Just hearing the word “traffic” makes my forehead scrunch together and my mouth tighten into a grimace.    Although I have some much more important things to worry about, driving in traffic seems to dominate my usage of stress.  Cars bumper to bumper moving at a snail’s pace, police cars inexplicably winding across all highway lanes with their warning lights on, and unpredictable drivers dodging back and forth between lanes. I blame it for the knots in my back and any gray hair I’ve acquired since moving to LA.  It can alter my mood so dramatically that even when I get to my destination, I stay on edge.  Yet, driving is such a huge part of living in the city that I know I must make peace with it.  Moreover,  like anything else, the first step to solving the problem of driving in a city of dangerous and selfish drivers is to correct the problem in myself.  Man in the mirror, people. My goal this week is going to be to be a good driver.

Shift your outlook while you’re shifting gears!

The following tips are practices that I use or that I think are important to start to use while driving in a crowd:

  1. Pick Teams–  A few months ago, one of my friends vented her traffic frustrations to me.  The thorn in her driving side was dealing with Lexus drivers.  She explained to me how awful they are.  After that, I started paying better attention to the brand of cars I encountered on the road.  Lexus drivers were, in fact, awful.  As it turns out, each type of cars has a stereotypical type of driver. I drive a Toyota, and somewhere along the line I started favoring other Toyota cars and trying to represent our team positively by driving well.  It’s kind of strange, but it helps me not have so many enemies on the streets.  Whereas before I’d think of mostly myself while I was driving, now I look out for my team. This outlook motivates me to be more understanding of other drivers and to add a sort human aspect to the cars around me.
  2. Be Patient–   We are all just trying to navigate to get where we need to go as fast as we can, but there’s not much we can do to move traffic.  Switching lanes to manuever through the crowds won’t do much good, and many times it slows others down.  I saw a car the other day cut off of traffic on Laurel Canyon, zoom through the adjacent neighborhood, and then cut back into traffic two cars ahead of where he had left. SO, for him to get ahead 15 yards, he slowed down a line of cars behind him that had to let him in.  He became exactly the problem he tried to escape.  Be patient, pick a lane, and stay there.
  3. Get Personal– One reason people are so rude and thoughtless while driving is because they feel invisible in their cars.  With a couple of tons of metal and a visage of privacy from tinted windows, driving seems like an almost anonymous activity.  The faces people see on the streets are the “faces” on the cars (headlights and grill).  Without the ever-important cues and communication that is expressed through the human face, people feel free to act like they run the road. By making eye contact and using positive body language, you are more likely to elicit a positive response from other drivers.
  4. Anticipate Chaos–  Count on traffic, and leave time to allow for it. Just go ahead and tack on plenty of extra time (I’d say an increase of 1/3 the time), to the allotted travel time.  If you get lucky and it actually does take the amount of time Google Maps quotes, then consider yourself in the midst of a freak phenomenon and walk away happily surprised with your early arrival.
  5. Get the Blues– Charge your blue tooth. Take it with you.  This is going to be my focus this week. I don’t know why I always forget to take it with me.  Driving and talking without a hands-free device is reckless, and it has an easy fix.  Put the phone a safe distance away from you and avoid the temptation to use it while driving.
  6. Take Advantage of the Commute-  While we can’t read a book or type up emails as we’re stuck in traffic, there are some things that a commute is good for.  Many times we are alone in the car and can use the time for preparing ourselves for what lies at the end of our travel time.  My dad learns Spanish from audio books. I always have a notebook nearby so that I can jot down whatever important thoughts that come to mind.  I also carry floss, a pair of tweezers and a bottle of sunscreen in my console, as I’ve found bumper to bumper traffic is a great time for cleaning teeth, plucking eyebrows, and applying lotion (when I’m completely stopped, of course).
  7.  Rock While You Roll–  A quality playlist can do wonders to driving time.  Make cd’s or playlists appropriate for various situations you may be driving too and have them handy for your everyday road trips.  I try to avoid the really mad, aggressive punk songs in traffic.  Also, I am convinced that morning talk shows and dj’s make commutes more miserable, so I would try to leave those guys out all together.  Shoot for relaxing or upbeat jams that seem to always make you smile.
  8. Avoid the Cops–  All these tips should make you a pretty safe and responsible driver.  Be aware of your surroundings and leave enough time so that you don’t need to speed.  If you do happen to get pulled over, be nice.  No officer is going to feel sympathy for someone acting like a pissed off jerk.  I think remorse, submissiveness, and conversations about dogs (this worked once for me when a K-9 unit pulled me over) are the best ways to get away with just a warning.
  9. Ration Drive Time-  When possible, carpool, ride the metro, bike, or walk places you would normally drive.  The less time you spend at the steering wheel, the less opportunity traffic has to slow you down.   I am bad about this.  I commute to work 5 days a week. My dream is to live so close to work that I walk or bike there.
Let’s do this people.  We are all on the same side just trying to get where we’re going.  With a little cooperation and a positive attitude, we can make a big problem seem a lot smaller.