“Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a moron.” — George Carlin
A blonde is driving down the freeway when her boyfriend calls on the cell phone. When she picks up the phone he says, “Hi honey, it’s me. I just wanted to tell you to be careful. It says on the news that there’s a car driving the wrong way on the freeway.”
“No, it’s worse!” she says. “There’s not one. There’s hundreds of them!”
Looks like she contributed to the accident. The question is…how? ;)
Okay, enough funny business. For now. While there’s nothing wrong with a laugh or two, real-life driving distractions are no joke. *pausing while y’all switch gears* (Pun intended.)
A cop friend of mine first alerted me to the dangers of mindless driving—driving with little awareness—several years ago. He said, “If people knew how many accident victims are found with cell phones shoved into their heads, they wouldn’t talk and drive.” Scary visual, right?
Authorities say that driving is a privilege, not a right. Yet too many of us treat it with nonchalance—an attitude that can be more dangerous than a loaded gun. While we can’t change the attitudes or behaviors of others, it only makes sense that we adjust our own. We can lead by example and, potentially, save lives.
Before I delve into the specifics of mindful driving, consider these facts:
In 2009, over 5,400 people died in crashes involving distracted driving in the U.S. alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with cell phone use being the most common culprit. About 448,000 more were injured. (These numbers are low-ball, however. Distractions linked with accidents, including cell phone use, often go unknown or unreported.)
Numerous studies have shown that driving while talking on your cell phone—with or without a headset, and texting are as dangerous as drunk driving.
Unlike talking to a fellow passenger, cell phone use takes your mind out of the vehicle. So it’s no surprise that researchers at the University of South Carolina found that cell phone users are four times less able to pay attention compared to non-users.
Driving is the most dangerous activity most of us will ever engage in. But that doesn’t mean we should drive in a state of panic. Driving around fear-filled will only worsen matters. Driving with heightened mindfulness, on the other hand… NOW we’re talking.
Mindfulness, according to Psychology Today, is a state of “active, open attention on the present.” To drive mindfully, you apply similar principles on the road. Rather than drive with complacency, which is the norm, you drive with awareness of and respect for yourself, your vehicle and your surroundings—including other drivers.
Effective Steps Toward Mindful Driving:
- Before driving, remind yourself of your intention: to drive with awareness. This alone will help cultivate mindful thoughts and behaviors.
- Know where you’re going. This is a tough one for me, seeing as I’ve been known to get lost in people’s homes and, once, a bathroom. Navigation systems are great, but use them as backup. Get the gist of your directions down before leaving. If you get lost, pull over to gather your bearings.
- Place a ‘mindfulness reminder’ in your car. An inspiring quotation, meaningful charm and photographs of loved ones provide valuable options—anything that reminds you that life is precious and distracted driving, dangerous.
- Make your car a NO PHONE ZONE. Keep your phone out of arms’ reach, preferably on silent mode or turned off, at all times while driving.
- Aim not only to follow traffic laws, but to observe other drivers. (Driving “right” does not ensure your safety.) Keep a distance from drivers driving badly. Report risky drivers to the police—after pulling over, of course.
- Stop the road rage. If someone is driving too slow, slow down or move over rather than ride their tail. If someone’s encroaching behind you, don’t slow down just to peeve them. Move over and get over it.
- Breathe. If you feel yourself tensing up, due to poor driving, running late or other stressors, take slow, measured breaths.
- Drive with little or no music. The thought of driving in silence would’ve creeped me out a few years ago. Now I love it. If you do listen to music or talk, keep the volume at a reasonable level.
- Turn sounds off and roll your windows down before driving and parking. This brings awareness to sounds of animals, small children and other beings/things in your wheels’ way.
- Sleep enough. I’ll cover this more in the Healthy Sleep post. For now, know this: sleep deficiencies also bring risks similar to drunkenness. If you aren’t in the proper state to drive, don’t. Take a nap. Call a cab. Develop a healthier overall sleep routine.
- Don’t over-caffeinate. While moderate caffeine, or the amount found in 2 – 3 cups of coffee, is harmless to most adults, excessive amounts can cause or worsen anxiety, irritability, shakiness and accident risks.
- Don’t drink and drive (duh). About 1/3 of driving fatalities involve alcohol.
- Drive when you drive, and cut out other clutter. Although phones top the list of risky driving distractions, other common culprits include applying makeup, shaving, smoking, eating, drinking, toying around with navigation systems, music players or other objects.
- Meditate. Just not while you’re driving.Practicing mindfulness in any area of your life promotes mindfulness in other areas, which boosts your physical and emotional health. You’ll sleep better, think better, feel better and live better.
Sound like a lot to take on? Choose a few baby steps, starting with awareness of the distractions you’re grappling with now and the intention of positive change.
What do you say? Anything you zen drivers out there wish to add? Are you a non-zen driver, willing to admit your faux pax? State your goal and state it loud. I’d LOVE to hear from you and cheer you on.