Self Defense While Driving — Going to Gasshuku Edition

Thanks to Emily, Jon, and Shihan for their comments on the last post.

Shihan Joni has always been very safety conscious regarding transportation to official TKO Karate events. Nothing would be a bigger cosmic insult than getting injured on the way to a self-defense event, whether it be traveling to Grants Pass, Oregon, or to the dojo in Shoreline. This post is dedicated to those younger drivers who, for the first time, are driving to Grants Pass on their own. It’s not that I think that younger drivers are necessarily less capable, it’s that I think they’re less set in their ways, that is, more open to learning.

If it’s not obvious, let me state that these posts are my opinions. Shihan states her opinions in her comments.


[MIT professor, Arnold Barnett, a statistical expert in the field of aviation safety] judges the actual risk of one person being involved in a fatal airline accident, to be once every 19,000 years, provided he flew on an airliner once each day of those 19,000 years. He bases that estimate on what actually happened in the domestic U.S., during the 1990s.

Whenever anyone tells me that they’re afraid of flying, I tell them that they should be more afraid of the car trip to the airport. Despite the considerable advances in auto safety engineering over the years — in suspension, brakes, tires, reliability, electronic stability control systems, and crash protection — the U.S. annual fatality rate for drivers remains about the same, around 40,000 people.

What scares me about driving is, that no matter how careful I am, I’m dependent on the skill, the sanity, the sobriety and, most important of all, the focus, of dozens, hundreds, or (on a long trip) up to thousands of other drivers. That is why, when my children began to drive, I told them that while they should work to minimize their own mistakes their lives depended on how well they minimize — that is, make allowances for — the mistakes of other drivers.

Safety on the road is pegged to predictability. The more predictable the weather, traffic flow, car reliability, and habits of other drivers, the safer your trip will be. For example, driving on ice and snow is dicey, but you can adapt to poor road conditions by slowing down, avoiding hills when possible, and using brakes less and lower gears more. What can be far more dangerous than a consistent layer of ice and snow is the surprise of “black ice,” the kind you don’t know is there until you’re sliding towards a guard rail. When driving, exciting is bad, dull is good.

When weather, traffic flow, and other road conditions are predictable, you still have to contend with unpredictable drivers. We have become used to certain types of unpredictable drivers: the show-offs, the impatient, the immature, and those under the influence. In the last decade, We’ve had to deal with a whole new category of dangerous driver — the cell phone user.

Cell phone using drivers, according to numerous research studies, are exactly as handicapped as drivers with an alcohol blood level of .08 percent, the legal threshold of driving under the influence in Washington and many other states. Contrary to popular belief, it’s irrelevant whether or not the driver is holding the cell phone. It’s not that your hand is holding on to something that’s the problem, it’s that your mind is. Many states, including ours, have passed laws making it illegal to drive while holding the handset, but not while using a cell phone via an earpiece. This is akin to allowing drivers to be under the influence of alcohol if the drinks are consumed using a travel mug rather than a wine glass.

Regarding cell phone users, you have one advantage that you don’t have with other problem drivers — you can often tell when they’re under the influence. When I see a handset held to the driver’s ear, or notice that someone is conversing with the empty space in front of them, I become extra cautious.

Can martial arts teach us anything about driving? I’d say, when practicing for sport, not so much, but when practicing for self-defense, quite a bit. Sport karate is like any other sport. You’re concentrating very strongly for short periods of time. Your level of concentration will ebb and flow, but still remain relatively high throughout the event. If your concentration does lapse, your chances of winning go down, but your personal safety is usually not in great danger. (There are exceptions, e.g., you don’t want to drift off in a batter’s box.)

On the other hand, self defense is far more about constant awareness over long periods of time. As when driving, just because nothing dangerous happens 99 percent of the time doesn’t mean that nothing dangerous will happen.

Here’s my trick for concentrating for hours in the driver’s seat. I challenge myself to drive so smoothly that no one in the car notices anything except that we’ve arrived. In order to accomplish this, I must remain keenly aware at all times of the behavior of other drivers, of traffic conditions, and of traffic signs, so that I can anticipate my driving decisions well in advance.

So my question: How do you remain focused for many hours behind the wheel? And do you have any other safe-driving advice? Please leave comments, below.

4 Responses to Self Defense While Driving — Going to Gasshuku Edition

  1. Marty Josund says:

    keep your eyes moving, don’t get hypnotized by the road. on long drives keep the temp cool, too warm makes one sleepy. If you feel drowsy, pull over and walk around, take a break, do some “warm up’ exercises like we do in class… move around, slap your arms and legs, eat crunchy food like chips or apples or carrots – it really works! caffine, yes but water is better. trade off drivers if you need to.

  2. Pete says:

    While driving to where you are going in the next few days, test yourself! A defensive driver should be able to identify each vehicle around him and what their intensions are in a split second. Don’t worry if you are wrong at first, that fact that you are engaging awareness with each vehicle around you is what is important! On that straight stretch of highway, is it dusk when the deer may be out? Are you on a rural road where a cow may have run loose? Are you in a neighborhood where children play and cats and dogs are running free?

    My lesson is this: Be keenly aware of both what is seen and what you don’t see! Both can give you clues to what may lie ahead! Don’t just pay attention to the pavement 50 feet in front of you!

    It is kind of like youur sparring gaze being behind the wheel. Be aware and don’t focus too long on one thing!

  3. Emily says:

    In addition, it helps to have a co-pilot (seriously) to do the navigating for you so you can focus on what’s going on around you without having to worry so much about where the next turn is.

    Try not to sing along with music. Listen to something without words if you can’t help yourself 🙂

  4. Jon Hie says:

    OK, late for this road trip, but for future reference: When I have a long drive ahead I keep alert by limiting time behind the wheel. After 2-3 hours I prefer to take a break and walk some oxygen into my body rather then get focused on how fast I can get somewhere. The longer I am in the car, the more I fall prey to fatigue. Give yourself plenty of time to reach the destination, and take some breaks!

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