Zen and the Art of Safer Motoring

Donald NorfolkMotoring accidents are now a major cause of concern throughout the world. In today’s society the car is both a blessing and bane. Without some form of private transport our social and working lives would be severely curtailed. On the other hand, every moment we spend behind the wheel of a car can damage the quality of our life, impair our health, and increase our risk of injury. For thousands of years the horse provided the fastest form of transport. Then, at the very beginning of the nineteenth century, came the invention of mechanically propelled motor cars. These quickly became so popular that in 1865 the British government found it prudent to introduce a Locomotives Act, which limited their speed to a maximum of two mph in the town and four mph in the countryside. As an added precaution, cars had to be preceded by a man on foot carrying a red flag at a distance of not less than sixty yards. Some almost certainly ignored this edict, for in 1869 Mary Ward, an Irishwoman, achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the first recorded driver in the world to be killed in a car accident.

Since then the volume of traffic accidents has soared, despite the expenditure of vast sums of money on road safety interventions. The roads themselves are better engineered than ever before and the cars infinitely safer. We, the pilots behind the wheel, are the only part of the motoring equation which hasn’t improved. Accidents occur because we’re inadequately equipped – physically, emotionally and psychologically – for the dangerous task of car driving. We take a brief course of instruction, and then pass a driving test, which shows that we’ve read the Highway code and learnt the mechanical skills of driving, but at no point are we helped to acquire the mental skills required to make us proficient drivers. When Zen Buddhists learn kyudo, the traditional art of Japanese archery, they’re apprenticed to a Zen master and spend several years acquiring the mind set needed to be a kyudo expert. We don’t undergo a similar training to acquire the psychomotor skills of driving. This is a defect which society has largely ignored. There are no dangerous roads, only dangerous drivers.  As a wit once said, ‘it takes over a thousand nuts to assemble a car, and only one nut to scatter it all over the road.’

To make good this deficiency, here are fifteen simple steps that responsible motorists can take to reduce the toll of highway accidents. They’re based on the well established educational technique of incremental learning, which means that results will be achieved not my making seismic shifts but by adopting a series of small, incremental changes.

Drive less Since the end of the Second World War, when petrol rationing was abolished, we’ve become increasing dependant on four-wheeled transport. Some years ago the London transport authorities carried out a survey which revealed that just over a half of all bus journeys in London were for journeys of less than a mile. People will wait at a crowded bus stop to be transported on a trip which would invariable be more quickly made on foot. Today we’ve become yet more dependent on vehicular transport. Nowadays we rarely bother to garage our cars because they’re in constant use. We depend on them to take us to work and do the major family shop at the local supermarket. But we also use them for minor trips, like visiting neighbours, ferrying the children to school and popping in to the local pub. These journeys could often be done just as easily on foot, which would help preserve the strength of our legs which are rapidly becoming an endangered species and could soon wither away like a tadpole’s tail. Philip Hammond, the UK Transport Secretary, has recently made a statement urging people to use the train for long intercity journeys, and opt for buses, bicycles and shanks’s pony for shorter trips. Anyone who follows this advice will reduce their carbon footprint, improve their health and reduce their risk of injury.  Instead of seeking our pleasures in distant Shangri-Las, we need to rediscover the satisfaction of making whoopee in our own homes and local communities. If we adopt these measures, and reduce our private motoring by ten percent, we should reduce our risk of road accidents by a commensurate amount. .

Assume full responsibility We live in a Dependant Age. We complain about the litter on the streets but do nothing to clear it up, believing that it’s the duty of the local council. We don’t put by for a rainy day, because we think that if we lose our job we can always rely on unemployment benefits. In the same way if we suffer a minor ailment – a runny nose or strained ankle – we immediately seek the help of a doctor, never thinking that we could treat the malady ourselves, as was always done in the past. As drivers we too easily adopt the same passive stance. We pass the buck and expect the powers that be – law makers, civil engineers and car manufacturers – to ensure our safety on the highways and byways. But this is primarily our responsibility. Women will admit that they’re rotten cooks, and men that they’re less than perfect lovers, but neither sex will accept that they’re not excellent drivers. Many people have been fortunate in not having had a serious spill for twenty years, but this isn’t proof of competence. People will always make excuses when they’re involved in an accident. They’ll blame the weather conditions, the camber of the road or the confusing road signs. This is a defence mechanism known to Freudian analysts as ‘projection’; a cop out children instinctively use when they knock down a vase and pretend that ‘teddy did it’. Drivers will blame everyone else but themselves when they have a mishap, not recognising that there would have been no accident if they’d made proper allowance for the weather conditions, the camber of the road and the confusing road signs. When these mishaps occur it’s not misfortune it’s careless driving, for as Shakespeare observed in Julius Caesar: ‘The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, But in ourselves.’

