Conscious Driving   Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a little while, and I think I’ll do it now to assuage my guilt. Early this past week I accidentally ran a red light. It was one of those mid-block pedestrian cross walk lights that is never red, and unfortunately I was just scanning the road within my headlights and not looking ahead so by the time I realized the light was red it was too late for me to stop. Since I was scanning the road I know that there were no cars pulling out of parking lots or pedestrians crossing, so it’s kind of a “no harm, no foul” situation. But I’m a good girl and I feel horrible about it. So a reminder to myself and all of us follows. (Warning: long post)

Conscious driving starts with not taking it for granted. So many of us have driven every day for years and we have long ago taken it for granted. We forget that we are in a machine that weighs hundreds of pounds moving at inhuman speeds with blind spots all around us. We get into our cars in a hurry, backing up while still buckling our seat belts, and then we proceed to use cell phones or eat or talk or read or daydream while driving. We stare blankly at the car in front of us and play Simon Says with its break lights. We speed and change lanes in front of people without signaling or even making sure that there is actually room in the lane. Stop. Remember what it felt like the first time you got behind the wheel of a car. I doubt I was the only person intimidated by the power and danger inherent in the machine. Remember diligently applying the lessons learned in driver’s ed? Use your blinkers to signal a turn or lane change. Drive the speed limit. Watch your mirrors and the road out in front of you. Don’t tailgate; leave a couple car lengths out in front of you. Check your mirrors and dashboard before you put the car in drive (or reverse). Follow all traffic laws.

Conscious driving goes beyond the lessons from driver’s ed. It requires actually devoting your attention on the task of driving. Be Conscious. When I drive I try to focus on driving and being conscious of myself, my car, and the road and traffic around me. For me that means: Not daydreaming or spacing out (especially difficult in evening rush hour). Sitting straight in my seat with good posture. Keeping my body relaxed (or at least not tensed up). Loosely gripping the steering wheel at the 10&2 position (although I understand that because of airbags it’s supposed to be 9&3 now; which is really uncomfortable for me). Driving shoeless so that I can really feel the pedal and the car’s vibrations under my foot. Regularly checking my speedometer and fuel efficiency screen. Thinking about speed and drag and adjusting my windows accordingly as my speed changes. Keeping my eyes scanning the road right in front of me, the car in front of me, the car in front of it, the road out as far as I can see in front of me, the cars to my sides, my rear view mirror, and my driver’s side mirror (I don’t use the passenger side mirror much unless I’m changing lanes or backing up because I feel like my eyes are off the road for too long). Watching the brake lights and traffic signals up ahead and reading traffic to predict what is going to happen next. Not riding my pedals but coasting up to a stop, taking my foot of the gas as soon as the car two cars (plus or minus) in front of me starts to break. Driving my comfortable speed for the conditions (yes, sometimes that is even slower than the posted speed limit). Paying attention to light levels and precipitation. Remembering when rain just starts that the road is especially slippery since the residual oils on the asphalt slick on top of the water. Turning on my headlights (not parking lights) when the light is dim or there is “weather”. (Living in Sacramento I am astounded by the number of people who drive at high speeds in fog with no lights. Really?! Remember that the headlights aren’t necessarily to help you see, but to help you be seen from the front and rear.) Etcetera…

Obviously I’m not perfect, not even close, when it comes to conscious driving. I think I’m around 50%, but it’s really hard to be objective.

Some things that are, in my experience, antithetical to conscious driving include hurrying, eating or carrying food, and sometimes having passengers. When I am in a hurry my focus is on getting to my destination quickly, which means that I am driving for speed not for safety, and I am not adjusting my driving for the conditions around me with the same skill. As for food, I would never eat something that is not finger food while driving, but even finger food can be distracting. I have a hard time not looking down if I drop a cracker or french fry, for example. And when I have food traces on my fingers I am hesitant to grip the steering wheel to turn properly. Also, if I have some open item, even a casserole dish for the potluck at work, or any other fragile item in the car I tend to have it on my mind at all times and if affects my ability to break or take turns properly because I become concerned about the item flying around in the car. The problem with passengers is that passengers generally mean conversation. Now, I talk to myself in the car all the time and I don’t think that it affects my concentration. Same with listening to the radio. I find that listening to the radio actually helps me to focus on driving because it is background noise the occupies the back of my mind, reducing the chances of drifting off on a daydream. It is easy to tune the radio out in a heartbeat if needed. Talking to myself is a way to let thoughts come and then go without grabbing my attention (I ramble when I talk to myself). And when something happens that grabs my focus, the self-conversation is over and forgotten. When I am talking to someone else, though, it is embarrassing to drop a sentence mid-word and I find myself focusing after the incident on trying to recapture the thought.

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Posted May 14, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living

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