as featured in MASK Magazine, Hope Edition, Winter 2013
Emotions are a natural part of who we are as human beings. Sometimes our emotions are positive and upbeat and other times they are negative and make us feel depressed, sad or angry and those emotions affect our attitude or state of mind. Often we can let our emotions get the best of us and getting a handle on those emotions can be difficult. Driving when our emotions are running high can be a dangerous practice, particularly for a novice driver. A teenager’s brain is still developing and they are vulnerable to their emotions and emotions of others. Avoiding getting behind the wheel when our emotions are running high and have control of us is the right choice to make for our own safety and the safety of others.
When we think of “distracted driving” we normally think about cell phones, but in reality distracted driving is more than just talking or texting on your cell phone. There are three different types of distractions that all drivers experience. Visual, manual and cognitive distractions. An easier way to remember these is to think eyes, hands, head. Many times it is a combination of these types of distractions that occur. Driving while extremely emotional is a form of distracted driving. A visual distraction takes a driver’s eyes away from the road to view something outside or inside of our vehicle. A manual distraction requires a driver to remove one or both hands from the steering wheel. Cognitive distractions are the most difficult to define as well as to eliminate. To be cognitive, in the context of driving, means to be fully aware of the vehicle, its speed and other operational characteristics as well as the ever-changing roadway environment. When we are splitting our attention between driving and a conversation on the phone with someone else, possibly fueling our emotion, that is a cognitive distraction and takes our full attention away from the road. Even having a “conversation in our head” about whatever is going on in our life can be a significant distraction and can cause us to miss important information such as a stopped vehicle or a red light. It may also cause us to overreact to other drivers and we may engage in risky behaviors such as cutting someone off or tailgating. This is why cognitive distractions or “keeping our head in the game” and fully focused on driving can be very difficult.
How can we avoid driving when we are emotional? The first step is to be aware of our emotional make up. Ask yourself, am I someone who is easily excited either positively or negatively? Knowing this helps us to identify our emotional state quickly and make choices about how to handle a situation, particularly if driving is involved. If you need to drive, perhaps you can ask someone else to drive you to where you need to go. If that isn’t an option then take a minute or two, quiet your mind, close your eyes and take a deep breath to regain composure before you even start the vehicle. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it and knowing when our emotions have control is the first step in avoiding making poor choices because of our emotional state. Driving with our head in the game is the safe and responsible decision.