Assess the risks Many of my family were taught to drive by a kindly Welsh instructor who started every course by patting the vehicle they were about to drive and saying: ‘What is this?’  Some said a ‘car’ or a ‘Morris minor’, but the answer he eventually gave in a ringing, sepulchre tone was: ‘This, my friend, is a lethal instrument.’ He wanted every driver under his care to appreciate that driving was not just a pleasure and privilege, but also an enormous responsibility. Driving is a hazardous activity, and it’s important that we should appreciate the magnitude of that risk. After the Twin Towers disaster in New York thousands of Americans chose to drive rather take domestic flights. As a result the number of people killed in road accidents during the following year rose by about 1600, which is six times the number who died in the hijacked planes. Researchers at the University of Michigan have proved that driving the length of a typical domestic flight in the USA is sixty-five times more dangerous than flying. So we shouldn’t exaggerate the risks we run when we take the wheel of a car, for driving is considerably safer than staying at home. Even in America, the country with the world’s highest per capita ownership of cars, people are almost twice as likely to receive disabling injuries in the home as they are on the roads. Roads are becoming safer. There are now twice as many registered cars in Britain as there were twenty years ago, yet the death rate on the roads has fallen. In fact when the World Health Authority carried out a survey in three European countries it judged that car fumes now cause twice as many deaths as road accidents. So we needn’t be too pessimistic, but nor should we be too complacent.

When we’re in the driving seat we’re responsible for our own lives and also the lives of our passengers and countless other road users. Wealthy English aristocrats in the past used to keep memento mori in their homes to remind them that life is short and death no more than a heart beat away. Maybe drivers should follow this tradition by attaching a skull emblem to their key rings. For myself, before I turn on the ignition key, I try to recall the horrific safety videos of a child chasing after a runaway balloon and being hit by a car. Any driver involved in such a tragedy, whatever their level of culpability, would be mentally scarred for life. We know there’s no escaping death and taxes, but it’s nice to think that the taxes will be as low as possible and life as long as possible. When we’re driving we need to remember that death is not only eventual, but also potentially immanent.

Avoid fatigue You can’t enjoy a journey when you’re struggling to keep your eyes open. The moment fatigue sets in co-ordination suffers. Tests on long-distance lorry drivers reveal that as they tire towards the end of a long journey their hands become unsteady and they tend to over-manipulate the steering wheel. Like a drunk walking down the street they tend to keep on track only by maintaining a constant series of course corrections. When drivers are tired they also tend to compensate by indulging in periods of micro-sleep, intervals of from five to ten seconds when their eyes are closed. If these brief snatches of sleep are taken when driving at maximum motorway speed the drowsy driver can travel blind for a thousand feet, which is quite long enough to veer off course and hit the central reservation. To counteract this risk, the British Medical Association advises drivers to abide by the ‘Rule of Three’. This recommends that they shouldn’t drive for more than three hours at a time without stopping for a rest and light refreshments, and should refrain from driving for more than 300 miles in a single day unless they’re experienced long-distance motorists. Another precaution is to get a good night’s rest before embarking on a long motoring journey, for sleep research has shown that, ‘attention is the first mental ability to deteriorate after a poor night’s sleep’.  It’s difficult to reprimand people for driving in a drowsy state, for while measurements can easily be made of motoring speeds and alcohol levels, there’s no easy way to measure tiredness. This might change in the near future, if road-side checks are developed to measure reaction times, which will pick out people who are ‘drunk with fatigue’ or drowsy from taking medically prescribed drugs such as sedatives, antihistamines and sleeping pills.

Take steps to enhance your vision Motoring is largely a visual skill. Somewhere in the region of 80-90% of the information we receive while driving is transmitted through the eyes. This means that motorists must have the maximum possible view of the road ahead. Windscreens, windows and rear view mirrors should be cleaned before every journey, and sun glasses worn only when they’re absolutely necessary rather than as a fashion accessory. Tinted glass can cut out fifty per cent of the incident light when dusk is approaching, which may be fine when you’re sunbathing in the Seychelles, but becomes a positive menace when your driving through the Scottish Highlands in the gathering gloom of a murky November day. Vision tests carried out some years ago at British motor shows suggest that about 150,000 UK motorists are driving illegally, because they don’t possess the basic requirement of being able to read a number plate at twenty-five yards. This simple visual test was introduced in 1935, and remains unchanged despite increased motoring speeds, the vast multiplication of road signs and the far greater density of road traffic. If an optician suggests that you should wear driving glasses, follow that advice. And if it’s been some while since you took the number plate test, have your eyes professionally checked . Eyesight deteriorates as we age, the incidence of visual defects being twice as high in the over 45s as it is in those who haven’t yet reached middle age.

