Long Distance Driving - how I do it
If you're going to be involved with long distance driving, then you'd better have an approach to doing it that works well. Otherwise, you'll get fatigued and in trouble before you know it.
This discussion focuses on how I do it. It won't work for everyone, but it works for me, and I hope that you'll pick up a few pointers here and there.
If any of this doesn't make sense to you, then don't follow it. You need to use what works well for you.
First, let's look at the main hazards associated with long distance driving:
Time on the road - the more time you spend on the road means the more time you spend with other drivers that you can collide with. The risk of accident increases as you spend more time out there with bad, inexperienced, thoughtless, reckless, careless and mindless drivers. It's even more risky when you add in all of the influences of animals, weather, road conditions and related construction and maintenance activities.
Fatigue - my philosophy is be ready for anything. Therefore, long distance driving requires that you stay ready for many hours at a time, and this adds to fatigue. Weather conditions that keep you on your toes and decrease visibility also add to fatigue.
Boredom - it isn't exactly exciting to watch pavement and stripes for hours at a time, so boredom will be a big factor in long distance driving.
Okay, now that we're familiar with the factors that make long distance driving a challenge, let's look at how I address each of these challenges.
My approach to long distance driving addresses the factors of concern mentioned above. There are various activities and mindsets that I employ to counter what I believe to be my natural challenges to long distance driving.
Time on the Road
Here is how I address the basic challenge of spending so much time on the road when long distance driving.
- It's a cross country run, not a sprint. Going fast won't get you anything except a more challenging drive and perhaps a speeding ticket. The faster you go, the more interactions you'll have with drivers and the more often you'll be changing lanes.
Changes in course, speed and relative position with other drivers can be influential factors when it comes to accidents. Stay on a steady and predictable cross country run in the right lane, and leave the speed demons to weave in and out of the left lane.
- Scan to stay alert for potential dangers. There will always be approaching vehicles, cross traffic, animals and cars slowing or stopping in the road. Stay alert to the potential for mishaps, and you'll be better at anticipating, responding and avoiding them.
The best way to stay alert is to scan your windows and mirrors periodically. The frequency of scanning is dependent upon the density of traffic and the environment in which you find yourself in. City driving requires frequent scanning while driving on a country road requires infrequent scanning.
- Everyone on the road passes me and shrinks away. This is my visual mindset that requires that I travel at a speed that allows cars to overtake me and pass me, so my subconsciousness only has to focus on two things - what's approaching me, and brake lights.
If vehicles on the road are getting larger, relative to others, then I pay closer attention to them because that means I'm traveling faster than they are and I'm overtaking them. After I make the pass, I settle into the mindset once again.
When I see brake lights, I do the same thing. I pay closer attention to the situation that created the brake lights. If it's just a "touch brake," then I get around that mindless driver and settle back into the mindset of everyone passes me and shrinks away.
- Keep your nerve. Sometimes the nervous among us are a hazard, so don't be one of them. Passing a truck, having someone pass you, traveling on an overpass, approaching a hill, and making a turn can all be sources of anxiety for people behind the wheel. They react by braking, slowing, hugging the center line or shoulder - all of which can be annoying and hazardous.
Keep your nerve and have confidence that you know how to handle various situations so you don't become a problem to yourself and others. It's a cross country run, so keep a predictable and steady pace, uninterrupted by common situations that you should be fully capable of addressing.
For this discussion, let's consider fatigue to be physical as well as mental in nature. Here is how I deal with it when long distance driving.
- Refresh when necessary, no matter how often. If your varied activities don't keep you refreshed, then stop for fuel or a stretch. Even if it means that you stop at numerous rest stops along the way, or refill your tank before it reaches the three quarters mark, you need to refresh your mind and body until you find yourself settling into a comfortable position where you can do some long distance driving and not suffer from fatigue.
- Start out before daylight. On really long single day drives, I've been known to start at 3 a.m. just so I get in a few hours of driving before the sun rises. I become mentally refreshed at dawn because to me it seems like the day has just started, so I simply consider that it's just started for me as well.
- Stay cool and hungry. If I keep myself just a bit uncomfortable, I'll be more alert simply because I'm not completely satisfied. Staying cool and hungry works well to keep me on edge and alert.
Limited sensory input can lull you to sleep behind the wheel. Here is what I do to fight boredom.
- Travel during daylight. During daylight, you can see all around you, so your mind will stay active and alert. Even if it's just a farmhouse or old homestead that you pass by, you can imagine the lives of people who once lived there and that will keep you engaged instead of prone to drifting off.
- Stay busy and vary your activities to avoid boredom - roll the window down, roll it up, change positions in your seat, read the road signs and calculate your remaining distance or fuel economy, play a game with license plate letter and number combinations - anything to keep from settling into a boring routine that will have you asleep in no time.
My favorite activity is thinking and planning and talking out loud to solve problems. If you're by yourself, that's a good time to apply your mind to problem solving, as long as you can do it as a time-shared activity with long distance driving.
- Drive friendly - that's the motto down in Texas. It's a good one. I entertain myself sometimes by waving to other drivers as they pass or allow me to pass.
If nothing else, it keeps us all reminded that there are people out there in those cars - people who can be injured.
So, there you have it - my suggestions for how to cope with the challenges of long distance driving. Each of us has to develop our own approach, and I trust that I've offered at least a few suggestions that might help with the challenge.
Done with Long Distance Driving, back to Safe Driving
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