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Your Emotions Can (And Likely Do) Affect Your Driving

April 11, 2017

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is sponsored by the National Safety Council (NSC). The NSC advocates for safe driving behavior for everyone who shares the road. 

When we talk about distracted driving, we usually think of drivers using cell phones to talk or text. Or maybe we envision a teenager playing with the radio or a businessman cramming fast food from behind the wheel. Another factor that can lead to distracted driving that is mentioned far less often is how our emotions affect our driving habits.

Strong positive and negative emotions can affect us physically and mentally and also dictate our behavior. Strong negative emotions drive our actions and thoughts, and can sometimes lead us to make poor choices. Strong positive emotions also drive our actions and thoughts, and can distract us from what is happening in that moment.

We live in a complicated world with complicated lives that allow us to experience many moods and feelings throughout the day. Between the competing priorities of work commitments, family duties, household chores, errands, and appointments (all of which can bring us joy, frustration, stress, or sadness), it can be easy to try and multitask to get more things done more efficiently. This multitasking often happens while driving and can ultimately have more drawbacks than benefits.

Driving requires full physical, visual, and cognitive focus. Recent studies found that drivers are distracted more than half the time they are behind the wheel. Experiencing strong emotions, either positive or negative, take away that necessary focus and can cause problems just like other forms of distracted driving, including using a cell phone or GPS, adjusting the radio, or interacting with passengers.

How Emotions Affect Driving

Emotions can impair cognition and decision making skills. Stress, in particular, can be particularly distracting while driving. Stress can cause us to become very upset, sleep poorly, and eat unhealthily. This increases irritability and puts us on edge. It can be especially problematic when we are managing busy, hectic schedules and households.

Distracted driving from strong emotions can cause you to:

  • Drift into another lane or onto the road shoulder
  • Miss a red light or a stop sign
  • Read end or side swipe another car
  • Strike a pedestrian
  • Speed through a school or construction zone
  • Fail to properly use mirrors in crowded areas, such as parking lots

If you are feeling really upset, even the smallest thing (like being cut off or held up by a slow driver), could make you even more upset and cause you to do something rash, like participating in road rage. If caught in this act, which is a criminal offense, it could lead to court appearances, high fines, and jail time ― worse yet, it could lead to serious injury or even death. These are all things that would make a bad day (and an already stressful mood) much, much worse.

Conversely, if you are in an extremely happy mood after receiving good news, it can cause you to be less careful with your actions, like not watching the speedometer closely or not carefully looking when changing lanes or passing other cars. Any type of distracted driving can have devastating consequences, regardless of your emotional polarity.

Calm Down Before Getting Behind the Wheel

One way to cut down on emotional distracted driving is to calm down before you get behind the wheel. Take time to notice the effects that your emotions are having on your physical and mental state and how that, in turn, affects your driving. Learning to cope when you are upset and to calm down when you are excited are key to creating safe driving conditions for all.

If you are feeling upset, excited, happy, stressed, or frustrated, do the following to prepare yourself to begin driving:

  • Take a few deep, cleansing breaths
  • Count to 10
  • Play soothing music
  • Ask others in the car to be quiet so you can focus calming down

Sometimes it takes a combination of some or all of the above to get yourself in the right state of mind before turning the ignition.

If something upsets you while you are driving and you feel it is impairing your ability to drive safely, pull over and calm down before you start to drive again.

You are the only one that can control your emotions and actions. You must take full responsibilities for any action you take, even the negative consequences of those actions. Think about how your actions will affect you and your loved ones, as well as any passengers in the vehicle, now and in the future. This will put your actions in perspective and help you make better choices before you begin to drive and while you’re behind the wheel.

Contact the Law Offices of William D. Cook

Contact the Law Offices of William D. Cook if you or a loved one has been involved in a car crash involving a distracted driver at (907) 694-2000 or by completing a brief online form, and we will be will be in touch promptly to discuss the particulars of your case.

We offer free consultations and, in most instances, we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means we advance expenses, ensuring that you will not pay a dime unless or until we are able to resolve your case.

Marshall, A. (2016, March 8). U.S. drivers are distracted more than half the time they’re behind

the wheel. CityLab. Retrieved from

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.


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