Avoid night driving whenever possible Driving at night is a special hazard for, although there are fewer cars on the road at that time, the risk of having a serious motoring accident is twice as high then as it is during the day. At the start of WW2 petrol was rationed, which meant there a sharp fall in the number of cars on the road. As part of the blackout precautions street lights were turned off and car headlights shielded. As a result the number of deaths on the road at night more than doubled in the first month of the war. This meant that Hitler was able to kill six hundred Britons without dropping a single bomb. If you have to travel at night, make a point of travelling at least ten mph slower than you do by day, to make sure you can stop within the limit of your gaze. Extra care should also be taken when blinded by the headlights of an approaching car. The amount of light entering the eye is controlled by variation in the diameters of the pupils, an adaptation which is vital to ensure pin-point vision. These alterations are not instantaneous, and can sometimes take several minutes to achieve. So when you set out from a brilliantly lit motorway café always give your eyes two or three minutes to adjust. This span needs to be even longer if you’ve been drinking a glass or two of wine for, while you may be within the drink-driving limit, your pupils can take half as long again to adapt to the dark. Night driving is a particular hazard for senior citizens, who may handle their cars with exemplary skill by day, but be a menace on the roads after dark. Eighty-year-olds may need two hundred times as much light to see objects clearly as they did when they were in their forties. Their resistance to glare may be halved, and on leaving a well-lit room their eyes can take twenty minutes to become fully adapted to the dark rather than the two or three minutes of younger drivers.

Keep fit As far as I know no research has been carried out to determine whether physical fitness plays any part in reducing motoring accidents. I have a gut feeling it does, but can’t say how or why. However, there’s ample evidence to show that driving is an unhealthy activity, which probable causes more deaths off the road than on. It’s known to be a common cause of anxiety and stress, and adds to our risk of suffering from the so-called ‘hypo-kinetic diseases’, the diseases like backache, obesity and heart disease which are associated with a sedentary life style. Every time we sit in a car and drive through crowded, fume-filled streets we increase our risk of heart disease. The stress of driving makes our blood pressure rise and our pulse rate quicken. It also increases the output of stress hormones which flood our blood streams with sugar and fatty acids to provide additional fuel for muscular activity. (Samples of blood taken from racing drivers before a Grand Prix race are actually milky white through their high content of high cholesterol.) This is an atavistic reaction which prepares our bodies for ‘fight or flight’, a response which had some purpose in the primeval forest when the stress was caused by the sudden appearance of a sabre-toothed tiger, but has no point today when the threat is caused by an idiot who is subjecting us to aggro on the motorway. These physiological changes were at one time positive aids to survival but are now potential killers. Motorists who do not take some form of physical exercise to ‘work off’ these stress responses are prime candidates for the coronary club, because the fats liberated in their blood are not burnt up but left to form deposits in the blood vessel wall which is the basis of cardiovascular disease.

Don’t multi-task Modern life trains us to have grasshopper minds. Instead of concentrating on a single activity, we’re encouraged to juggle with several different tasks. We watch a TV documentary and at the same time try to take part in a family debate, send a text message to a friend and nibble a slice of pizza. This fragmentation may be harmless in the home, but can be positively lethal when we take control of a car. Driving is a full time occupation. We can’t give it our complete attention while we’re tuning a car radio, holding an argument, sipping a cup of coffee, talking on a fixed phone or flinging an arm to discipline children fighting on the back seat. Drivers at all times need to keep their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road and their minds on the task in hand. This was demonstrated when a team of American researchers attached a group of volunteer motorists to an MRI scanner and gave them the task of ‘driving’ a car along a winding, computer-simulated road. When they were invited to multi-task, the accuracy of their responses, and their reaction times, dropped by 37 per cent.  The quality of their driving became ‘much poorer’, and was reported as being on a par with those who’d been drinking. Another study, carried out by the US National Highway authorities, showed that drivers who glance away from the road for more than two seconds double their risk of suffering a crash or near miss. (One shudders to think what will happen in South Korea, where taxi drivers have recently won a court battle to allow them to watch television while driving!) Similar research carried out in Britain, by the Transport Research Laboratory, reveals that  when talking on a hands-free mobile phone drivers take almost twice as far to stop when asked to brake. The core message of this worldwide research is that drivers are at risk whenever they attempt to multi-task. When we’re at the wheel of a car we have a duty to be diligent, a word which comes from the Latin diligentia meaning ‘close attention’. It’s far safer to do one thing well than four things badly.

