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How To Drive, Part III.

The experts have finally agreed: t’ain’t the cell phone, it’s the conversation that’s the distraction. They also agree that distractions cause more highway mishaps than all the other dangers such as bad weather and mechanical failure.

The driver who prefers neither to be involved in nor cause an altercation on the roadway should learn to recognize distractions and deal with them properly. Ideally drivers should sit alert with two hands on the wheel heeding only those things that pertain to the immediate moment. Concentration should be on the car, the road, other vehicles and pedestrians.

Get real.

Kids in the backseat are threatening their siblings’ survival. A dog’s tail is playing windshield wiper across your face. When you lowered the sun visor a cascade of mail you meant to drop in a slot has dropped into your lap. A talk show host you cannot abide has burst forth from the radio. 

These are present and immediate distractions. Even in solo serenity the mind may be what the yogis call a drunken monkey. Mischievous and active. Your mind may insists or replaying tapes of an unpleasant encounter. Enrapt your mind recuts the scene with what should have been your cutting retort. Or it can plan ahead for a meeting, a dinner party or getaway weekend.

Truth be told, driving is not constantly demanding enough to command your entire attention. The mind wanders. You insert CDs. You make a phone call. You check your appearance in the mirror. You grope about for the fallen sunglasses. You drink. You eat. (That’s “you” in general one hopes, not YOU you doing all that stuff.) 

Distractions are never in short supply, but the ability to attend to them is limited. Indeed, you can deal with only one thing at a time. As you are assailed with a rain of stimuli your must be doing constant triage to determine what is most relevant to the moment.

Fortunately you can train your mind to appear to deal with more than one thing at a time by consciously moving your attention rapidly between things. In research on the limits of consciousness subjects learned to flick their attention back and forth so seamlessly that it appeared they were indeed attending to several things at once.

Here’s the drill: set up a scanning pattern to cover the scene around you. Your mirrors, the segments of your windshield, the near world, middle distance and distance. Quickly wash your attention over this pattern. Note changes and anomalies and keep tabs on those without becoming fixated. Back and forth. Flick, flick. Deal with distractions in quick passes. 

It’s not the distraction; it’s how you deal with it. Keep your attention mobile and germane to the moment. Practice. You can become less “distractable” and thus safer at the wheel.

(See “The Magic Number 7 plus or minus 2) coming soon on this website.)

02/16/11 • 04:24 PM • How To Drive • 1 Comment


Hi Denise,

I am currently reading the July/Aug 2011 issue of Vintage Motorsport magazine. As I was reading the “Inside the Helmet” column by E. Paul Dickenson on Driving Better (called “The Uh-Oh Angle”) I remembered this column here in your Denise called “How to Drive” and thought I would write and recommend it to you. I think it is some of the best “overview” type of technical advice on race driving and car control that I have read. See what you think?


Posted by Garrett Waddell on 07/05/11 at 11:07 AM


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Previous Article: How To Drive, Part II.         


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