It’s very easy to get complacent,” our tutor for the day told us. We all nodded in agreement, knowing it was this very laidback attitude to driving that had landed us here in the first place.
I looked around the smart conference room and noticed the variety of people present. Business men and women, young adults, parents. All of us guilty of driving too fast.
I’d received a letter a couple of weeks earlier to say I’d been caught doing 38mph in a 30mph zone and that action was being taken against me. I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t happy. “I’d just come off the motorway!” I exclaimed. I’d assumed the area was a 40mph zone.
Excuses aside, the choice I was given was to either accept the first points on my licence or to pay to attend a Speed Awareness workshop, leaving my licence nice and clean.
Opting for the latter, I expected those of us attending would be given a smack on the hand, so to speak, with lots of school-like lecturing. I was so relieved to find it wasn’t at all like that.
The workshop was friendly and interactive, each one of us encouraged to reflect on our own driving habits, an exercise I found extremely useful.
By this time I had been driving for 8 years and believed I was a good driver. But the truth was I’d become a bit lazy. So with an open mind, I was feeling pretty grateful for this wake up call.
The workshop leader, Andrew, asked us all to consider what excuses we gave for driving over the speed limit. Lateness, quite a few people said; impatience, replied some others. We nodded along again, accepting these excuses as perfectly understandable.
We were then shown a video. A shocking video of a young boy getting hit by a car. The car was in fact ‘only’ driving 5mph over the speed limit. But the boy didn’t survive.
We were told that if the car had been driving at the recommend speed, the child would have had a greater chance of surviving as the force of his injuries would have been much less.
Andrew then posed a very poignant question. As a parent, what excuse would be justifiable coming from a driver that had hit our child? That they were running late? That they were bored of driving slowly? The excuses we had previously given just seemed pathetic. Nothing justifies causing a death.
We were then told about a nearby road with a school on it, where cameras had been set up to monitor how fast passing cars were driving. I couldn’t believe the results. Even at peak school opening and closing times, cars were recorded to be driving way over the limit, with two recordings of cars driving over 80mph.
My thoughts turned to my young nieces and how furious I would be if anyone drove so carelessly near their school. I made a silent promise to myself to be extra cautious when driving near schools from now on, vigilantly sticking to the 20mph recommended speed or less.
For the last year or so I had become a little careless on the road. “What does it matter if I do 35mph”, I would think.
“Everyone else is driving faster!” But I do not need to be a sheep. As the tutor put so well, speed limits are limits not targets. We do have a choice when it comes to choosing our speed, and we most certainly have minds of our own.
I, for one, do not want to be responsible for causing an accident or fatally injuring anyone. I understand now how we can choose to take responsibility for our actions and behave in a way that we, personally, feel comfortable with. And if that gets people calling me a Granny for driving below the limit, well so be it!
I realised during this workshop how so many of us use driving as a stop-gap activity. We drive almost on auto-pilot, not really engaging with our senses or what’s around us. We use our time driving to daydream, to plan, eat, make phone calls – everything but drive.
No wonder our minds feel so cluttered and our driving so frantic.
So Andrew gave us a brilliant method to use to wake up from this. “Use a running commentary,” he told us. “Point out in your head or aloud everything you can see and everything you are doing so that you become fully aware of your driving and of your surroundings.”
He then gave us an example to clarify this method. “Pushing the gear into first, and releasing the handbrake I notice the cyclist coming towards me. As I manoeuvre into the road, checking my mirrors for any cars behind me I notice the pedestrians ahead waiting to cross at the traffic lights.”
Now I have to admit, I loved this method. It reminded me of a technique I learnt years earlier, that of Mindfulness. It’s all about engaging fully with whatever you’re doing and not allowing yourself to get caught up in over-thinking, daydreaming or worrying. Just by being where we are we can step out of our mental movies and feel relaxed and alert – simultaneously.
During the workshop I was made fully aware of the dangers of mindless driving and I made it my personal aim to get back in touch with my Mindfulness practice – especially when driving!
You see, we don’t have to disappear into our heads when we drive, leaving us dangerously out of touch. Nor do we have to conform to others expectations, driving faster than we should and increasing our risk of severe injuries should we encounter an accident.
I’ve always felt that the world is becoming increasingly hurried. And this is reflected on the roads too. But by practising Mindfulness in our daily lives we become fully aware of the choices we make and of the possible consequences they have on others.
I for one would like to be a much more conscientious, alert driver. I intend to plan my journeys well and leave in good time from now on to ensure I am not racing against a mental clock. And when I drive, I’m going to make sure I’m only driving. I’ll call it my driving meditation!
If each one of us could make that choice, then surely our roads and our lives would be much calmer and pleasant.