Keep your cool You can judge a person’s personality by the way they dress; but you get an even closer insight into their natures by noting the way they drive. People who are impatient in their everyday lives, will be equally impatient when they take to the road. Individuals who like to live life in the fast lane will be equally impetuous when they drive. Folks who regularly hold up supermarket queues by their dawdling and dithering will be equally likely to cause tailbacks on the roads. These emotions, if left unchecked, are major precursors of road accidents. The key determinant is not what we drive, but what drives us. Surveys have shown that motoring fanatics – the sort who read motoring magazines, attend Grand Prix races and watch TV programmes like Top Gear – tend to be aggressive drivers. The same applies to egoists who regard their cars as extensions of their personalities. A team of psychologists carried out three studies involving hundreds of students who were asked to report how much they ‘personalised’ their cars with window and bumper stickers. The results showed that those who treated their cars as extensions of their own personalities were more likely to be aggressive drivers prone to road rage, tailgating and heavy use of their horns. They’re convinced that the precious hunk of metal is theirs, which gives them the right to use it as, where and how they wish. They suffer from what psychologists term ‘boundary confusion’. They fail to recognize that while the car is theirs, they do not own the roads. How they drive when they’re on those public highways affects the welfare of every other road user. We have a collective responsibility. If we’re aggressive, we’re likely to provoke an angry response in other motorists. If we can remain calm others will tend pick up that mood and become equally placid. Patience is something we admire in the driver behind us, but sometimes deplore in the knot of drivers in front of us. Anyone driving slower than us is an idiot, anyone driving faster is a maniac. Somehow we must stop making these headstrong judgements. Every

time we clamber into our cars we must school ourselves to leave behind our adverse personality traits, recognizing that it’s far safer to drive with an overheated engine than with overheated emotions. Maybe we could develop a benign, Buddha-like avatar, whose personality we assume whenever we drive. This can be done by applying a simple ruse, which stems from the pioneering work of William James, the founding father of contemporary psychotherapy. He conjectured that we experience emotions as a result of the physiological changes which take place within our bodies. We feel angry when our muscles tense, our pulse races, and our breathing becomes quicker and deeper. If we can control those physical changes our fury will abate. As James explained: ‘If you want a quality, behave as if you already have it.’ The trick is to ‘act as if’.  This offers drivers the chance of carrying out some on-the-spot Zen meditation exercises, which will induce a state of calm composure mainly by relaxing the muscles and controlling the pattern of respiration. (These techniques can be learnt from books, psychotherapists or yoga teachers.) When we drive, we need to keep relaxed and happy. For some years polls have been taken in fifty countries using a measure known as the World Values Survey. This scale provides an indication of the average level of happiness of people living in particular districts, and shows that road deaths are significantly lower in countries which have a high happiness rating.

Avoid hurry sickness Ever since the development of clocks and watches people in the Western world have become obsessed with the passage of time. Ours is an age of split second timing, tight deadlines, fast food and speed reading. Life was far more relaxed in the past, when time could only be measured roughly by the burning of a candle, the shifting of the shadow on a sun dial, or the movement of sand in an hour glass. Now, if we’re travelling to keep an appointment, we’re expected to turn up at 11.43 precisely, rather than ‘in the early forenoon’. By creating accurate time pieces we’ve developed the instruments of our own destruction. Time has become ‘the enemy.’  In the workplace, the constant struggle to meet impossible deadlines is a major cause of stress. The same applies on the roads, where this ‘hurry sickness’ is a major predisposing cause of road accidents. All too often our prime concern is not to drive in safety, but to adhere to a rigid time table. Yet in today’s conditions it’s unrealistic to fix a set time for the completion of any road journey. On one occasion it may take an hour, on another an hour-and- twenty minutes. The solution is to leave with ample time to spare, and use any excess time at the end of the trip to read a book or take a relaxing walk. Somehow we must adopt a measure of oriental calm and think, not of the passing moment, but of the eternal ‘present.’  We must be more pragmatic in our judgement of journey times, following the example of the Burmese who will estimate that a trip will last as long as it takes to cook a bowl of rice. Punctuality may be the politeness of kings, but even chauffeur-driven monarchs can do nothing to blast their way through a grid-locked traffic jam. Fretting and fuming does nothing to rectify the situation. Far better to adopt the laid-back of the legendary Mayor Jimmy Walker of New York who, when criticised for turning up late for a public dinner replied: ‘If you’re there before it’s over your on time.’  A battle to keep on time, despite difficult road conditions, will only lead to increased tension, fatigue, raised petrol consumption and accidents. This was demonstrated some years ago, when petrol was measured in gallons rather than litres, and a test was carried out in which two motorists were given the task of travelling a journey of 1,700 miles. One of the participants was asked to drive as fast as he could without breaking any speed limits; the other at a steady comfortable pace. At the end of their journeys it was found that the fast driver had consumed ten gallons more petrol and doubled the wear on his tyres by driving at a speed which in the end proved to be only 2mph faster than the other driver!  Travelling at breakneck speeds is obviously of little practical benefit. Whatever the purpose of our trip we should adopt the approach of Dr Johnson who told Boswell, his impetuous companion: ‘Sir, consider how insignificant this will appear a twelve-month hence.’  Those who adopt the Zen way of driving will leave sooner, drive slower, arrive fresher – and live longer.

