Drivers are more and more dangerous on the streets and highways than ever before. The notion of mindfulness has begun to be the buzz word of the day and so I continue to think about this as I am behind the wheel. What would it look like if we all drove mindfully?
When you go to your car, truck, or whatever mode of transportation you might work in (subway, semi, train) it is important to focus on the task at hand. First, thinking consciously about your vehicle when you turn it on. How does it sound? Do you have enough gas? Do you need lights on? What are the road conditions that you are about to embark on? Have you sufficiently prepared your self for the weather of the day with proper clothing? I think about pilots when they are about to fly and all the preparations that go in to getting off the ground. You are the pilot of your vehicle and the same attention must be paid to the safety of your self and others. While you may not have 300 passengers in the rear, you have hundreds to thousands (i.e., LA) of people next to you on the road.
Every time you get behind a wheel, it is important to be conscious of these things as your mindset will affect the lives of so many people. And not just those on the road directly but their families who will indirectly bear the burden of the decisions you make.
As you enter the street, from your own driveway, thinking about the world you are about to embark on. Who is coming out of their driveways? What is on the road in front of you? Do you need to keep a watchful eye for animals (deer, squirrels, domestic pets), in your neighborhood? Of course don’t forget children on bicycles or playing on sidewalks – is their ball going to slip out onto the street and then they go running after it? Mindfully taking in all that is around you.
When you get to the end of the street it is important to stay behind the stop sign. If there is no stop sign, you are still mandated to stay at the end of the street, not out into on-coming traffic where people will now have to get over to go around you, thereby making it even slower for you to turn right or left. When you are causing traffic to re-route for your decisions, it causes more stress on everyone around you, including your self. This also causes people to then be mindful of every street corner, expecting people to come racing out and being the cause of constant braking.
Traffic lights are extremely important to focus on. If you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, don’t race through the yellow light that may only stay that way for a few seconds. Going through a red light puts an entire intersection in danger and it is playing Russian roulette. What good does it do your body if you smash into another driver who had the green light? If there is a storm and the traffic lights are out, there are rules for crossing the street. Each side takes turns as you then become mindful of an imaginary stop sign. It does no one any good if you are in the middle of the street, five cars deep, sitting there so that no one has a chance of crossing. Most states have laws about blocking the streets in traffic (with or without a light that is working).
As you enter the entrance to the freeway/highway/interstate, whatever you code this federal or state boulevard. Mindfully focusing on everyone around you. As we learned in Driver’s Ed, what is happening in front, to the right, to the left, and in behind? Watching all directions and paying attention to what is going on. When you are switching lanes, have you indicated this with your lights? Is there at least a car lengths space between you and the driver in front and back? With more than three lanes, what is the guy to the left doing? Is he also trying to get into the same lane you are going to? For those behind the car trying to switch lanes – giving them the common courtesy of getting over. If you are in a merge lane, this means you have an imaginary yellow light (you take caution when approaching on-coming traffic). People on the freeway are not meant to put on their brakes so merging traffic can come in. It is best when those on the freeway can get over for merging traffic, if that is possible but when you have a merging lane and an exit lane in the exact same place, this is rather difficult for all involved. Again, being mindful of driving carefully and cautiously of all around you.
Traffic for work – we are all going to work, you are no exception. Driving at the pace of others will do the least amount of damage if we are all focused together. Whether you are five minutes late or fifteen minutes late, you are still late. You still run the risk of getting written up by your boss. If you are thinking that you need to race to be a few minutes less late, you are putting others in danger and run the risk of hitting someone. Then you will likely be up to an hour (or more) late for causing traffic damage. Racing to get to work also causes stress on the other drivers around you. Those people who are driving mindfully and were conscious of leaving at the correct time that day, are having to be distracted by your mistakes. People become nervous and when this occurs they make mistakes too. Some people on the road are brand new drivers, going to their first jobs. Dealing with people who are racing to work can cause an inexperienced driver to have an accident at your expense.
Racing to get to work and racing to get home. You are racing to get somewhere that many people don’t want to be at and then you race to get home to complain about this. How much of your life is wasted by racing? How would your day be at work if you were mindfully driving to get there? How would your evening be at home if you were conscious of being in the car on the way home? Your life exists behind the wheel, not just what happens after you get out. The saying “Be Here Now,” means that. There is also another favorite quote “Life Wastes Itself When we are Preparing to Live.” When you arrive out of breath, you have missed out on minutes of your life that you can not get back.
Take care of yourself on the way to work or where ever it is you are headed. Have nice relaxing, calming music playing to help you be mindful of the road. This type of music also helps people to be less stressed. It doesn’t matter what genre the music is in, if you feel happy and want to smile, then this is the music for you. For long trips, use audio books to enjoy the time in a quality way. There are also CD’s to learn a new language. What a wonderful and different way to travel.
Mindful driving would change our world and make us a part of the world around us. Without mindful driving, we are merely one person against others rather than one person amongst others. Think of this the next time you get behind a wheel. You might just end up saving a life today.