One of the topics I discussed over these boards dealt with physiological aspects of driving. This time I will discuss the none-the-less important psychological aspects. The connection between psychology and driving is profound. Driving is misconceived as the act of pressing the gas, accelerator and turning the wheel. It is a psychological action before anything. The conceptual abilities required for driving are analytical (mathematical) and include visual scanning, gauging distance and speed at various dimensions, etc...
The left side of the human brain possesses all these skills, but using them at driving pace is unnatural for us. We live our whole childhood and youth at a walking pace, running at best. At any reasonable speed of driving, we need to perform the calculations in a specific time frame and with other difficulties. The human mind is, for instance, crippled in assessing distance when moving at speed. Try have a driver asses the distance from an object at various speeds and you will notice the differences.
Being so complex, driving requires experience. The brain works like a muscle. As we force it into performing complex tasks, new connections are formed between brain cells, and we become proficient of that action. The basic time for getting the hang driving is about three weeks, which is the normal time it takes the human mind to get used to anything. However, the learning curve remains very steep for roughly the first three years of driving, which are accompanied with a highly increased risk.
Another result of the complexity of this task is emotional. Driving is obviously very emotional. We experience fear, excitement, anger and satisfaction during driving. This happens because the other parts of the mind, including the part that determines our emotional state, are at work. It's not that driving is emotionally intense. It's more of an hypnotic effect, where being exposed to similar situations while driving, connects a certain factual occurrence (analyzed as a arithmetic calculation) is connected to a certain emotional state.
Two main phenomena that stem from this conclusion are road rage and driving anxiety. Both of which can be experienced by drivers regardless of age, sex or intellectual competence. The solution for each of the two, particularly of acute anxiety, is difficult because it cannot be considered merely a behavioral issue. Behavioral therapy focuses on progressively and controllably exposing the subject to the situations he or she deems as stressful, until the anxiety is reduced to normal levels. However, with little to none of that therapy being applied while driving, most of the seemingly "cured" people don't have the drive to actually get on the wheel of a car.
To solve driving anxiety, it's important to move the "patient" into revealing the causes of the paranoia, including traumatic past events, personal treats and cognitive assessment of various driving situations. This should be closely followed by therapy and training in driving, to reach a state where the driver has no problem that prevents him/her from driving somewhere or in a certain circumstance.
It is known that actions such as eating, discussing and alike, all hinder out ability to focus on the road ahead. In psychological terms, this is known as "divided attention." By far the most distracting of chores is talking on the cell-phone (regardless of whether it's held by hand or not). This is proven posteriori through statistics (risk increases by about 4.5, as high as a certain consumption of alcohol!).
The reason behind cellular-phone discussions being so hazardous, relative to talking to a passenger (increase of risk estimated at ~1.5), is that on the phone the person we are talking to is not physically present. The lack of his/her presence is compensated by use imagination. This puts you into a state of day-dreaming which is pathologically similar to dreaming at night (REM). The driver is day dreaming about the face of the person he is talking to, and about the subjects of the discussion. The distraction is intensified when the discussion is emotionally powerful, and the effect remains even after the call has been terminated, because our mind still reflects on the subject of the discussion.
During actions such as dialing, adjusting the radio and texting, we do not experience this kind of emotional interference ("Cognitive distraction"), but rather have to divert our actual sight off of the road. While this might seem to increase the hazard, it actually results in positive risk compensation where the driver is aware, at some level or another, to his reduced sight of the road, and divides his/her attention more carefully. This leaves talking on the phone to be the overall most dangerous task, even though some singular researches attribute similar risk levels to texting or even to talking to a passenger. These researches are out of the academic consensus.
The solutions are to avoid talking on the phone while driving and by not talking I also mean not feeling obligated to pick the ringing phone up at all. If you must answer (important call or one that might emotionally relieve you), seek for a safe stopping place in order to pick up and talk when not driving. If there is no safe stopping place or if you must keep on driving, and you choose to take the call, just telling the caller that you are driving can help. Try to make the call short and simple, and if it gets longer or distressful, find a safe stopping place. Throughout the call, be aware of it's influence, reduce speed by 20% and double your following distance from the car ahead. Stop the flow of speech ("Just a sec.") whenever extra attention to the road is necessary.
Women believe that they are better in multi-tasking and thus in talking and driving simultaneously. Wrong. Yes, statistically women are more likely to have a better ability to divide attention. But dividing attention has nothing to do with doing two things at the same time. No human being can do that well. Dividing attention describes the speed in which we can leap from one action to another, at which most women will be better than men.In fact, some men can turn their poor ability to divide attention into a positive thing. They can enter a state of "hyper attention" where they are all too focused on one thing (the typical thing is the TV screen, but it can also be driving ) and avoid other things. In cognitive psychology this is considered a phenomena of an Attention-Deficit (as in the ADD syndrome), but in relation to driving it can be used positively.
Visual perception and adaptive filtering
Why do we have three mirrors in the car? Can't we have on big mirror or camera? Or two at most? Why to divide our attention if four directions? There is a reason. Understand that it is better to divide your attention in short lapses, rather than in long ones. Instead of devoting a full second for looking in the right-wind mirror, and one full second for the road ahead, it's better to divide it into four glances, each in the length of half a second.
If we had one big mirror, we would overuse of visual perception skill. We would simply soak so much more information at once, that we will have to leave more time to soak it in, time during which our eyes are diverted from the road ahead. Instead, the car's mirrors are divided into three mirrors for three different directions: Back, right and left. This allows us to get the picture of what's happening around us more immediately, because we don't need to use our own mind to distinguish right from left and from center, the car's manufacturer did this for us.
This also why I am a great antagonist of wide-angle convex mirrors. The assumption that a larger mirror with greater coverage be more efficient is false, because the same information is repeated in the wing mirrors. By increasing the overlap we have effectively reduced our ability to properly gauge distance in a multi-dimensional system, because a car behind our car's left corner will be seen in the interior mirror and the left wing mirror, so that it will be harder to realize where it actually is relative to us.
The next point is adaptive filtering. This is our mind's ability to avoid seeing too much, and it is the reason that I dislike all furry balls/cubes and other decorations hanging down cars' interior mirrors. The furry cubes rattle about while driving, and this is seen through our peripheral vision and irritates us, until it doesn't. The thing that happened is that our mind got used to the constant movement of the decoration and learned to filter it out of the picture we see. This creates a "blind spot" which might cause us to fail in noticing smaller objects (like cyclists and riders) in that line of sight.
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