Monday, March 27, 2000

Don't give driving a second thought

Want to be a better driver? Don't think.

That's the conclusion of a recent study released by the American Psychological Association. People who think while they're driving tend to focus fixedly on one object, fail to check the rear-view mirrors sufficiently, and pay less attention to the road. I remember taking driver's training as a kid and being told to constantly check mirrors, one after the other, over and over, constantly, eyes here two seconds, there two seconds, back to here, back to there, and I always thought that would be more distracting than anything else I could do. Apparently I was thinking too much.

Thinking in this context does not simply refer to thinking about other things than driving. Even thinking about the route you're taking can be too distracting. Thinking about where the map might be. Thinking about whether that street you just passed because you were busy checking the rear-view mirror might be the street you needed to turn on. Thinking about where the next gas station might be. Thinking about the second mortgage you'll have to take out to buy gas. All these things can be as bad as talking on a cell phone while eating a donut. Seems its best to just go where the road takes you, with a good view of where you've been.

Music is okay; music seems to help drivers concentrate. Maybe it helps one fall into the proper mirror-checking rhythm. Don't want anything too peppy, don't want anything too sedate. A good waltz, perhaps. Books on tape would presumably be bad, unless its a good trashy romance that sort of knocks out the portion of your brain that's responsible for thinking. Presumably one of those in-minivan TVs tuned to, say, Jerry Springer would accomplish the same thing.

I don't have one of those. The music I listen to runs to Sesame Street when there are kids in the car, dinosaur rock when they're not. Perhaps these are not sufficiently soothing, because I can't help but think. Time behind the wheel always felt like a really good time to go over the events of the day, worry about them obsessively, argue in my head with whoever's got me ticked off today, formulate song lyrics, plan out my day, decide what to have for lunch, fantasize about the best possible outcomes of my kids' current trials, say prayers to prevent the worst possible outcomes. I guess in order to do that now, I'll have to take the bus.

It's something to think about, anyway.

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