Clearing the mind-clutter – safe driving during a crisis

One of the hardest of things to do amidst the COVID-19 crisis is to switch off the clutter in our minds and be present in every moment.  This can be particularly difficult when you’re behind the wheel making that rare and quick trip for essential supplies, getting to and from work or helping the vulnerable in our community.  In these moments you might find more anxiety and stress creeping into your driving.

You may also experience a lot less traffic than you’re used to. Traffic often provides drivers with cues to moderate speed and take notice of traffic signals. Without the traffic in place, you may find yourself switching to auto pilot and letting the clutter in your mind take over.

If we are to stay safe on our roads, it’s essential that we find a way to drive mindfully. This is a great teaching moment for your children.

One very easy and helpful approach to mindfulness is commentary driving. We’ve talked about the benefits of commentary driving before. Check out our blog below to learn more of the dos and don’ts of this clever technique.

In these times, it is particularly important to manage your own mindstate and prepare future drivers by sharing the skill. The beauty of commentary driving is you can start now. Your children, no matter their age, are picking up on what you’re doing and saying. Now, more than ever, they are looking to you to ease their stress. Adopting a calm approach and talking through your methods is a great way to give them comfort that, behind the wheel, you are in control.

Ever wondered how the professionals do it?

You may not have access to people to help you with driving lessons at the moment, but we do, and we want to share. Meet Matt Irvine from Calare Academy of Road Safety, one of our many wonderful partner driving instructors. He’s going to show you how you can support your learner driver, teaching them new skills, even when they’re in the passenger seat.

With social distancing in place, we couldn’t call in a film crew so Matt asked his young daughter to help him out, filming him as he gives you an inside view into commentary driving. Notice how he talks through all the protective and positive measures he takes – leading to a safe and calm drive that lets his daughter know – Dad’s got this!

Matt also gives you a few tips along the way on some of the key points to include in your lessons once the restrictions are lifted.  Click here for Matt’s tips on commentary driving in a rural setting.

(note, this video was filmed before the lock-down.  Any road rules Matt refers to pertain to NSW, Australia)

In practice, commentary driving means articulating what you are doing from the moment you start the vehicle, put your indicators on and check your mirrors before pulling out onto the road – right through to when you park again.  Here are some things you could cover on your journey:

  • Vehicles coming onto the road or waiting at intersections
  • Where cyclists and pedestrians are, whether they are waiting at a crossing or coming up from behind in a cycle lane
  • Changes in the road conditions including change of surface, narrowing or corner
  • Approaching hazards such as traffic lights, roundabouts, intersections with or without stop or give way signs, parked cars, a group of shops or a school
  • Actions of other vehicles that could cause danger such as indicating change of lane, or use of brake lights
  • Changes to your speed
All about commentary driving and why you should try it

What does mindful driving mean?  It’s all about training our minds in three areas

  • to be more focused and better able to concentrate on the task at hand
  • to have more clarity in thinking, leading to better judgement
  • to put us in a state where we can accept challenges as they come up and ‘go with the flow’.

By practicing mindfulness throughout your drive, you can develop focus and create calm and relaxation, arriving at your destination ready to do what you need to do.  Right now, we have a powerful opportunity to create new driving habits.

10 tips for mindful driving

Here’s a great grounding exercise you can do if you’re feeling anxious when you get into the car.

Before you drive away, take a deep breath, identify and name the following:

5 things you see
4 things you feel
3 things you hear
2 things you smell
1 thing you taste

If you do have to get in your car and drive for one of the reasons listed under government guidelines as ‘essential travel’, the key goal will be to make sure your mind is on the task of driving, and only driving.  Give yourself that time away from the stress to enter into a peaceful and mindful state.

We always tell our RYDA students that if they can’t change the mindstate, separate it from driving.  Ask someone else to drive for you or reschedule for a time when the mental load is lighter.