Whether you’re visiting friends, going on a road trip or going to and from work, driving is a common everyday activity. Yet despite the advancements of vehicle safety technologies, approximately 44,000 Australians are sadly seriously injured on our roads on a yearly basis, with road trauma the 2nd biggest killer among those aged 15 to 24.
Many of us would consider ourselves safe drivers. But we’re all guilty of bad habits that put ourselves and other road users at risk – sneaking out and cutting someone off, changing lanes without looking, going a few km/h over the speed limit, one hand on the wheel instead of two. The list goes on.
Whether you’ve been driving professionally for decades, or you just recently got your licence, every driver is prone to unsafe habits, often picked when we’re first driving. The good news is, you can take steps to keep learning and stay safe on the road.
How Bad Habits Start
Our brain is hardwired to take shortcuts wherever possible. It’s part of our natural desire to take the path of least resistance.
I’m sure we’ve all heard about keeping your hands at 9 and 3 throughout our driving years. While we’d stick to this technique during lessons and the driving test, many move away from this important hand positioning as we become more accustomed to driving on the road.
Before you know it, taking the easier option becomes the new normal, and you’re driving with one hand on the wheel with the other out the window. This is because once we’ve felt as though we’ve mastered a particular task, we enter a subconscious state where we aren’t actively concentrating on the task at hand.
Dangerous driving practices can also be instilled during the learning process, particularly if it’s parents who themselves have bad habits they’re unaware of. Eventually, as we gain more experience driving on the road, we tend to develop a sense of overconfidence, where we feel prepared for any situation. In reality, you never know what the roads will throw at you.
Power of Self-Communication
Once these bad driving habits are set in place, it can be difficult to curb them, let alone identify areas of your driving that need improving.
If you’ve ever watched a film about the Apollo missions, you’ll notice the astronauts describing every single action they take, no matter how minor, and what they’re doing to avoid potential risks. This technique is known as ‘commentary driving’, and while it’s great for learners getting used to sharing the road with others, it’s also a fantastic way for experienced drivers to work on their bad habits.
Driving requires constant focus and concentration, and commentary driving forces you to focus on the actions you’re taking on the road, while paying close attention to external factors like other drivers and bad weather.
It may feel a bit weird at first, but as with any new skill, it takes time to master it. By articulating every action you’re doing and changes in road conditions, it highlights the sheer number of distractions we all face every day on the road. As we process these potential dangers in more efficient ways, we’re able to curb bad habits and drive safely.
Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks
For many of us, once we receive our full license, we never bother to brush up on our training – but taking an advanced driver or defensive driver course will work wonders.
Chances are that you haven’t had to perform an emergency brake manoeuvre so far in your driving career. The likelihood of being in a scenario requiring this is low, but in all the years you spend driving, those few seconds of an emergency manoeuvre could be the difference between life and death.
Even if you consider yourself an exceptional driver, taking a course well into your driving career will help you brush up on techniques you may have forgotten years ago, while also arming you with the skills to handle dangerous situations. After all, the only person that’s responsible for keeping you safe behind the wheel is you.
Road Safety Week, this year on the 16th – 23rd May, is an important initiative that highlights the need for every road user to do their part in creating safer roads for all. But while the program only runs for seven days, it’s up to all of us to recognise and curb our bad driving habits all year round.