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  • How Emotions Affect Driving

    It's All About Awareness

    Most drivers are aware of the affect that things like drinking and cell phone use have on their driving safety, while giving little consideration to other factors that can be even more distracting. Fatigue, stress, and our emotions have a serious effect on driving, causing serious impairments that we may not even be aware of. If you are worried, upset, frightened, depressed, or even happily excited, your driving skills can be as negatively impacted as they would be if you were engaged in an intense phone call or after having consumed several alcoholic drinks.

    Many times we do have to drive after facing an emergency, for example, after being notified of the sudden illness or death of a loved one; or even after a confrontation with another person, such as a particularly upsetting incident at work. If you find that you must drive after your emotions have surfaced, here are a few things you can do to manage the emotion―and make your driving safer for yourself and others on the road:

    • If you are angry or upset or otherwise annoyed, whether due to something unrelated to driving or because of a driving incident, pull over or off of the road. Take a few moments to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and relax. If the emotion is particularly strong, take a short walk, or go get something to drink (non-alcoholic, of course); just stay off of the road until you have time to settle down.
    • If you find yourself drifting into worry, depression, or if you are thinking too closely about something that has happened, make a concerted effort to put it out of your mind until you stop the car. Some people find that making a hand gesture of dismissal to themselves helps, as does the distraction of music. Use the energy to instead focus on your driving, and give yourself time to sort out the troubling issue when you do not have to drive.
    • If it is a matter of feeling rushed, hurried or just generally impatient, give yourself a bit of extra time before you start out. That will help you avoid getting even more frustrated with slower drivers or other things that are out of your control, such as heavy traffic or a back up due to an accident. Plus, allowing for extra time means you won't be as likely to start speeding, which can end up saving you a great deal of stress―especially if you end up with a speeding ticket! Also, remember to always, no matter how rushed you are, stop at railroad crossings and NEVER drive around the gates or try to beat an oncoming train.

    A Serious Distraction

    Research has proven that human beings in the grip of negative (and sometimes positive) emotions have exhibited a distraction level even more serious than those experienced by cell phone users. Such emotions can cause otherwise excellent drivers to:

    • Experience dimmed or otherwise impaired observation and reaction times.
    • Fail to recognize situations, such as an abrupt slowing of traffic or debris in the road.
    • Get to the point that they are unable to predict or to determine what the other drivers around us are doing.
    • Make risky maneuvers and risky changes, such as cutting across several lanes of traffic to take an off-ramp, suddenly change lanes, or even to drive on the freeway shoulder.
    • Lose the ability to perform driving skills that require precise timing or other subtle skills.
    • Make a driver feel as though he or she is detached from the other drivers, vehicles, and conditions on the road.

    Dealing with Road Rage

    It's become all too common these days. Road rage has been responsible for many accidents and even bodily injury, due mainly to an overreaction and the personalization of driving situations. If something happens to make you believe that you could become the focus of another driver's rage, here are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

    • Remain in your car, and if approached on foot, roll up the windows and lock the doors.
    • Even if you're just talking with a passenger, avoid making gestures that another driver could interpret as hostile, rude, or otherwise negative.
    • If you accidentally do something that annoys or upsets another driver, make overly-exaggerated expressions of regret, hold hand in a prayer gesture, mouth the word "sorry," make a silly grimace―anything that will send the message that you acknowledge an error. This works very well to diffuse a situation. Some drivers have even begun to carry a printed sign that simply says "sorry" in bold letters, to hold up if they do something that annoys another driver.

    According to a survey conducted by doctors on the topic of road rage, over half of all drivers in America will either express "road rage" themselves, or encounter another driver in a fit of "road rage" focused at them while they are driving. The U.S. Highway Safety Office reports that each year, tens of thousands of automobile accidents can be linked directly to the expression of road rage or by aggressive driving. An extremely frightening statistic: road rage accidents are now the leading cause of death for our children.

    A Few Things You Can Do to Prevent Road Rage

    Driving an automobile has become increasingly personalized, with many drivers feeling that the actions of other drivers are directed at them personally, rather than taking another's driving errors in stride. Of course, this type of reaction is not uncommon as a secondary emotion to fear, especially if a driving error causes the enraged driver to make a sudden reactive maneuver to avoid collision. It has also been found that a majority of the drivers who were surveyed said that the flash of anger and personalization the experience brought on could be defused and settled if the offending driver had simply acknowledged the error with a gesture of apology.

    Keep Your Eye, Mind, and Thoughts on the Road

    Keeping emotions in control makes a huge difference in driving safety, but there are other things many drivers do that take their attention away from driving and can cause problems for themselves and others. Even if you work in your car and almost never seem to leave it, refrain from eating, reading, map consulting, Internet surfing, applying makeup, or holding your pets while you are driving.

    If you use a cell phone and find that you must talk, use a hands-free device while you are driving and keep the calls short and at an absolute minimum.

    As long as you are moving, your attention should be on the road and traffic at all times―not diluted by distractions or strong emotions.