Practice defensive driving Most drivers are very bad at assessing risks. Let’s start by assuming that there are basically three different types of motoring environments:  motorways (and dual-carriageways), rural roads and urban streets. If asked which of these milieus experience the highest proportion of serious traffic accidents, most people would plump immediately for motorways, since this is where maximum speeds are reached and most multiple pile-ups occur. If fact more than 54 per cent of fatal accidents occur on rural roads, with just 6 per cent occurring on motorways, and the remaining forty per cent in urban areas. When we travel along country roads it’s easy to be too complacent. We’re travelling without a care in the world in a heavily fortified box, equipped with seat belts, inflatable air bags, toughened windscreen glass and anti-lock brakes. What have we to fear?  Many think that we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security because cars have become too safe. The joke among traffic engineers is that they shouldn’t provide us with cars with collapsible steering columns, but with wheels with miniature daggers attached pointing directly towards our chests. In our fortified cocoons we take too little thought of the risks that may lie ahead. In the early days of motoring in America cars suffered twenty times the accident rates they do today. Those risks have been reduced, but haven’t been totally eliminated by a multitude of new safety measures. We round a sharp bend and are brought face to face with a slowly moving tractor. A dip in the road reveals a pair of cyclists riding abreast; a group of horse riders; or worse still a herd of cows being driven across the road to their milking sheds. But the biggest risk of all comes when we, or an on-coming motorist, overtakes. This is a relatively safe manoeuvre on a motorway or dual carriage way, but can be extremely hazardous on country lanes when approach speeds can reach 120 mph. Tests with cardio-tachometers show that when motorists overtake their heart rate quickens, sometimes to twice their normal resting pace. This is the body’s standard response to danger, and is an appropriate reaction in this situation since roughly twelve per cent of all motoring accidents occur when overtaking. Most of these disasters occur through impatience and errors of judgement. When we’re overtaking we need to assess how long it’s going to take to pass the nearside vehicle, the speed of the approaching vehicle, the distance between us, the prevailing road conditions and likely effect of any road gradients. All this information has to be collected collated and computed by the brain in a brief space of time. One fascinating finding of simulated driving tests is that the harder it is to decide whether or not to overtake, the greater we delay before pulling out to make the move. This wastes one or two precious seconds and turns what might have been a safe manoeuvre into one which is full of risk. So the wise counsel is ‘when in doubt – don’t.’  If your aim is to get from A to B in safety, and in the shortest possible time, use the motorways and dual-carriageways as much as you possible can. But don’t expect to keep up high average speeds on rural roads, where for a large part of the time we’ll have no choice but to behave like pack-horses, travelling patiently in convoy with the vehicle in front.

