Driving under pressure
Parked at the side of the road discussing the pressure that he had put himself under whilst carrying out the task we had agreed, Harry suddenly said, ‘There’s more to this driving business than just driving, isn’t there?’
At the beginning of the lesson Harry said he would like to work on his manoeuvres today so I suggested that he give himself an hour to complete the three manoeuvres he’d looked at so far: turn in the road, left reverse and bay park to what he considered to be test standard. He needed to devise his own route and he had to allow enough time to complete a manoeuvre more than once if he didn’t think it was test standard. When asked how much support he would like from me he thought he would be fine but that I should jump in and help if he was going to do anything dangerous.
Harry threw himself into the task with enthusiasm. He planned the route out loud before he even moved the car working out exactly where he would do the bay park and which roads he could turn the car round in. He then moved away briskly heading for a car park near the heath. He drove confidently and there was no need for me to step in from a safety point of view. After he had completed a bay park I asked him how he thought he had got on and whether that would have been a test standard manoeuvre. He didn’t think so and decided he needed to have another go.
I reminded Harry how much time he had left and noticed that he started to show signs of pressure. He looked more tense and he didn’t drive so confidently. He wasn’t so sure of which way to go even though he had sorted the route out before we moved away the first time. He started to make mistakes and wasn’t checking his mirrors. When he found somewhere to carry out the turn in the road I asked him to assess the place he had chosen and he realised he had stopped opposite a driveway so moved forwards before starting. He knew himself he hadn’t done it very well and immediately said he was going to do it again. I reminded him of the time and said he could leave it if he wanted and go and find somewhere to do the left reverse but he said he really wanted to get this right. He was happier with the second attempt but was now looking quite stressed as he drove off to find a corner.
After Harry had completed a left reverse and his time was up we stopped to discuss the task. We focused on his thoughts and his feelings throughout the hour long drive. He recognised how, despite the fact he knew this was just an exercise, he took it really seriously and genuinely felt the pressure. He related this to other aspects of his life and realised that he often planned things from the outset really well and got on quickly with things because he knew he didn’t attend to the detail and tended to make mistakes so needed time to correct them. He had this insight into his personality and it astounded him. We discussed how I had put him under pressure by reminding him of the time and how he might deal with similar situations with his mates in the car once he’d passed his test. He could see how the pressure had made it more difficult for him to think clearly and that he had struggled to plan his route. In a similar situation with his mates he suddenly realised he would have to pull in and park so that he could re-focus on his driving.
Harry learned loads about himself during this lesson. He learned how his thoughts and his feelings influence the way he handles the car. When he felt under pressure he couldn’t make decisions in the same way as he could at the beginning of the task. He learned that being under pressure narrows his focus of attention and makes it much more difficult to keep his eyes moving and to look into his mirrors. He also learned tactics that he could use when driving unsupervised. Firstly, he learned to recognise when his focus of attention was likely to narrow and to look for somewhere safe to pull up to give himself a break.
Learning how your thoughts and feelings motivate your behaviour is all part of the highest level of the Goals for Driver Education framework. It is arguably the most important level as all the driving decisions we make are made on the basis of who we are and what beliefs, values and opinions we hold. Recognising this empowers us to make choices and decisions that take our personality into account because we no longer see our driving behaviour as a simple response to the hazards on the road. When we teach our learners mainly through instruction they learn that they should behave in a certain way dependent on the road markings and signs and the behaviour of all other road users. When we use a client-centred approach and coach them they recognise that driving is far more complex than just a series of rote-learned responses.