What is it about driving that brings out the worst in us?
The car is a remarkable invention. It has significantly increased both our quality of life and our level of independence. What else can you think of that has the power to transform day-to-day life by this magnitude?
A car increases your options for just about everything:
- Who you can go see
- Where you can work
- Where you can shop
- What you can visit
- What services you use
And it does so in style. It:
- Offers shelter,
- Heats and cools,
- Provides a power source, and
- Enables hands free communication & navigation.
It does so much I wonder if it will even feed and clothe us at some point! (Well, I guess RVs already help us with that...) For some, a vehicle is even an important part of how they define themselves and how they want to be perceived.
But, is the car both the most significant and frustrating invention of all time?
Yes, the car is usually the second-most significant purchase a young adult considers...second only to the all important smartphone. So why does it make us so happy and miserable at the same time?
Yes, it's quite handy to have a car...
I love our 2009 Toyota Rav4. It's a great car that can get us, and our dog, anywhere we want to go, including many a road trip. As much as I love it, I have to say that I don't drive it a whole lot. It spends most of the summer parked in our driveway while I walk, bike or bus almost everywhere, including shopping trips. It spends so much time parked that I forgot all about road rage...until this past December that is. I ended up behind the wheel during a major week of deep freeze during which skin was freezing within 5 minutes. So, I "wussed out" and chose to drive to get to various Christmas functions and other outings.
...but it might temporarily increase your stress level and blood pressure!
OMG! I quickly remembered why it is NOT my favourite means of transportation! Within a few minutes, my stress level and blood pressure reached heights I had not experienced in quite a while. My chest got tight and I found myself clenching my jaw as I tried to navigate through traffic. It took an amazing amount of time to get to each destination, I was frustrated with how much gas I was burning sitting through 4 green lights as folks inched through intersections, and I was beside myself with how mean some other drivers were (rude, selfish, aggressive, petty). For every kind gesture, there were many, well, not so kind gestures.
How can driving turn us all temporarily into freaks!?
Here's my theory: we think we have control when we get behind the wheel but we really don't. We are at the mercy of tons of variables, such as how many people are on the road, construction/accidents/stalled cars/emergency vehicles/cyclists taking up lanes we thought would be open, other peoples' decision-making abilities and driving skills, the weather, our own driving skills and confidence (parallel parking anyone?), the fuel light is on and there is no gas station for miles, road conditions are poor, people are driving too slow/too fast, parking options are limited...I mean really!
The fewer the variables, the happier we are. Think about it. What would be your perfect driving situation, other than choosing to be the passenger - if you trust the driver? I bet it would involve having no one else on the road, no speed limit, no intersections to deal with, constant access to gas stations, unlimited free parking and the ability to multitask to your heart's content.
Alternatives can make commuting and/or getting around town less stressful.
Believe it or not, I get all the benefits stated above when I choose not to drive!
Let me prove it to you:
Walking: There is no speed limit, the gas tank is always full, maneuvering around people, objects, obstructions tends to be simple enough (OK, maybe not when I'm in New York, Tokyo or Beijing, but you get my drift), I can multitask - within reason, I don't worry about mechanical troubles, I get a little feel-good exercise and I can mostly avoid having to stop.
Biking: The gas tank is always full, I can take advantage of bike paths and lanes that reduce the number of intersections I need to deal with, the cost of maintenance is very low, I can maneuver around and through obstacles with relative ease, I don't tend to be held up by traffic, I get some exercise, I can carry a reasonable amount of stuff with me, I can make mixed use of biking and public transportation and I don't have trouble finding free parking, ever.
Public Transportation: I have convenient access to three bus routes that can take me to just about anywhere I need to go in our local urban area. It's cheap, I don't have to deal with traffic, I have a good idea how long it will take and when I can expect the next bus thanks to transit apps and trip planners, and I can multitask to my heart's content and let someone else worry about getting me there safe and sound.
There remain significant advantages to using a car compared to the alternatives, including the:
- Shelter it offers,
- Climate control (and the reduced potential for being sweaty when you get to your destination),
- Distance you can cover in a reasonable amount of time (except in rush hour), and the
- Convenience of being able to make multiple stops that are far from each other in less time than would otherwise be possible
Still need to drive? You can mitigate, at least some, of the "stressful stuff".
My recent driving experiences make me appreciate the fact that I have other options. However, from time to time, it is a necessary evil and, as such, here are some things that I will do to try to avoid some of the frustrations.
When I find myself behind the wheel I will:
- Drive during non-peak hours or in the opposite direction to the current flow whenever possible and leave early to reduce the stress of thinking I will be late getting to my destination.
- Keep the gas tank at least half full.
- Save a podcast or audiobook for the drive - if it's a good one, I might even wish my driving time were longer!
- Reduce time spent in traffic by continuing to live, work and play close to home.
- Plan my route and use the turn-by-turn directions available on my smartphone to make sure I don't worry about not knowing where I'm going.
- Group errands that I can get done all at once in one area of the city to make my car use less frequent and more efficient.
- Do my part to be a courteous driver...maybe it will be paid forward to others.
Until cars start driving themselves, I wish you luck as you navigate the concrete jungle in your own set of wheels.
Do you turn into a monster behind the wheel? If so, how do you deal with it? If not, what's your secret?!
Image credit/copyright: KieferPix/Shutterstock