Mindfulness can be a brilliant ingredient in the recipe for safer drivers. So believes ADI Sandra Harper, especially when it comes to improving attitudes of new, young drivers. Preventing distraction by internal emotions and external events can really help.

It’s a view shared by Brighton & Hove City Council, with their short campaign film: ‘Keep your Mind in Gear’.

Ohmme, the Theory

The origins of Mindfulness teachings lie in Buddhist traditions, although Mindfulness itself is not about religion. The central tenet is to be able to clarify what we think about and place these in context. This way we can stop any one thought from unnecessarily taking over thoughts, feelings and emotions. This reduces stress and distraction, allowing users to focus on the job at hand, for example driving.

“The theory is that the Amygdala, the oldest part of the brain, is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response. It means we can react effectively to danger (imagined or real). This response raises our heart rate, blood pressure, and puts us on high alert ready for action,” explains Sandra.

“The trouble is, we no longer live on the plaines of the Serengeti, where we needed cortisol and adrenaline to help us escape from sabre toothed tigers. Unfortunately, we still have the same fight, flight, freeze response and it can be triggered by stress in our busy, hectic lives. We will often see this happening on our roads.

“This fear response can be recognised by many of us when teaching people to drive. There are pupils who literally grip on to the wheel so hard, they seem oblivious to anything else around them (freeze) and when they can’t fight or flee the situation (because they are behind the wheel of a car, underneath a seat belt and closed door), they sometimes do something else… completely zone out or melt down.”

It can also positively affect memory and rationality. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for cognition and conscious thought. When under stress, brains can literally go off-line and resulting actions can be ill-judged and dangerous. It is especially true when behind the wheel. Good mental attitude is essential for safe, responsible driving.

Good Thinking for ADIs

Grade A driver trainer Sandra has been an ADI for 17 years. After living with anxiety and intense back and shoulder pain, she says she benefitted greatly from the transformative effects of Mindfulness. It led her to train as a Mindfulness teacher alongside being an ADI. Combining the two has had the effect of producing better, safer and calmer drivers better able to respond effectively conflict or challenges. “Ultimately we want to make our roads safer. The mental attitude of drivers is inherent in this “. From improved listening skills and understanding emotional responses, through to reductions in anxiety and test nerves, the practice has proved to be a great addition to her ADI skills.

A Starring Role

Road safety officer Keith Baldock, finds the positive effects Mindfulness for drivers. He’s the driving force behind the new Brighton and Hove Council film for young drivers: “Research suggests that mindful driving can improve driver awareness and increase driver safety.

“The film is being shown to young people as part of driver awareness courses and within schools and colleges, to get the across the message to young drivers to be less distracted when behind the wheel.

The short film looks to tackle the risk of distraction by mobile phone, passengers, music and emotional issues. The producers believe that simple Mindfulness exercises really can change attitudes behind the wheel.

“The aim is to introduce the concept of mindfulness to drivers in order to give them a tool to ensure that they are able to fully engage with the road environment when driving.”

Find out more about Mindfulness