Why can’t people be more like cars?

[image shows a selection of toy cars representing traffic on a road]

Driving is one of my favourite things. It is also one of the hardest things I have ever learned. It requires a combination of spacial awareness, coordination and motor skills, plus an ability to predict the actions of others and react quickly and safely. These are abilities which many autistic people struggle with and I am no exception.

I tend to learn best with a combination of reading and thinking. I don’t find verbal instructions or physical demonstrations particularly helpful. I need to understand, process and order the learning my own way and in my own time. Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to learn to drive from books and thinking alone.

This didn’t stop me from supplementing my practical driving lessons with book reading and spending a lot of time rehearsing and working through scenarios in my head. I had my partner repeatedly drive around tricky parts of likely driving test routes and I became a very observant passenger. After many, many lessons I passed my driving test and became a driver.

I love driving and I love cars. My very first collection as a small child was of Matchbox cars. I get a thrill even now from reading about, researching, test-driving and choosing cars. I am no expert and I do little more than fill up with fuel, inflate tyres, top up the oil and occasionally change a bulb. I am only an ordinary sort of driver, but driving gives me freedom and the ability to get out and about with minimal interaction.

I especially love long solitary journeys. Travelling alone, with music playing loud, to somewhere I want to be, or just for the fun of driving. This week I drove a couple of hours each way to meet a friend and as I was driving, singing along to the CDs, I got thinking. Why can’t people be more like cars?

Interactions between cars are bound by rules. The Highway Code provides rules for almost every encounter you might meet when driving. Not everybody follows the rules, but most drivers do. This makes our interactions as drivers so much easier than when we are stripped of our cars and have to interact without our vehicular shields.

When I am driving I know where to position myself on the road. I know where I should be and other drivers position themselves in a predictable and logical manner.

I can signal my intentions easily. Other drivers understand and use the same signals. This might be my indicator lights to inform other drivers that I plan to make a turn or my reversing lights to show my intention to reverse.

Most drivers respect distance and don’t come too close, they make space for others to join traffic and overtake safely.

Manners are simplified. Instead of complicated social rules, lifting my hand to a waving position shows thanks and gratitude to a kindly driver.

As a driver, I can make small gestures of kindness without the worry of misinterpretation. I might flash my headlights to let another driver pass by on a narrow road, or slow down and flash my lights to enable another driver to enter the road from a side street.

Driving provides a sort of simplified set of rules for interaction, communication and sharing the world. We all benefit from following the rules and not over-complicating things.

When I’m driving I don’t feel inhibited and I don’t worry endlessly about getting things wrong like I do in the social world. Driving makes me feel competent and on equal terms with the other drivers.

I don’t really want people to be like cars and, after all, it is people who are driving the cars. It’s human innovation and spontaneity, in action and thought, which makes the world an interesting place to be. But just sometimes it would be nice if we all played by the same rule book. It makes life much easier.

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