In the previous installment of The Sensual Driver we took a quick look at some of the relaxation techniques designed to help you become more aware of the sensations your body experiences as you drive provided by Sir John Whitmore in his excellent driver training book, “Superdriver.”
If you haven’t read Part I, that’s okay. You can go back and pick it up later. Here’s the link: The Sensual Driver, Part I.
Awareness of what’s going on in your body and mind is essential to improving your driving skill. But awareness is only the general starting point. Now let’s take it a step further and use that awareness to focus on the things you may feel while driving that can interfere with your inner Super Driver. The first is tension.
We’ve all felt it and it has many causes. Maybe it’s being stuck in heavy rush-hour traffic, or being tail-gated by a tractor trailer on the highway, or even trying to navigate through an unfamiliar part of town while the kids are screaming in the back seat. You feel it in your hands, your knuckles going white as you grip the wheel. You feel it in your neck and shoulders, like someone is twisting a hot knife between your shoulder blades. Tension. Not only is it unenjoyable and possibly painful, it can interfere with your ability to operate your vehicle as well as you can, and if left unchecked, can cause you to begin to despise the act of driving itself.
Sir John Whitmore provides an exercise.
Try the exercise below. If you consciously use this technique every ten minutes or so for a few days while you are driving you will soon find you can do it very quickly; before long, a regular check on your tension will be as easy as a glance at the fuel gauge. Notice that it is not a case of forcing yourself to relax, which is a contradiction in terms. By merely becoming aware of your tensions and focusing your attention on the sensations in some detail, they will be reduced. Do not analyse, judge, criticize yourself or develop a lot of opinions about your tension. Just experience the various sensations, rather as you would listen to a piece of music.
While you are driving, check through your body from head to toe to see if you are experiencing tension.
If you are, you need to find out exactly what your body sensations are, when they occur, where in the body they are located, and how strong they are. Check your facial, neck, and shoulder muscles. Is your grip on the wheel too tight? As you monitor the sensations, they may move and alter in form, but almost certainly they will begin to dissolve. When you are monitoring tension, it may be useful to grade it on a one-to-ten scale, with five being the starting level. The figure may rise briefly as you become aware of the tension, but it will soon fall again.
Now that you are armed with some awareness and relaxation techniques, it’s time to reveal the ultimate secret to raising your sensual awareness while driving. You may be surprised to find out that when it comes to driving–and to many other aspects of life–the secret is to focus on your butt!
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “driving by the seat of your pants.” It’s not just a clever saying. How you sit in your vehicle affects your comfort, your alertness, your ability to operate your vehicle’s controls, and your internal vehicle and traffic awareness. Just as you need a solid foundation to build a quality house, when looking to improve your driving, it’s best to start with the foundation – your driving position.
There are many different opinions about the “best” driving position, but most experts agree that the most important aspect is to be comfortable in the position you choose. You simply cannot give your driving the attention it needs if your basic driving position is uncomfortable or inadequate. The follow items are key:
- Your seat should be close enough to the steering wheel to allow you to turn it through its full range without strain. Check that you can slide your hand to the top of the steering wheel without lifting your upper back and shoulders from the seat back. Adjust the seat or the steering wheel position (or both) if needed.
- You should be able to reach all necessary controls without disturbing your basic driving position. Check that you can comfortably reach the headlight and turn signal controls, windshield wiper and rear window defroster controls, and gear shift mechanism.
- Your feet and legs should be able to operate the accelerator, brake, and clutch pedals without undue effort or obstruction. If your vehicle provides a seat angle adjustment, ensure that it provides some support against sliding forward in the seat but that you can fully depress the brake or clutch pedals without excessive pressure on the back of your leg at the seat’s edge.
- Ensure that your footwear does not interfere with operating the pedals or cause your feet to slip from the pedals. A pair of comfortable sneakers left in the car can be used for times when your footwear is inappropriate for driving. It’s better to spend a few minutes changing shoes than to have your foot slip off the brake pedal in an emergency. Of course if you are used to walking in stiletto heels, you may also be able to drive in them. I can’t imagine doing either myself!
- If your vehicle is equipped with an adjustable steering column, ensure your arms are comfortable in the driving position. Also ensure that the steering wheel does not obstruct your view of the dashboard or interfere with your leg or knee as you move your foot quickly from the accelerator to the brake pedal, as you might in an emergency situation.
- Adjust your head restraint so its top is slightly above, or no more than 2 inches below, the top of your head. The head restraint is there to prevent “whip lash” type neck injuries in the event of a crash. Let’s hope you’ll never need it, but have it adjusted properly just in case!
- Your seatbelt should be worn in accordance with the instructions in your owner’s manual. You do wear seat belts, right? Every time you drive? Good! The shoulder belt should lie diagonally across your chest. If your vehicle provides an adjustment for the vertical position of the shoulder belt, adjust it so that the belt crosses your collarbone and not your neck. Never place the shoulder belt behind you while driving. Lap belts should always be worn with the shoulder belt and should be positioned across the pelvis. Even with the advent of air bags (which are an amazing safety feature), lap and shoulder belts should always be worn. Not only will they protect you in the event if a crash, they will keep you in the proper driving position should things start to go sideways!
Also, I should add the warning that you should never make adjustments to your driving position while your vehicle is in motion. That should go without saying but you’d be surprised how many accidents are caused by drivers trying to adjust their seats while moving and losing control of their vehicles!
Following these guidelines will provide a foundation upon which you can build the driving skills that will help make your driving experience more comfortable, enjoyable, and safe.