05 Jun Zen and the Art of Freeway Driving
Driving on the freeway can pose challenges, but taking a Zen approach and focusing on safe driving habits can significantly reduce the daily stress of driving and the potential for crashes.
Driving on a freeway has likely never been prescribed as a way to cut stress. From navigating a route to keeping yourself alert, life as a fleet driver requires patience, skill, diligence, and, yes, a good dose of calm amid one of the most chaotic and dynamic situations that you’re likely to experience. While meditating while driving isn’t recommended(and should be avoided) —a Zen-like approach to driving calmly and cautiously while adhering to best driving practices will help cut your stress and keep you safe.
Fatal motor vehicle crashes have steadily increased over the past couple of years: In 2016, there were 40,000 fatal crashes (the highest since 2007), which was up 6% from 2015, and up 14% from 2014, according to preliminary data from the National Safety Council. In light of these startling statistics, it’s in your best interest to exercise safe driving habits, keep your cool, and lead by example while representing your fleet.
Because you cannot be held responsible for others’ sometimes erratic driving behavior, it’s essential to practice defensive driving. A skilled defensive driver will monitor his or her own vehicle, as well as all the vehicles surrounding it.
Additionally, do your best to avoid aggressive drivers. Keep your eyes out for drivers who are speeding, tailgating, cutting other vehicles off, running red lights, neglecting to use their turn signal, weaving in and out of traffic, or anything else that may denote aggression.
Aggressive drivers are often the cause of fatal crashes. In 2014, speeding was responsible for 18.8% of fatal crashes, sudden lane changes were responsible for 8.5%, and failure to yield led to 6.9% of fatal crashes, according to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Make sure to stay as far away from aggressive vehicles as possible.
While it may be tempting to honk your horn at someone who is driving aggressively, driving too slowly, or just because you are frustrated, this will do little to inspire a Zen-like attitude for other drivers and will cause you to act more aggressively and start making your own mistakes.
The California DMV states that you should only use the horn to avoid collisions, to try to get eye contact with other drivers, and on narrow mountain roads where you cannot see at least 200 feet ahead of your vehicle.
It’s important not only to be calm and in the moment — focused on what drivers are doing right around you — but also to be scanning a few car lengths ahead. Be aware of any potential crashes, erratic drivers, or traffic stops ahead. This might not eliminate frustration entirely, but it will allow you to always be present and prepared for any potentially hazardous situation.
You also need to avoid actions that can cause frustration and possible hazards for others.
For instance, always use your blinker when changing lanes, warning other drivers that you plan to make a move. Then, always scan the preferred lane to guarantee you have enough space to merge. You should check their rearview mirrors and over your shoulder in to make sure that there aren’t vehicles in your blind spot. When using your blinker give the blinker 3-5 seconds before committing to the direction change so other drivers can anticipate your lane change or turn.
Staying alert throughout your shift is imperative to the safety of everyone on the road. In fact, the AAA states that drivers who get less than five hours of sleep and drivers over the legal limit for alcohol have a similar risk of getting into an accident. Distraction, drunkenness, and exhaustion share reaction times that are equally dangerous and impairing.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per day, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Make sure you have slept for at least seven hours before starting a shift, as drowsy driving is the cause of an estimated 16.5% of fatal crashes.
In order to maximize focus, the AAA Exchange recommends that you travel at times when you’re normally awake, schedule a break every 100 miles, stop driving if you’re tired, drink caffeine, and travel with an alert passenger when possible.
A good night’s sleep not only improves your perception and alertness, but helps your mood as well. You’ll likely feel less calm and collected if you’ve slept poorly. Sleep is one of the keys to maintaining a Zen-like attitude while you’re on the road.