Driver advice: stress

driver stressDrivers can pledge to - never drive if stressed.

Everyone can pledge to - look out for friends and loved ones by ensuring they only drive if they're fit for it.

Stress at the wheel is a major problem for many drivers, it risks the lives of drivers and other road users. Combating stress while driving is essential.

US road safety organisation AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has designed an online questionnaire for drivers to use to assess whether they are prone to road rage. It assesses traits such as aggression, impatience and behaviour toward other road users, and gives basic advice on staying calm at the wheel.

All drivers can follow these simple guidelines to help reduce stress and road rage:

  • Consider alternatives to driving, which may help you to arrive feeling calmer and more refreshed, like walking, cycling or public transport
  • Try to clear your mind of personal or work problems before driving
  • Focus on the road and other road users around you. Be aware that an unexpected hazard could crop up at any moment and if you are not concentrating it could be fatal
  • Learn to accept things that bother you on the road, such as other people driving inconsiderately, and make a positive decision not to let them wind you up [1]
  • Calm, controlled breathing helps to release muscular tension and relieve stress [2]
  • Don't drive if you're tired, and take rest breaks at least every two hours for at least 15 minutes to refocus your concentration
  • Plan your route carefully and allow plenty of time for your journey - rushing will only make you more stressed
  • Ensure the driver's seat, head restraint and steering column are correctly adjusted for you: aches and pains due to poor posture will not improve your mood
  • Drive at an appropriate speed well within the speed limit, go 30 or below around homes, schools and shops, and avoid overtaking unless essential. Driving aggressively, speeding and overtaking are unlikely to get you there much faster, but could make you feel more tense, or even prevent you from arriving at all
  • Make sure you eat sensibly, as hunger can affect your concentration [3] - but don't eat at the wheel as this will distract you from driving [4]

If you are struggling to cope with stress, behind the wheel or in everyday life, it may be a good idea to visit your doctor for help.

If you are suffering from work-related stress you should also talk to your employer about how this could be reduced, as your employer has a duty of care to ensure your work does not harm your physical or mental health. Visit WorkSafe New Zealand for advice on work-related stress.

[1] 'You're a bad driver but I just made a mistake', Queensland University of Technology, 2011
[2] Relaxation tips to relieve stress, NHS Choices, 2014
[3] You are what you eat: how food affects your mood, Dartmouth College, 2011
[4] Crash dieting: The effects of eating and drinking on driving performance, Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2008

Last updated January 2016

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