A Major Cause of Distracted Driving…It’s Not Your Phone
We all get a little distracted while driving sometimes. Usually a passing thought or sight does the trick, while others ignore fines and tickets by texting away. You might think that electronic devices are the main reasons for distracted driving, but there’s another major cause – negative emotions.
Not everyday will be a good one. From time to time, you will experience a day that puts you in a bad mood, whether it’s from work, an argument, a failure or something else that’s negative. But you’ll still power through it and engage in your daily routine. However, should you ignore unpleasant emotions and get behind the wheel? It’s a tough question to answer since we all process our thoughts and feelings differently. There’s also the fact that we experience stress at varying intensities. One thing is certain, though – extreme or heavy emotions can make your drive riskier than normal.
It wouldn’t make sense to park your car for every time someone annoys you, or hurts your feelings. For the most part, “brushing it off” leads to safe driving, so getting from point A to B without driving too recklessly (which we’ll talk about later). But finding yourself in an emotionally-charged state is a different story altogether.
Red in the face
Anger is a powerful emotion. It’s well known that anger is the most intense emotion a human being can experience. When properly channelled, anger can fuel someone to achieve tough goals, but it’s often misused. Additionally, few emotions can fatigue a person as anger does. When it comes to driving however, anger is much more than a cause for exhaustion. The price of getting too angry behind the wheel can lead to serious, even devastating consequences on the road.
Anger and Aggressive Driving Behaviours
- Road Rage – Tailgating/chasing someone who cut you off, verbal threats and throwing objects at another driver are typical actions associated with road rage. In fact, most cases of aggressive driving and stunts even, involve an upset person.
- Speeding – Closely related to road rage is the problem of speeding. It’s common to see agitated drivers push the pedal more than those in a calm state.
- Rumination – Anger often leads one to think excessively about certain thoughts. That in itself isn’t bad (although not too healthy), but rumination can reduce a driver’s focus.
Feeling “down” is another frame of mind that can have a powerful impact on a person. Sadness and depression (both the emotion and illness) can alter your personality to a point where others see you as a different person altogether. But these emotions don’t change your behaviour alone – they affect your brain function as well. Studies have shown that being in a depressed mood slows certain parts of your brain down, especially the ones needed for planning, making decisions and memory (all of which are necessary skills for safe driving). That’s why the blues are nothing to take lightly.
Dangers of Driving with a Low Mood
- Easily distracted – We often think of being easily distracted as an ADHD symptom. However, feelings of sadness can take a person’s mind off the road in an instant. It goes without saying that distracted driving is a quick way to find yourself in an accident or pulled over by police.
- Delayed thinking – Lane changes, judging distances, making turns, avoiding road obstacles – your brain has to work hard and fast while driving. A low mood slows your mind’s ability to do these tasks effortlessly.
- Fatigue – A major problem associated with depression and low moods is fatigue. You’ll likely feel sluggish and tired in such a state, and this may put you asleep behind the wheel. In fact, many drivers who fall asleep behind the wheel aren’t sleep deprived, they’re depressed.
Always on Edge
Somewhere between anger and sadness lies anxiety – another emotion that can lead to risky driving. In many ways, nervousness can be worse than frustration or depression, because people who are anxious often take extreme measures to “keep safe”. A person who’s on edge may drive too slow or ironically, too fast (to avoid a perceived threat). Whatever the action or activity, a person who’s nervous is likely to be indecisive and easily flustered – mental states that are dangerous for driving.
The Risks of Anxious Driving
- Indecisiveness – A driver who’s always anxious is likely to find decision-making difficult. That’s a dangerous quality to have since safe driving is dependent on the choices you make. Although you’ll have to take a few seconds to think at times, an anxiety-riddled driver will often take much longer than that.
- Black-and-white thinking – High stress often leads a person to have an “either-or” mentality. When translated to driving, a person behind the wheel can’t see the road as a place for absolutes. For example, an anxious driver bent on obeying a rule may avoid driving defensively and end up causing an accident.
- Potential for panic attacks – A dangerous side effect of anxiety (especially when it’s a disorder) is a panic attack. Symptoms include shallow breathing, a sense of choking and feeling detached from your surroundings. Panic attacks themselves are almost never fatal, but suffering one behind the wheel can lead to an accident that results in a loss of life.
The Hazards of Emotionally-Charged Driving
If you are prone to feeling angry, depressed or anxious, you may be dealing with difficult circumstances. Many of these issues are not your fault. Unfortunately, these problems can lead to driving behaviours that have unpleasant outcomes, and you will be deemed as responsible.
The Price of Driving with Negative Emotions
- Traffic Violations – Angry drivers are more likely to speed excessively and behave carelessly on the road. Depressed or anxious drivers may succumb to cloudy thinking or nervousness, both of which can lead them to making careless mistakes on the road. The result of these actions could be traffics tickets (ie. speeding, disobeying signs), license suspensions, higher insurance premiums and hefty fines. If the convictions are severe enough, a driver who’s guilty of such offenses could face jail time.
- Car Accidents – In a fit of rage, a person may drive in a way that endangers the lives of others, including themselves. A person with low moods or high stress will often have delayed reaction times or overreact to slight changes in road conditions. Devastating accidents have occurred because people allow these emotions to override good judgement. Just like traffic violations, car accidents can result in significant costs (ie. repairs, higher insurance rates), and in some cases, criminal charges.
- Violent Off-Road Encounters – Although not too common, a confrontation or miscommunication between two drivers on the road can lead to serious trouble off the road. An extreme example would be two drivers pulling off into a shoulder lane or parking lot, to engage in a fist fight or worse. Such an outcome could be tragic, especially if one driver want’s to settle things peacefully.
Yield to Negative Feelings
It’s hard to admit when our emotions are taking a toll on our behaviours. Others may note them, and we deny them. But it’s important to see how negative feelings can affect our driving habits, and how they can put ourselves and others in danger. With that said, don’t park your car just because you’re annoyed or worried about something normal. However, think twice about driving if you feel very overwhelmed. Have a family member drive you around for a couple of days if it’s temporary. Whatever the cause, always think of others and how your every action on the road can affect them!