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The front of the line

Common sense tells us that there really is no front of the line to reach, so to try and get there by weaving through traffic and passing anyone in front of us is a losing proposition. We are reminded of this every time that slow-moving guy that we just passed catches us at the next light! (Don’t you hate it when that happens?)

Rushing through traffic in an attempt to get to the front of the line or to make up time when you are late just doesn’t make sense. It’s high-risk driving, uses more fuel, it’s stressful and leads to violations or worse. It just doesn’t work.

We conducted a study a few years ago, using three of our instructors who all came in from the same suburb of Vancouver to see how much quicker hurrying through traffic would be. We assigned two different alternating driving styles for each driver to use on alternating days: one style was to get to the office as fast as possible and the other was to relax, choose a lane, stay in it and go with the flow.

The rules for “getting there as fast as possible” were:  no red light running but push the yellows to the legal limit; no excessive speeding; and, change lanes to get ahead whenever you can get past another car.

The rules for “go with the flow:” relax; leave a safe following distance; and, drive as perfectly, safely and defensively as possible.

What were the results after a month of gathering times? Depending on traffic, the commute took between 45 and 60 minutes daily but the most interesting result was that regardless of how heavy or difficult the traffic was, the “get there fast” group only saved an average of 3 minutes over the “defensive” group, on any given day.

A three-minute saving at the cost of up to an hour of concerted aggressive driving! Not much of a payoff, is it?

A better attitude to adopt is one where you choose a lane that works for you, stay in it, go with the flow and leave a comfortable space in front of you. Let someone else rush around you, then smile and wave when you catch them all stressed out at the next light while you just cruise up relaxed and stress-free. 

When we expect traffic to be heavy and slow and choose an attitude of acceptance, we can relax and drive safely and defensively in the knowledge that it really doesn’t take that much longer. Arrive calm and ready for the day, instead of frazzled and burned out before we even start work.

Seasoned professional drivers know this. They will tell you that the best strategy is acceptance of traffic conditions and a ‘go with the flow’ attitude.

Back in the day, a crusty old trucker named Dick taught me to drive trucks and he said, “slow down and make time.” Dick said that he loved it when he missed the light and caught a yellow. He said, “there’s nothing like being front of the line and first off on the green!” Maybe there is a front of the line after all.

Spencer McDonald

Spencer McDonald is the president and founder of Thinking Driver, a driver training and development company in Surrey, B.C. Spencer’s formal education is in psychology and motivation, and has brought these fields together with road safety and education to develop attitude-based driver safety programs. Visit www.thinkingdriver.com for more information.
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