The perils of getting stressed out when behind the wheel are still capable of turning a daily drive into a dangerous affair. A study published in Psychological Science reported “stress-related reductions in the quality of driving led to a spike in the rate of fatal traffic accidents.”
With your safety in mind, let’s talk about ways to reduce driving-related stress.
ALLOW FOR EXTRA TIME ON YOUR JOURNEY
Stress can build throughout the day, but nothing delivers an immediate reaction more than being late. As the minutes tick by, so does your likelihood of getting into trouble on the road. Stay calm by allowing yourself extra time to get where you’re going, including a ‘getting lost’ buffer for trips to new destinations. Arriving a bit early never got you in trouble or made your temperature rise to boiling, so build in that extra time to ensure a calm trip and safe arrival.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE BEFOREHAND
Save yourself from getting lost in the woods by planning your route ahead. Between smartphones and in-dash navigation devices, it’s all too easy to start the journey without a second thought. But checking the route in advance means you get a jump on any major construction or traffic delays that could cause re-routing.
KEEP SNACKS NEARBY
Raise your hand if you get cranky when hungry. It’s ok, it happens to the best of us. Being stuck in a car with an empty belly creates the perfect storm for irritable and stressful behavior. Instead of suffering through stomach grumbles, keep non-perishable or long-shelf-life snacks, like energy bars or nuts, in the car for emergency situations.
Technology can be your best friend in a stressful situation. Safety systems like rearview cameras and blind spot warning systems can take the pressure out of stressful driving situations. In fact, in a study testing whether automated parking systems reduced stress, MIT recorded “test subjects averaged more than 12 beats per minute lower heart rate” when using a park assist system compared to the subjects who were manually parking a car.
When all else fails, try your best to remember that your life – and the lives of others – can be at risk if you don’t drive with caution. Give your physical state a once-over. Do you have a death-grip on the wheel? Loosen your hands and fingers. Are you sitting forward, hunching over the wheel? Try leaning back. You may want to roll your shoulders and head a couple times or wiggle your jaw around. It’s amazing how the simplest actions can tell your body that it’s time to chill out.