How your emotions affect your ability to drive at your optimum

Portrait of an angry driver yelling in his car

Angry and stressed at the wheel.

“My steering follows my eyes” – a statement I am confident to say cannot be challenged. How can I be so sure? I have been coaching and instructing in driver development for 17 years and previous to coaching spent most of my working life involved in motorsport. What I have realised is that if you ask different people to cover similar course content – for example, our Performance Driver course (we have delivered over 1000 of these courses), a behavioural pattern emerges and what humans do when they’re stressed or concentrating hard, may not be conducive to safe driving either on the road or at speed on a circuit!

If you become anxious or mentally challenged your focal point drops, often dangerously close, to the end of the bonnet. Your thoughts and feelings will potentially affect your driving behaviour. Clients driving on their first track day may find themselves a little anxious and rightly so. All of the lovely work we have achieved together at Millbrook can often be temporarily forgotten. What is the first thing to suffer and disappear from the driver’s mental toolbox? Looking Ahead.

Driving home from work

It’s not all about speed and track driving however. How often have you driven home from work on a Friday night tired and exhausted from the week’s grind? Perhaps it’s a rainy, cold December night, your eyes are sore and you just can’t wait to get home and out of the car. Where will you be looking? Experience tells me probably too close to the end of the bonnet. Inevitably in these examples, your driving risk is increasing and you may not have registered the change in your driving process or mood.

Lowering the focus of your vision to the end of your bonnet when under stress is not the only behavioural pattern we see in drivers. If you’re a skier, a snowboarder or you ride horses or mountain bikes… I’m pretty confident you’ll agree that your direction of travel is heavily influenced by where you focus your vision. It’s also true if you fly a plane, pilot a boat, ride a motorbike or drive a car. You will literally go where you look.

Choose to look anywhere but straight ahead and the chances are, without knowing it – you’ll start steering that way as well.

That’s why, if you break down on the hard shoulder of a motorway, you should always exit your vehicle and move to a safe distance from it. Anyone choosing to take a good look at your vehicle as they go past it – may end up driving straight into it.

And that leads me nicely to another behavioural pattern. As drivers, when faced with a challenging situation – sometimes we “prepare for the accident” instead of taking evasive action. We look at where we are going to crash, not always where we want the car to go to avoid the tree/car/incident. Thankfully I have learnt this lesson on racing circuits and proving grounds in controlled environments, not on the public highway. If the car you are driving gets out of shape, your eyes will instinctively focus on the potential point of impact. Be aware of this fact and you can discipline and change your behaviour for a safer and less emotional outcome.

Focus on the ribbon of tarmac you want to drive on and ignore the looming barrier and you may be surprised at what you can recover from.

Learning to observe the road correctly I believe to be a taught skill.  Yes, we can all look ahead and feel confident we are driving well, but have you stopped to analyse and evaluate how you drive at different times of the day or when driving under stress? It took me several years to realise the subtleties in observing the road correctly, and how at pinch points in my driving career, my instinctive visual responses may fail me or perhaps not provide me, with the optimum solution to a driving challenge.

On all CAT courses, we include Observation and Forward planning as a focus point.  Get those two subjects right and you will inevitably reduce your driving risk and may even save on fuel and wear & tear to boot. If you’re a racer or a track day enthusiast, improved observation and forward planning will reduce your lap time and if you’re an engineer or vehicle tester, you’re likely to improve your evaluation and test results.

If you would like to learn more about observation and forward planning, or you would like to learn more about the range of advanced driver training we offer, contact us today on 01234 757 633.

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