How your mental state affects your driving ability



Owner of BIG TOM Driving School offers some advice for learner drivers (and funders) about how the mental state of mind affects driving behaviours.


There is a distinction to be made of how the mind affects the driving behaviours of learner drivers within the learning environment and driving behaviours of all drivers.  This is a key consideration when learning to drive and even before you start driving lessons, because whether we like it or not, the path that each of us takes when learning is unique to our personal circumstances.  I have mentioned the factor of previous experiences of learning environments in other blogs, but in this one, I want to expand on how our mental state can affect our driving.


Let’s start with “nerves”.  Consider this conversation for a moment:

“You very nearly lost control of the bike at that point, didn’t you?”

“Yea I did, it was the nerves of the test”

“Is that what you’re going to do when you are nervous?”

This was a conversation I heard between examiner and candidate this morning after a bike test.  Seem a bit harsh?  Well, the examiner asks this question for a very good reason.  We will need to drive a car to attend an interview, to meet a first date, on the driving test, and on the first day of a new job.  All these situations will probably result in you driving while nervous.  So as the examiner asks above, does that mean then that it is ok in these circumstances to risk safety?  Managing risk is a key skill that needs to be developed when learning to drive, as it crops up constantly in day to day driving.  Having the ability to recognise when you feel nervous, assess the risk involved in driving when you feel like that, and making a decision based on weighing up all the options could literally be a life-saving skill.  Take care what you are saying indirectly when you excuse poor driving for nerves, it demonstrates a lack of awareness of what risk you actually pose in that mental state of mind.


Let’s move on to “the loss of confidence”.  This can pop up for several reasons.  A few will include how you feel after having been involved in an accident, driving in different areas due to a house move, going to university or even a job change, driving in challenging conditions eg fog, snow, very late at night, and also driving a new car or perhaps different work car.  All of these circumstances can make us apprehensive and not feel the same confidence levels that we normally have when driving.  It is interesting because if you were to track the levels of confidence and competence of a learner driver throughout their driving training, they will both go up and down, sometimes inter-connected and sometimes independently.  Family and friends of learners generally under-estimate what effect they have on learner drivers when they make comments about apparent lack of progress, or when a learner expresses not feeling ready to go to test.  Confidence is a key element within any learning environment and family members really ought to be more mindful of the impact their words have on their nearest and dearest as they learn to drive.


Moving on to feeling angry or upset.  The mobility that we all have with the use of cars these days, means that we can often find ourselves exposed to feelings of anger or distress when on our travels.  Road rage, a bad day at work, attending a funeral or court case, there are numerous reasons why we might be behind the wheel driving, when our mind is really not concentrating properly.  We wont be as considerate to other road users as we normally are, our willingness to anticipate and plan ahead is restricted due to our thoughts being elsewhere.


Feelings of high stimulus are brought on by music and/or friends in the car, driving in a different country, driving immediately after a sports game that we either watched or played in, and even after watching our favourite musical artists.  Judgements are clouded by this feeling of euphoria; we drive faster, we go to overtake when we ordinarily would be more patient, we seek to impress, our natural defences are lowered in this state of elation – reasoning is compromised.


The real point of my blog here though is to mention the necessity to get used to recognising how you are actually feeling.  There is a responsibility on all of us to know when our driving ability is compromised – not to wait for someone to tell us, not to keep going until something bad happens, but to have the awareness levels within us, to recognise that differing states of mind will have consequences.  In much the same way that we wouldn’t necessarily care to eat, drink or socialise when we know our mind set is affected in certain ways, so it is true about driving.  It is simply not a given that humans will maintain the same standard of driving in any situation – emotions are a reality of everyday living, and if you can develop the skill of recognising how they affect your ability to drive, you are doing well.  Although this is a very relevant point for learner drivers as they go through their driving training, by developing the skill now, you will be better equipped for the trials that will come your way in the years of driving ahead.

BIG TOM Driving School  Enquiries:  Sales: 0775 607 1464



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