How Emotions Affect Driving

While some driving distractions—such as cell phone use, or loud music—might seem more obvious, being overcome with strong emotions can be just as dangerous. Your judgment may become clouded as you focus more and more on an emotionally-charged interaction, idea, or event.

We'll walk you through some of the warning signs of emotionally distracted driving, as well as help you with some tools to handle your emotions when you're behind the wheel.

Emotional Driving Distractions

Your mood can shift in a matter of seconds due to emotional stimulation that, on the surface, you may not see as affecting you at all. However, it's important to recognize situations that may have the potential to alter your mood—and therefore your driving. These situations can result in both negative and positive distracting emotions.

Negative Emotions

Some examples of negative events that may affect your mood and ability to focus on driving include:

  • Getting into an argument with your significant other.
  • A stressful day at work.
  • Another driver on the road cuts you off.
  • Receiving sad/distressing news.
  • Running late to an important appointment.

If you find yourself in one of the situations above, or notice yourself becoming stressed, angry, or sad, take a moment to acknowledge how you're feeling. Know that how you're feeling is okay and perfectly normal. Then, take a few more moments to recollect before getting behind the wheel of your car.

Take a look at our section below, Handling Emotional Distractions, for steps to take before driving once you've experienced a situation that's left you with negative emotions.

Positive Emotions

Similar to the effects of negative emotions, positive life events can also leave you just as distracted on the road. A few examples of positive situations that could result in distracted driving include:

  • Receiving a raise at work.
  • Getting good/exciting news.
  • Heading to or from a celebration.
  • Winning a prize.
  • Listening/singing along to a song you really like.

Although these situations may not seem problematic at all, getting wrapped up in the emotions that come as a result could lead to very negative consequences. In fact, for some it might even be harder to let go of positive emotions than negative ones.

So, if you find yourself getting excited as a result of positive circumstances, let yourself experience the inevitable happiness and enthusiasm to their fullest extent. Then, when you're sure you can fully focus on the road ahead, hop in the car and drive as if it were just another day.

See our section on Handling Emotional Distractions for more tips on how to manage emotions that can lead to distracted driving.

Handling Emotional Distractions

If you find yourself experiencing strong positive or negative emotions, notice them, and try to acknowledge the specific effects they're having on your physical and mental state. Before you decide to react on the road, you should:

  • Pull over (if you're already driving).
  • Take deep breaths, perhaps while counting backwards in odd intervals.
  • Turn some calming/enjoyable music on.
  • Remember that you have full control over your own actions and intentions, not the person, idea, or event affecting you.
  • Envision the consequences of your actions if you began driving recklessly.

Consequences of Emotional Distractions

The most prevalent results of emotional driving distractions are aggressive driving and road rage. If law enforcement catches you engaging in road rage, you will face criminal offenses, which can result in jail time, required court appearances, and higher fines.

Additionally, you may cause accidental damages to yourself or other drivers on the road. Some examples may include:

  • Drifting into another lane.
  • Driving through a red light or stop sign.
  • Rear-ending the car ahead of you.
  • Hitting a pedestrian.

All of these accidents could result in personal injury lawsuits, which could then result in jail time and court fines for you. So, allow yourself the small amount of time it takes to regain focus after an emotionally stimulating event—it could save lives.

Avoiding Conflict with Other Drivers

If your emotions got the better of you, and you accidentally do something to upset another driver, make every effort to express remorse. Ways you can do this include:

  • Waving.
  • Mouthing “I'm sorry."
  • Allowing the other driver to get ahead of you.

This will immediately defuse the situation and prevent it from escalating into a dangerous encounter.

In the event another driver continues to go after you and begins threatening you:

  • DO NOT pull over on the side of the road to get out and confront them.
  • DO go to a public place where there are plenty of witnesses.
  • DO call the police and wait for them to defuse the situation.
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