Shiny Happy Motorists

This column by Simon Gear first appeared in a Green Office Week newsletter in November of 2010
Wandering around the Geneva Car Show earlier this year, I was struck by the very real commitment to efficiency and fuel economy displayed by almost all the manufacturers. 

With the exception of the American muscle car brands, everyone had an electric or hybrid car on display and there just seems to be a sense that the green message is finally getting through.  Of course, that is only a tiny part of the battle won.

Obviously, if you’re driving a small hatchback diesel you are going to average less fuel than some gas guzzling hunk of Detroit steel, but it’s what you do in your car that still makes the biggest difference of all.

We know that as South Africans, we are appalling drivers.  We are rushed, impatient and heavy on the accelerator and the brake.  The proof of that is in the truly astonishing levels of road carnage in our country.  Our deaths per capita are three times that of the States and nearly ten times the UK average.  There is little doubt that we have allowed our driving to become a reflection of the national psyche.  We are a stressed out nation and this plays out in our traffic with aggression, machismo and belligerence. Studies have linked aggression and impulsivity as the highest predictor of traffic fatalities, especially when combined with alcohol.  Next up was poor vehicle maintenance with external factors like potholes a distant third.

This link between stress, aggression and road accidents is an interesting one.  Stressed people drive more aggressively, and so put themselves under further stress (and in greater danger).  It’s a particularly vicious circle.  What is also true is that all the things that make you a safer, happier driver make you a greener one too.

Perhaps it is time that we campaigned, not for another round of earnest road safety or low carbon motoring, but for happier drivers.  Lock your cell in the boot.  Pop in your favourite CD.  Be religious about speed limits and following distances.  The fact is that in a cross-town trip, the difference between taking it easy and rushing is unlikely to be more than a couple of minutes journey time.  But the difference in stress hormones, safety and fuel use is enormous.

So here’s the plan: As from today, your car becomes a sanctuary.  It is the place you go to chill out, have a little alone time, order your thoughts.  Taxi wants to jump the queue in the emergency lane?  Not your indaba.  Your only responsibility is to keep yourself smiling and relaxed and to keep your family safe.

What’s that old rehab prayer?  “Give me the power to change what I can and so on.

South Africa needs safer drivers and the earth needs greener ones.  Look after yourself and your family, and the earth will get the breathing space to look after itself.  It’s amazing how much good a little selfishness can do.

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