As many readers may know from my other blog— and others will quickly learn— I’m 24 years old, yet do not drive a car.
Simply put, I don’t trust my perception of what’s going on around me, even after years of practicing.
And despite the fact that most people seem to think I’m exaggerating, there’s good reason for this distrust of my perceptions.
This week, I’ve been working with several driving instructors to see just how much of a hope of being able to drive I had. These lessons were funded through the state Vocational Rehabilitation program; I registered through them while taking undergraduate classes through the college’s disability services department, in the hope that they might be able to help with these persistent driving issues and other issues of independent living for when I’m through with academia for academia’s sake and must go on to search for a real job. If I continue to live in Georgia, driving may very well be a necessity for finding the technology-related work I would like; the state as a whole is hardly pedestrian- or transit-friendly, and even cities like Athens that are supposedly ahead of the curve still have a long way to go.
But anyway, the good news is that the instructors agreed that I had a really good grasp of the rules of the road and the necessary behaviors for defensive driving.
My perception, however, turned out not to be quite up to the instructors’ initial expectations.
I don’t know how it took so long for the instructors to realize this, honestly. I had tried explaining my issues, but was met with a rather confused expression and told that I was exaggerating matters. And indeed, on the first day of driving, it seemed like I was doing reasonably well for a student driver.
But as the lessons went on and on, it became more and more clear that I was no ordinary student driver, particularly given that I’d been practicing off and on since I was 16.
The first sign was when one instructor attempted to hold a conversation with me…causing me to miss a stop light. OK, probably a fluke. Until it happened again, causing me not to notice the car stopped in front of me. And so on, and so forth.
The second sign was my difficulty identifying just where the boundaries of the car were. In trying to stay in the lane, I consistently veered too far to the right, unless I specifically focused on staying in the lane— and of course, when I had to consciously focus on it, it took a bit of my attention away from the patterns of traffic around me. These spatial issues became even more obvious when the instructor attempted to take me parallel parking; I horribly misjudged both where the right-hand side of the car was in relation to the space and when the front of the space was even with the car’s back wheel, even after several repeated attempts.
Similarly, the attention problems became truly obvious when an instructor-therapist gave me a peripheral vision test, first with no distractions, then while trying to hold a conversation with me. I did excellently on the test with no added distractions— but once the conversation was thrown into the mix, it turned out that I literally couldn’t keep track of both tasks at once! And of course, it’s not merely conversation that’s the issue; as I’d been trying to explain to the instructors, any distracting stimulus can have the same effect, making me less aware of the actual dangers I need to be watching out for.
(I tend to wonder why this sort of thing wasn’t tried in the first place, before I was even sent off for the driving lessons… it might have saved a lot of frustration on everyone’s part, I think!)
So the instructors have recommended that I go through sensory integration therapy, with the hope of both gaining better judgment of the spatial relationships between my body, the car, and everything outside, and finding ways to better divide my attention between so many competing stimuli. Hopefully this will prove effective; even if not for driving, it should still help with other weird perceptual issues I deal with day to day (perhaps making me a safer pedestrian, at the very least!).
Now if only real estate developers and street designers would start designing places to be even remotely as accessible to pedestrians as they are to drivers in the meantime…