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Friday, May 29, 2009
Driver Education: Driving Home from Work
Attitude – Your emotions, whether you are in a good mood or a foul one, play a large part in determining how you will respond to the driving environment. If you have a heavy after-work schedule (getting the kids to sports practice, shopping for and preparing dinner, etc.), the frustrations of slow traffic can put you into a bad mood. Drivers who are frustrated and angry tend to take chances they might not otherwise take: Trying to get through a traffic light while it is still yellow, weaving to get into a seemingly faster lane, or speeding. Think back to a time when you got behind the wheel while you were really angry about something. You may recall that you took out your anger on the gas pedal and the other drivers who were getting in your way. If you find yourself getting angry while you are driving home from work, take a moment to think about your driving and try to calm down. Being stopped for a traffic violation or being involved in a collision isn't going to get you there any faster.
Stress – The pressures of work and the stress it generates take a toll on the body. The pressures and frustrations you experience not only put you in a foul mood, they put your body under physical stress. When you experience conflict of any kind, whether it is work- or family-related, your body responds via the fight or flight response. This response, which was designed to protect us from danger by shifting blood to the large muscles and giving you a big dose of adrenaline, can actually be harmful in an environment where you can neither fight nor flee. You may experience this response while driving home from work when another driver cuts you off and you have to brake suddenly to avoid a collision. Repeated doses of adrenaline speed up the heart, increase blood pressure, and, after a while, wear us down and make us physically tired. Tired drivers make more mistakes and have slower reaction times. Being aware of your physical and mental state and taking action to calm yourself or rest a bit before driving home from work will help prevent those critical driving mistakes.
Distractions – A recent study showed that more than 80 percent of collisions occurred within three seconds of a driver distraction. Taking your eyes off the road for even a second or two can have disastrous results. In two seconds at 45 mph, your car will travel more than 66 feet. A lot can happen in that time and space. The anger and frustrations mentioned above can act as distractions, but some of the most distracting actions are physical. The biggest distraction in recent years is the cell phone. Brain scans have shown that drivers who are engaged in cell phone conversations are concentrating more on the conversation than on the road ahead. Studies of this type have shown that the brain isn't really capable of multitasking. The brain can only devote attention to one thing at a time. Studies also show that cell phone users drive more slowly, react slower to red lights and are slow to get up to speed once the light turns green. This is true whether the cell phone is hand-held or hands-off. A lot of the slow traffic on city streets today can be blamed on the use of cell phones. Other distractions such as changing CDs, adjusting the radio, and eating can also take your eyes off the road for those critical seconds. Driving home from work requires all your attention.
Health – Recent studies have shown that the accumulated diesel and gas fumes can have a negative impact on those drivers who may already have high blood pressure or diagnosed heart problems. The roadway environment along with the stresses mentioned above could trigger a medical emergency. If you have health problems, pull off the road and dial 911 immediately if you experience any symptoms. Be sure to visit your doctor regularly for checkups.
To make your afternoon commute safer, the following tips may be helpful:
• Take a moment to consider your attitude before you drive. Use deep breathing exercises or other calming techniques to calm yourself before getting behind the wheel.
• If you have a choice of routes when driving home from work, choose the safer route over the faster route.
• If you have to use a cell phone, pull off the road and keep the conversation short. Otherwise, let voicemail answer the call.
• Watch out for other distracting behaviors, such as fiddling with the radio or eating and drinking.
• Don't give into the temptation to "get back at" or punish other drivers for their bad driving behavior by honking your horn or cutting them off. It will only frustrate you more and could trigger a tragic road rage incident. Let it go.
• If you can, work with your employer to adjust your work hours so that you can avoid the heaviest commute periods.