Gaps and spaces – lessons from driving

Years ago, I worked for a training consultancy and driving to different sites was part of the job. Because of this commitment, the company provided driving lessons to enable us to be better and smarter drivers so there’d be less likelihood of accidents. I remember talking to my instructor about the training he delivered and he’d tell me how he had trained security services and bodyguards to do things like driving at speed, driving to escape a dangerous situation, that kind of thing, so I felt confident I was going to learn some useful things.

Surprisingly, one of the things he talked about was to watch the body language of the cars around me. As a trainer at the time, this was of particular interest to me, and it still stays with me today. Each driver drives their car in a particular way. It’s about noticing if a car is doing something it shouldn’t be, and if you should be worried about it. I was becoming more attuned to this with the groups I was working with, so this resonated with me. If I can notice something is amiss, I can either take action to control for it, or direct it, or seek to do something different. When driving, I seek to notice what other drivers are doing, what their body language is, and how I can be a better driver for noticing those things.

I think the biggest lesson he taught me was for motorway driving. He said to me that the safest way to drive on the motorway was to look for gaps when I needed to move lanes, and make sure I kept space. The gaps thing made immediate and apparent sense to me. It’s especially key when merging on to the motorway and looking for big lorries. If there are lorries driving at speed, and you can see several in the slow lane that you need to join, the best thing you can do is to look for where the safe space is to join and adjust your speed accordingly. The same applies when changing lane. Check to see what the other cars are doing – notice their body language – and make sure the gap you want to move into is a safe one for all. And the spaces thing was also immediately obvious and impactful. If you keep a safe distance, then you give yourself more time to think if you need to act quickly. If you’re driving behind someone and keeping close to the rear of their car, your reaction time is negatively affected that much more, and you’re more than likely to have an accident.

The last thing I remember was about the relative speed I would drive at and the distance I need to travel. He gave the example of driving 100 miles. If I drive at the speed limit (70mph in the UK), I’ll reach my destination in 1 hr 25 mins. If I drive at 80 mph (which most people like to do on the motorway), I’ll arrive in 1 hr 15 mins. That difference of 10 mins is often negligible for most driving purposes. Apply that to much shorter distances, and you realise those 10 mins become like 2-5 min differences at best – it’s almost not worth the extra speed. And of course, driving at 70 mph often results in better car performance.

This was one of those times where I learned that the things that can be helpful in life, are sometimes boring lessons that we’d really rather not bother with. Like dieting. We know that for most physical health benefits a balanced diet of food is the better option. Most of us choose not to follow that kind of advice and instead go for extreme things like ‘dry January’ to get over the glut of Christmas.

And I’m sure there are parallels to what I’ve written above to organisational life, but sometimes lessons for driving can be just left to be better and safer drivers.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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