The art of Zen Driving

By Allen Penticoff

I originally was going to write a terse column on the evils and stupidity of drivers who tailgate (not the parking lot party type or other definitions of “tailgating”). But in the course of my research on the subject I came upon a WikiHow on Zen Driving. That seemed a much more positive approach than a long rant, although I will begin with ranting a bit – so hang in there.

On two recent occasions while driving on two-lane highways I had some unnerving experiences with people tailgating me. Although driving the speed limit, which of course is not fast enough for most folks, I had a big chrome pickup truck grill filling my rear-view mirror. Just after a four-way stop intersection I pulled off the side of the road to let this intruder pass – despite him having plenty of opportunity to go around prior. I felt much better to not have him so close.

On another occasion, there was a young woman in a big old car following far too closely. Again, I pulled off onto the shoulder to let her tailgate the truck in front of me… only to have another car tailgate me once back on the highway. I have many more tales of being tailgated by cell phone users and other inattentive, rude or exceedingly anxious drivers, but I can’t use all my space here for that.

I’ve on occasion been the tailgater. Which bring up some of the causes of tailgating. One of those are drivers who drive slow in the passing lane. Some folks seem to think that on a four-lane highway that any old lane will do – and will clog up the passing lane driving to pace the car in the right lane. This is rude folks. It is also illegal in Illinois, though rarely enforced. Yes, you may be traveling the speed limit and you think everyone else should too. That’s not realistic, and it causes tailgating and chain reaction pile ups when something does require emergency braking.

Sometimes a tap on the brake will get them to back off a bit. It is not recommended to do this though as they may not be paying attention and may suddenly slam on the brakes and cause an accident, so save that for appropriate situations. It could induce road rage. The person behind you may already be raging at you, rightly or wrongly.

Your job is to stay out of the way. Move over. Get off the road. Stay calm. Don’t over-react. I’ve tried to fend off these tailgaters and line bargers, but you know what – you will not change their personality or bad habits with anything you do. You should concentrate on your driving and the situation around you.

Calming and concentration techniques can include turning off the radio. Are you listening to a talk or news program that is making you angry? Turn – it – off. Listen to music you like. Or, as I often do, enjoy the sounds of driving and the peace of being alone and quiet in our busy hectic world. Enjoy the scenery. Look around – it will also keep you aware of traffic and road conditions. Our vehicles are designed now to isolate us from the road and world around us – not what we need. We need to pay attention.

Trying get ahead of all the traffic rarely is successful. How often have we battled through the traffic only to have the “slow poke” pull up next to us at the traffic light. Maybe we should have followed their example. Rushing and speeding do not get us to our destination any sooner. Literally, in city driving it is not possible to drive fast enough to make more than a minute or two of time difference in getting across town. What will you do with that extra minute? You could spend far more time dealing with the police or an accident you cause. Slow down. Enjoy the drive. Try to keep acceleration and braking to a minimum. This saves wear and tear on the car and conserves fuel to say nothing of its calming effect on your nerves.

But please don’t be the person who is still sitting at the green light and who has not gone yet, or the one who lets the car ahead go 100 or 200 feet before they start to roll. That is just rude too and makes those behind angry, wastes their time (and gas) and makes them drive more aggressively. So it really is up to all of us to stay calm. Be courteous, thoughtful drivers like we were taught in driver’s ed, and stay alert. Then there would be fewer reasons for us to have bad encounters with other drivers and our zen will increase. Happy motoring.

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