It’s not as if I’m wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.
That’s what I tell myself every time I start the car. “Don’t think about it,” I say. “Just drive like a normal person.”
That’s the problem, of course. Who knows how a normal person drives? I certainly don’t. All I have to go on is my own driving habits and electronic media.
Speaking of electronic media, here’s something I saw on a screen recently:
POSTER (driving and singing along to the radio): “You can count on me like one two three I’ll be there ... ”
POSTER (to driver ahead of her): “Hey! Wake up! Move! Move!”
POSTER: (back to singing): “ … I can count on you like four three two … ”
I was glad to see this post on my phone. It reminded me that we’re all on the road together, singing and talking and expressing frustration, though personally, all it took for me to keep my frustrations inside the car was to watch my own daughters learn to drive.
Not to mention the time the light didn’t offer the left-turn arrow I was expecting, but I still made the turn. The indignant person who honked didn’t embarrass me because I was already mortified. I was forced to forgive all the drivers I see doing thoughtless driving stuff: failing to take turns at intersections, slowing to a crawl before entering a turn lane, even flat-out running lights, because who knows? It might be a 16-year-old girl whose mother in the passenger seat is ensuring her daughter never makes that mistake again.
Besides, most people in Ohio drive. Driving is the one activity we all have in common, no matter how different the rest of our lives may be. On the road, we’re members of one family, all of us telling the light, “Please don’t change,” all of us pulling over for ambulances, all of us drumming our fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the flagger to remember the sign he’s leaning against has two sides.
This all has to do with a tracking device my husband and I have on our car. It’s not disciplinary; it’s recording our driving habits, which may encourage our car-insurance company to lower our rates. The gadget – called a telematics device – records speed, jackrabbit starts, sudden stops and, probably, our voices muttering, “Come on, come on, come on” at traffic lights.
Ideally, I suppose, a person should forget the device once it’s installed. That way, insurance companies will get an honest, useful picture of the driver. But I can’t forget. I’m aware every second that I’m being watched – watched and judged.
I only wish the device could distinguish between my husband and me. Not that my husband is a careless driver, but this gadget sparks my competitive spirit. If it reports mostly safe, law-abiding habits, I want to win the trophy. Surely, technology smart enough to count night-driving minutes is smart enough to detect a switch in drivers.
In the weekly summaries, I’d like to see messages saying, “The taller driver is perfectly competent. But the shorter one! She’s the best driver we’ve seen in all our years of driver tracking! Let’s give her an award for outstanding highway skills.”
Inspired by this happy fantasy, I glide so, so carefully to gentle but firm stops. I ease through intersections as though I had a cup of hot coffee balanced on my dashboard, and I’m always waving ahead other motorists at intersections. If the tracking device included a camera, it would show me smiling fondly at baby squirrels frolicking on the road in front of me while I wait until it’s safe to proceed. I blow kisses at people in crosswalks, even the ones who stop in front of my car to text their friends. When others tailgate or fail to signal, I just shrug good-naturedly. With a telematics device on my car, I’m the Mother Teresa of the road: forgiving, patient and downright beatific.
Of course, a person can’t remember a tracker every second. That would be like being aware of your tongue: Pretty soon you can’t think of anything else, and then you choke to death. That’s why I relax, sing along to Simon and Garfunkel – “When you need a friend … ” and then –
“Hey! The light’s changed! Go already!”
Now observe how smoothly I pull away.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.