Children, parents and adults

I mostly learned to drive from my dad, but after I passed my test I did a Pass Plus course subsidised by the local council. It covered things like motorway driving and handling unusual weather, but it was also interesting to learn from another instructor.

One thing this new instructor told me was that there are three different types of drivers: children, parents and adults. Of course the names don’t relate to the actual age or familial situation of the drivers, but their approach to the road. Recently I’ve realised that it’s a useful mental taxonomy to have in other situations as well.

Children are in a rush to get wherever it is they are going, with no concern for those around them: the boy racers trying to impress the girl in the passenger seat, the elderly people who really shouldn’t still be driving, and all the people who have had one too many drink trying to get home from the pub. Obviously this is not something to emulate.

The parents focus above all on worrying about the children. They are most susceptible to road rage, and will often pay less attention to their own driving than tutting at the driver who just overtook on the inside at 85 mph. They know better than the children, but not better enough just to take care of themselves.

This leaves the adults as the model to strive for: safe and sensible drivers in their own right, who allow the children a wide enough berth to grow up without our oversight (and without crashing into us!).

This is something that a lot of philosophies over the ages have suggested: the Stoics of ancient Greece would see a lot in common, and Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer also gestures in the same direction:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

But this is a framing I’ve never heard from anywhere else, and it’s one that’s stuck in my mind for a long time. I hope it’s useful for someone else as well.