Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fear of driving can be good for you

“Will she do it?” Some of us — a clear majority — said she wouldn’t. The rest — clearly Pollyannas — said she would. The two groups screeched to a halt a picometre short of taking a bet on the matter. Weeks rolled into months and months into years. The question still remained. 

One day, without a warning, it vanished. She had mustered the courage to face the uncertainties of the road — and its unpleasant certainties too — parking herself at the wheel of her hatchback. Today, she chauffeurs her friends, waving a furious fist at motorists who ignore signals as red as a beet and giving frosty looks to cyclists who dart across the road. 

This young lady, who will remain unnamed, has conquered the fear of driving. Well, much of it. Even now, her heart races on crazy feet when big buses trundle past. But she has come a long way and can be an inspiration for others up against similar roadblocks in their minds. 

To conquer the fear of driving, one has to first realise it is natural. Driving comes paired with an element of risk and fearing untoward incidents is par for the course. In fact, given the overall traffic situation in our metros, this fear is a valid response of a sane mind. Experts and motoring freaks would tell you it exists in all of us, in varying degrees —only that the majority of us don’t let it overpower us. They would also tell you it’s necessary to retain a healthy portion of it. 

Srivardhan Srinivasan, a motoring enthusiast and a collector of cars and bikes, says, “The fear is there for a purpose. Keep it. It can restrain you from causing accidents. I avoid driving on the highways of India that are unfamiliar to me, because I think the majority of our stretches lack a proper system of guidance. On familiar highways, one can drive safely because he knows the twists and turns as well as the lines on his palms. On an unfamiliar route though, he relies on maps, which are often rendered useless by sudden introduction of diversions.” 

Srivardhan also notices this fear welling up within him, while driving on regular roads with many odds stacked up against him, one of them being time. 

“The condition of the road surface and all kinds of vehicles piling into a narrow stretch are among reasons that often make motoring stressful in India. When you add the dimension of time — having to reach a destination quickly — the element of risk increases. Driving fast in such conditions can force one to make mistakes. In such a situation, the fear returns and warns me gently, and I welcome it, giving it a cozy space in my mind. And this helps me drive safely,” he says. 

Sometimes, a major accident — either experienced or witnessed — can influence someone to give up the wheel. And then, there are some others who amazingly recover from a major accident, not allowing it to leave any indelible marks on their minds. 

I have immense admiration for Harsha and Prabha Koda for how they put a major collision out of their minds. It happened during what was called The Boderline Drive, in which they drove along the borders of Indian states to promote public stem cell banking. The mishap left Prabha battling for life for weeks. After her recovery, the couple completed the drive and they continue to go on challenging and adventurous long distance trips. 

The Kodas and Srivardhan offer a lesson to those who are enslaved by an irrational fear of driving and also to me who has other phobias, far more debilitating. It is this: courage is not the absence of fear, but putting fear in its rightful place.

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