Reducing Stress Behind the Wheel…


If you have ever experienced ‘road-rage’, been stuck in a traffic-jam or distracted from driving by a demanding child in the back seat, then you will know that driving can be a stressful experience.

If you have ever been a car passenger with a driver who is lost, oblivious to speed restrictions, driving carelessly or talking into a cell phone, then you will know that being a passenger can be a stressful experience too.

So why is it that driving can be the source of so much stress?

SAFE Driving

The human body uses an automatic response mechanism to cope with danger.  Known as the ‘fight or flight’ or the stress response, this is a natural mental and body reaction that occurs when we feel threatened.

Unfortunately, driving provides many of these challenges – the sharp sound of a stone hitting the windscreen, the reduced vision by rain on a wet day, the cold sweat as we ‘hit the brake’ for an emergency stop.  All these provide opportunities for the stress response to be triggered.

So what can you do about it?

One way to reduce the occurrence of these stress reactions is to be a SAFE driver.  A SAFE driver is SURE, ACCEPTING, FOCUSED AND EGO-FREE.


As a SAFE driver, you will be sure of your vehicle, your journey and yourself.

Be SURE of your vehicle:  Most of the time, the vehicle you drive will be one with which you care familiar but inevitably, there will be time when you will need to drive a car that may not be your own, such as a hire car.  Time taken to familiarise yourself with a new vehicle is essential to help you keep your stress levels low.

Be SURE of your journey:  Know in advance the route to your destination and how long it will take. Be prepared in case of an accident on the road.  Always have water and a snack in the car and keep a first-aid kit for use in emergencies or in the case of breakdown.

Being SURE of Yourself

If you are sure of your vehicle and your journey plan, you will be more sure of yourself.  Check that you are:

Fully insured, not over-tired or taking medication that might cause drowsiness. Don’t drive if you are in an angry mood.


There are many ‘stressors’ that can cause frustration to drivers during a car journey e.g. road and weather conditions, other road users or accidents.

When you accept that there will be situations over which you have no control, you will find that driving will become less stressful.  Accepting becomes easier when you are skilled enough to use your experience to anticipate the reaction of other drivers.  If you can adjust your driving accordingly, you will be less stressed.


For many people, a vehicle becomes an extension of their ‘personal space’ – a temporary home in which they can easily lose momentary concentration and make an error of judgement.  It is vital to stay alert and focused all the time and to avoid distractions and take regular breaks on a long journey.


A vehicle can make a statement about you and your lifestyle and this is harmless until you start to drive a car in such a manner as to deliberately enhance that image.  Horns are blasted and lights flashed as you try to overtake at speed – and behind such behaviour lies the ego that can make you into a dangerous driver.  Dangerous driving is a major stress for both you and others.  So next time you drive, leave your ego at home.

Putting SAFE into Practice

Although there are many situations on the road over which you will have no control, you do have full control over your own thoughts and responses.  Your responses are a direct result of your thoughts and your thoughts are your own.  You don’t have to become aggressive – you can choose an alternative response.  Be understanding of other driver’s mistakes and also acknowledge your own.  It will keep stress levels down and it will help you to be SAFE.

Because when you are SAFE – you are also stress-free!

Happy motoring!

Key Points

  • Driving can be stressful experience
  • Accept conditions over which you have no control
  • Leave your ego at home

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

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