This article is the second of a series of articles on mental health from our partner Turn2me 

As a road user, be it a driver, cyclist or pedestrian you make a decisive contribution to ensure that you, and all other road users, get to your destination safely.

Preventive road safety begins with you, as well as the provision of road safety practice both with equipment, vehicles, wearing high visibility material when out walking, cycling or motorcycling. In order to be able to work, walk, cycle and drive safely and accident-free, we must all be in line with road safety regulations.

Society perceives driving to be dangerous, wear your seatbelt, don’t overload your vehicle, check your tyres.  However, what about the human factor?  What about your state of mind when you are operating a vehicle?  Drivers frequently use stimulants to cheat nature, stimulants such as energy drinks, alcohol, marijuana to name a few instead of resting ahead of a journey. Psychological factors such as attention, concentration, spatial cognition, distractibility, fatigue should be evaluated among other issues in our drivers. 

Drivers distraction is a serious and growing threat to road safety.  The most common distraction is the mobile phone, both to drivers and pedestrians alike, practically everyone has a phone, in vehicle communications further add to drivers’ distraction.  There is no conclusive evidence to show that hands-free phoning is any safer than hand-held phoning, because of the cognitive distraction involved.  The statics from World Health Organisation don’t lie:

  • Driver distraction plays a role in 20-30% of all road collisions
  • The National Safety Council reports that mobile phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
  • Nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
  • Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
  • Texting while driving causes a 400% increase in time spent with eyes off the road.

Slow down!  Speed is a factor in a third of fatal crashes and research shows that the speed a car is travelling at has a marked impact on survival rates: a pedestrian hit by a car at 50km/h only has a 50% chance of survival, hit at 30km/h a pedestrian has a 90% chance of survival. For this reason, it is imperative for drivers to slow down, particularly when visibility is poor, to allow enough time to react to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians on the road.

Most drivers have experienced what we commonly refer to as “road rage”, this is a common phenomenon whereby the driver is driving under impaired emotions with wrong assumptions that other road users are enemies. These frustrations that arise from defective management of emotions prior to driving, are then transferred to other road users. This manifests as unsafe driving manoeuvres with disregard for safety. Most drivers see others as a problem, so it is very important to focus on our own mental wellbeing during our travel time and commit to a positive and safe driving experience.

Stress while driving is the cause of many traffic accidents on the roads. Drivers who are constantly under high stress are more likely to make mistakes on the road by overlooking other road users or making the wrong decision.

Road safety is not just the responsibility of the driver, pedestrians and cyclists have a responsibility also.  “Be Safe, Be Seen” is the message, it aims to remind people of the importance of wearing high visibility material when out walking, cycling or motorcycling and encourages the public to do so throughout the year, but especially during the darkest months of the year. Approximately 60% of fatal pedestrian collisions happen in hours of darkness.

How can all road users avoid stress in traffic?  Road traffic stress is not only caused by other road users. Rather, the personal feeling of the driver, cyclist, pedestrian is also decisive for the development of stress when out on the roads. If you are not feeling well yourself or if you are in trouble at work, these feelings inevitably accompany you while travelling.  In these situations, it is advisable to take a short break before starting your journey, switch off.  Even before the journey, stress can be counteracted. Regular exercises that reduce stress can help here. These include breathing and relaxation exercises as well as adequate sleep.

If you, yourself feel unsafe when in traffic, this can increase your personal feeling of stress. In this case, all distractions should be removed.  How you feel has huge impact on your actions.  If you are relaxed, aware of your surroundings and alert you will keep yourself and others on the road safe.  Simple mindfulness can help reduce many road incidents; especially given the potential frustration everyone will experience once traffic increases again since lockdown.  Mindfulness encourages us to be aware of our actions and emotions in the present moment and to be open and non-judgmental towards situations.  This means accepting the situation and choosing not to react with negative emotions and at the same time moving to positive thinking.  The message is “Be safe on our roads”.