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Mental stability, the driver and driving

Published:Sunday | November 14, 2021 | 12:07 AMPaul Glenroy Messam - Contributor

Are we always in the right frame of mind to drive a vehicle? When a motorist slips behind the wheel of a motor car he automatically becomes a vital part of this complex but useful machine. If the driver is both physically and mentally prepared and ready for the road, the vehicle will perform at its peak.

“The key to the entire operation of defensive driving and that motor vehicle is the driver,” says Dr Wendel Abel, consultant psychiatrist. According to Dr Abel, driving is essentially an activity of the mind, but additionally, our bodies are also important as they translate the impulses of our thoughts, as we meet and deal with the many challenges of the Jamaican roads.

A driver who sits ‘tall in the saddle’, alert, head up, and hands on the wheel, immediately creates an impression of being in control. “Fatigue arrives very quickly when muscles are taut, therefore, every effort should be made to remain physically relaxed, while being mentally alert,” Dr Abel stressed. It was Robert Benoist, a French Grand Prix driver of the 1920s and 1930s, who embraced the view that the stability of the car depends on the personal stability of the driver.

A person without excellent reflexes and a wandering mind or poor physical coordination can be a dangerous driver. A driver should be able to translate reflex action into correct physical action. For example, stepping on the brakes, turning the wheel, manoeuvring a corner and so on. Reflexes are of little value in defensive driving, unless they are supported by experience and discretion. Motorists should bear in mind that going beyond normal physical capabilities, the matter of adaptability to safe driving becomes extremely important each day we drive on the roads.

With today’s fast cars, and heavy traffic congestion in regular hours, especially when rain falls, mental stability of any driver is of paramount importance. According to Dr Dianne McCallum, of The University of the West Indies, Mona, there are various drivers on our roads; some with challenges, others with a certain mindset. “Therefore, our drivers need to be purposeful and intentional to defuse any road-rage situation. Our drivers must be calm, while using a kind word or a decent gesture, which could save someone from himself and from others,” she adds.

Our driving ability varies from day to day, in relation to one’s culture and lifestyle. For example, Mr X, who had a spat with his spouse, just zooms off to work. Driver Y, who is in mourning, is on the way to a funeral. Neither of these two persons could be described as being in a settled frame of mind. Mr X, who had a quarrel, may take out his anger and frustration by driving more aggressively. The mourner may find that his grief has distracted him completely from his safe driving. Dr Abel pointed out that this change from their normal attitude will affect their driving.

Advice to drivers

Because of the need to be alert and attentive when driving or riding you should consider:

1. Observation: Look around for other road users and pedestrians.

2. Anticipation: Look ahead and give yourself enough time to react to hazards.

3. Concentration: Be alert at all times when driving or riding.

4. Awareness: Understand the actions of other road users.

5. Distraction: Do not become distracted while driving. Your attention must be on the road.

6. Boredom: This could make you feel sleepy, keep your mind on your driving.