you merge. They should allow for acceleration up to speed onto a highway, rather than diminishing it.
We’ve got a huge infrastructure project to update our roads over the next twenty years, we’ll fix it then right?