Motorways two-second rule People make idiots of themselves whenever they try to predict the future. In 1876 Rutherford Hayes, the nineteenth president of the United States, was shown an early telephone and judged that while it was an exceedingly clever contraption no one would ever want to use one. In 1922 Marlene Dietrich took a screen test and was told she had no future in films. Not deterred by these failures, I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that the next twenty years will see the introduction of SATRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment). This is a scheme which enables packs of cars to drive on the motorway at distances of just one car’s length apart. These units will be led by a professional driver, who’ll be wirelessly connected to each vehicle so he can control their speed, steering and braking. By travelling in this tight formation aerodynamic drag will be reduced by as much as sixty percent, which will lead to an estimated forty percent reduction in fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Accidents will be reduced and, as a bonus drivers, will be able to sleep, read or watch video films while being driven each leg of their journeys. Birds and fish use this technique instinctively, and can same a significant amount of energy by travelling in tightly packed flocks and shoals. While waiting for the introduction of SATRE, we should take maximum advantage of the country’s motorway network which have a low rate of accidents largely because everyone is travelling in the same direction and at more or less similar speeds. Dangers arise on motorways and dual-carriageways largely when we drive too close to the cars in front, which puts us at risk should they suddenly need to slam on their brakes. Like flocks of birds, and shoals of fish, we can benefit by moving in relatively close convoys providing we keep a safe distance from the rest of the pack. This is the reason for following the two second rule, which if strictly observed should give us adequate time to brake before we strike the car in front. Sometimes there are painted markers on the road to indicate this safe braking distance, but in their absence the distance can be easily assessed. Wait until the vehicle in front passes a stationary object and then mumble under your breath ‘only a fool breaks the two second rule’. This takes about two seconds to say, which should be the time you pass the marker point. If you get there sooner, you know your driving too close. When driving conditions are bad, this stopping distance needs to be increased.

Act with courtesy when you enter other people’s villages and towns Another personality shift should occur when we enter urban areas, for this is where people live and play and go about their daily business. As soon as we see the speed restriction signs, the shops, the street lamps and school signs, we should recognize that we are visitors in someone else’s territory. When we see the sign ‘Little Snodgrass welcomes careful drivers’ the locals really mean that ‘Little Snodgrass deplores the vast majority of thoughtless through traffic.’ This is where cars may be untidily parked; where without warning children may run into the road, and where senior citizens may stop for a chat in their wheelchairs and disability buggies. As a result of this melee of human activity, this is where seventy-five percent of crashes occur. In these urban areas we must regard ourselves as temporary guests of the local community. When passing through these built-up areas pedestrians and cars should enjoy an equal right of way. It’s one thing to wrap a car around a tree on a winding urban road: but a tragedy of a totally different dimension – a horror we’ll never erase from our minds – if we kill a child on their way to school. Even a relatively minor reduction of speed can help reduce these disasters. If a child is hit by a car travelling at 40mph there’s an eighty per cent chance they’ll die. If the car is travelling at 30mph at the moment of impact there’s an eighty per cent chance they’ll live. I’m not a lover of speed bumps, but very much in favour of engineering the urban environment to let drivers know that they’re entering a communal space. The entrances should be narrow, and the welcoming name plate prominent, so that we undergo a rite of passage experience the moment we leave the open road and enter a residential area. Once we cross that threshold steps should be taken to remove the barriers between the world of the local inhabitants and the in-transit motorists. Drivers should no longer feel that they are monarchs of all they survey, but are sharing the same environmental space as the local community. This strategy has been adopted with great success by Hans Monderman, a traffic engineer who was called in to help the people of Drachten, a town in the North Netherlands which was plagued by speeding drivers. He made the streets narrower, lowered the pavements, removed all traffic signs, stop lights and road markings, and even placed a child’s bike at the entrance to the village to make it clear to motorists that they were entering a pedestrian zone. This strategy, which he dubbed ‘psychological traffic-calming’, has resulted in a dramatic fall in road accidents. It’s been such a success that the EU is contributing over a million euros to introduce a similar ‘Shared Space’ scheme in Bohmte, a German town of 13,500 people.

Join the Guild of Zen Motorists Having read this far you are now eligible to join the Guild of Zen Motorists, the only motoring club in the world which doesn’t demand a membership fee.  Instead we ask you to make two commitments. The first is to print out one copy of this script for your personal use, and put it in a prominent place so you can read it from time to time to refresh your mind of its thirteen life-affirming tips. The second is to send a copy to one or more of your friends with the suggestion that they too would benefit by adopting the art of Zen driving. (The buttons below are provided for this purpose) The greater the number of road users acquire these skills, the safer, and more congenial, our shared highway space will become. Just as the performance of a choir is infinitely better when its members sing in the same key and tempo, so the safety of our roads will be enhanced the moment motorists agree to sing from the same hymn sheet, and abide by the same rules of etiquette and conduct. This transformation can only be achieved through our own self-discipline.  It won’t arise as a result of government edicts and traffic regulations, for as the Buddha observed: ‘No one saves us but ourselves.’

© Donald Norfolk 2010


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