When did driving become a two-person job?

The other day, my wife and I were out driving and, as has become our habit, the passenger checks one direction while the driver checks the other before moving through an intersection. Normal? I guess.

But I recall the old days when either of us could manage the feat without help from the other. In fact, we still manage it on days when we drive solo. But nowadays, we find more and more, that we need help just driving safely and I’m wondering if it’s us, or them.

Every time I take my car or (deity forbid) my motorcycle out on the road, I am reminded that I’m not in Kansas anymore. To be more specific, things on the road have changed since I got my license in 1981.

There are more vehicles on the road than ever. There are bigger vehicles than ever. And, it seems, more bad drivers than ever.

Thus, the problems I’ve observed. Experts (anyone in front of a camera) are all talking about distracted driving as being the root cause of this. They say there are too many people doing too many things while behind the wheel that have nothing to do with driving. Judging by what I see every day, I think that’s definitely a piece of the issue.

Take the average working mom in the morning. She’s usually piloting a “safe” vehicle. That means she’s driving a large SUV with the same physical dimensions and weight of a World War II Sherman tank.

She is juggling the baby in the car seat, the dog in the dog seat, the navigation system, her cell phone, her makeup, the baby’s bottle, the dog’s snack, the car’s entertainment system and breakfast. I’m amazed she makes it out of the driveway in one piece.

The teen driver on the way to school each morning is equally hamstrung as he/she/they (usually groups) pilot their second-hand/sporty/barely running vehicles to the crowded, chaotic high school parking lot. Along the way, they have to finish their homework; answer 20 texts, three phone calls; and update their Facebook page, all while swallowing breakfast, picking an outfit, doing makeup, and having multiple conversations.

That may have something to do with their insurance rates being roughly equivalent to a mortgage payment.

Then there are the drivers who find current traffic laws to be more guidelines than laws. The seven people who blow through a red light just as it changes from yellow to red are all my favorite examples of this phenomenon.

In many intersections, I literally count to three or five after the light changes just to makes sure there are no stragglers before I proceed. This usually results in someone across the intersection taking a quick left in front of me, usually with a pissed-off expression because I didn’t gun the car the second the light went green like some drag racer on amphetamines.

Then there are the folks who no longer see stop signs. Those red signs now indicate a need to slowly roll the car though a turn, simply assuming anyone already in the road you’re turning onto will watch out for you. How does that work in their minds?

“Oh look, a stop sign. Umm, but stopping is so inconvenient. I hate stopping. Stopping depresses me and my doctor said I should avoid things that depress me. So I have my doctor’s OK to ignore stop signs. I feel better already!”

Till they get T-boned.

Back in the dark ages when I took drivers ed, I learned a number of things. Just after they taught us how to crank start the Model T, they taught us about something we used to call defensive driving.

The basic idea was that you were constantly looking around as you drove in order to anticipate, and thus avoid, potential problems. Were kids playing in a yard up ahead? Was the driver behind you getting too close? Was the driver ahead of you acting oddly? Were road conditions or visibility bad? Was anyone moving into your blind spot?

It seems like today’s drivers skipped that whole concept in favor of the current model: offensive driving. Those are the folks who drive so badly at all times that you’re constantly wondering how and where they got their license.

You also wonder why there’s never a police officer around when they go down a 30-mile-per-hour street at 50 or blow through a stop sign or a red light narrowly avoiding an accident and leaving “offended” drivers in their wake. They drive like they own the road and make the rest of us have to drive almost hyper-defensively.

Thus the need for a wingman(woman) these days. The driver controls the car and scans for dangers while the lookout scans more aggressively and reports. It’s sort of like the radar officer in the rear seat of a fighter jet who keeps an eye on the sky while the pilot flies the plane. Only the fighter guys are way safer over Iraq than we are on the Northway.

While distracted driving may be part of the issue, I still think plain old everyday selfishness is the real issue. People need to realize that, for everyone on the road to make it safely every day, they all need to acknowledge that we need to work together.

Everyone (this means you) needs to follow all traffic laws. Everyone (yes, you too), needs to focus on driving, not everything else. And, finally, everyone needs to slow it down and drive in a pleasant, friendly and positive manner. I watch out for you and you watch out for me and we all get where we’re trying to go.

Think of it this way. What would happen if you were in a grocery store and people were piloting their carts the way they drive? Crashes in produce! Pile-ups in frozen foods! Lawsuits in the cereal aisle! There will be smashed watermelons everywhere from collisions, EMTs rushing through the bakery goods, and cops cuffing people at the checkout before they can escape. In other words, rush hour on 787 moves indoors.

Please, for everyone’s sake. Think of the watermelons and drive more safely.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg and his wingwoman have a combined driving career of around 74 years and probably over 500,000 miles. They report that it’s never been scarier to go out to the movies.