The need for empathy whilst driving now and after the lockdown

COVID-19 has given us newfound respect and appreciation for those who are driving and delivering essential services. Delivery drivers, couriers, utility workers, truck drivers (to name a few) are perhaps for the first time genuinely valued and respected by nearly all of us. It will be our collective responsibility to ensure we retain this empathy and respect for all these people who we share the roads with when we are once again behind the wheel.

These are the road users who, in the past, a large proportion of us may have approached with prejudice and considered an inconvenience to our own driving experience. This lack of empathy and respect by drivers to others on the road is a key contributor to bad driving.

“Individuals with a history of dangerous driving show relatively less activation in brain areas associated with social cognition and empathy compared to their safe-driving counterparts, according to new research published in the journal NeuroImage.” PsychCentral

The opposite of driving with empathy and respect is when drivers start to experience anger and stress while driving, which can then tip into full-blown ‘road rage’. Our frame of mind is one of the key contributors to these negative emotions when driving. Being mindful of how we’re feeling and acknowledging that we may be upset, angered or distracted by something else is the first step in controlling these sensations spiralling out of control.

Another key factor, which closely aligns with empathy and respect, will be not to overreact to our surrounding environment and where possible to reserve our judgement on the driving performance of others. Focus on driving well yourself and if at all possible, retain as much of the kindness and empathy you have developed for road users. Especially those you were previously guilty of directing your negative judgement towards. 

“Some 45 per cent of UK drivers admitted to allowing their prejudices to affect how courteous or aggressively they act towards other road users – with something as simple as a bumper sticker prompting millions to see red. More than a third admit they allow their assumptions to affect them behind the wheel, meaning they are intentionally more or less reckless as a result.” Continental Tyres research

Now is a time for us to shift some of the inherent prejudices (and sometimes anger) we have built up and lean into the goodwill we feel towards those road users we may have harshly judged in the past. So, please think twice before you pass judgement and act aggressively towards a cyclist, a pedestrian, a truck driver and all of those people we share our roads with when you’re next behind the wheel. Empathy and reserving judgement will help us all be safer on our roads.

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