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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Stagg

Keeping Safe with a Cool Attitude

Neon sign reading 'good vibes only'
Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

It would be great if every time we got into a vehicle, we shed our feelings and attitudes and became driving-focused machines. But of course, that's never the case. Whether we realize it or not, every time we get behind the wheel of a car, we bring baggage with us - feelings, circumstances, moods all come into play. In any aspect of life, remaining objective is difficult; we're only human, after all.

Think about what it's like to drive when you're in a bad mood. Traffic, bad behaviour from other drivers, getting every red light all the way home all become magnified by the frustration we are feeling in other areas of our life. By the same token, when you're having a great day, driving often feels easier. We're more likely to be forgiving of others mistakes, and it's easier to share the road or get slowed down by traffic.

The reality is that we are often not cognizant of this. If asked, most people would insist that they were good drivers across the board, their decisions and maneuvers not impacted by what is going on elsewhere in their life. In fact, in general, people tend to believe they are better drivers than they actually are (and also tend to think that others are worse than them). There's a name for this - it's called Illusory Superiority and it's the tendency to overestimate our abilities. According to People Science, some 90% of drivers believe they have an above-average skill level, which is, of course, statistically impossible.

There's nothing wrong with confronting your own limitations. In fact, it's a good thing! Being self-aware means that you have the capacity to address your failings; you're not become a better driver if you don't think there's room for improvement. In this context, being aware of your mood and your attitude as you start driving is a huge advantage.

So what's the best attitude to have while driving? I would argue that the best attitude to have is a cool attitude. A cool attitude, by my definition, is level-headedness and the ability to stay calm and focus on driving. Feeling an excess of emotion, in either direction, can impair your ability to concentrate. Think about it. If you're in a bad mood, you have little patience for those around you and you're likely to interpret everything in a negative light. This can lead to aggressive driving behaviour or, short of that, it can lead you to stew on the errors that other drivers have made. But stewing on anything other than driving is dangerous. On the other side of the spectrum, feeling excessively benevolent can cause you to miss the less accommodating behaviours of others, behaviours that with the right focus, you can respond to with defensive maneuvers of your own.

You may be thinking, sure, that all sounds true, but how am I supposed to regulate how I'm feeling? I have to commute to work everyday, good mood or bad. But here I will emphasize again the importance of self-awareness when behind the wheel. It's absolutely true that we don't always have the fortune to drive only when we're focused and calm. But we do have the ability to recognize what we're feeling and respond accordingly. That can mean different things for different people. For example, if you're in a bad mood, you might take stock of that and decide to play music that calms you down. Or you might choose to turn off the radio when you're overrun with excitement and the music is likely to distract you. If you're angry, you may want to turn up the A/C or roll down a window to get some fresh air.

There are all kinds of potential solutions for ensuring that you keep a cool attitude when behind the wheel of a car. What works for some may not work for you, but taking the time to figure out what does, and to reflect on how you're feeling before you begin to drive, can make a world of difference.

Learning to be aware of your mood can be as simple as checking in with yourself before you turn on your car. Before you start the engine, take 15 seconds and ask yourself "how am I feeling?" It might feel silly at first, but as you continue to check in with yourself, you might find there is a lot to learn, information which can make a huge difference once you hit the road.


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