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Interview with Leon James

The Mirror  Joseph Hediger  October 14, 2007
De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis, Missouri

Does traffic have any psychological effects on the human mind? If so what?

Driving in traffic is the most dangerous thing ordinary people do in their daily lives. Because it is dangerous it involves stress that has an unhealthy effect on the body's ability to fight illness. But traffic also creates community and cohesiveness through mutual coordination routines that all motorists learn to perform. Traffic gives drivers an opportunity to be either compassionate and supportive of each other, or aggressive and hostile. Traffic also provides a challenge to our skills. Being a good driver is complex and requires a continuous learning attitude

How might traffic affect a person's personality?

Because traffic is both dangerous and a social activity it provides psychological challenges to overcome. To be a good driver you need to adopt the idea of lifelong driver education for yourself. The task of driving has become more complex today than before due to the various gadgets most cars now have, including cell phones and GPS screens. 

How does traffic affect a person's daily life?

Americans frequently eat in cars and talk on their phones, listen to their favorite songs and radio programs. Today a young person does not feel like a full fledged adult unless they have a car. We spend a sizable amount of our income in owning a car and maintaining it with appropriate insurance and repair schedules. Many people love their cars and even give them a pet name. But we also need to remember that every year in the U.S. more then 6 million people are injured with cars. In ten years that makes 60 million people injured. In 20 years that makes 120 million people injured. And that's half of our adult population. So the probability is high that half of your friends or half of your family is going to be injured by a car at some point in their long driving career.


How can people reverse or adapt to the effects traffic has on the mind?

Traffic by itself is not the cause of stress. It is how we cope with it and what our style is. It's most common to react to traffic by getting impatient or angry. This is not a logical or rational attitude. Drivers must teach themselves greater emotional intelligence behind the wheel. When in traffic we need to focus on our positive human traits such as teamwork, cooperation, tolerance, compassion, rationality. All drivers start as an "aggressive" driver and need to graduate and turn themselves into supportive drivers. You need to tell yourself that driving is a social community activity that we perform jointly with thousands of others. Instead of feeling competitive, we can be happy that we do random acts of kindness on every trip. Instead of preventing a driver from coming into our lane (which is aggressive), we can make it easier by increasing the gap a bit (which is supportive). Instead of signaling at the last moment, we can do so way ahead to give others the ability to adjust. Instead of driving too close, we can maintain appropriate distance. Instead of fighting for a parking space, we can give it up for someone else, and look further. Instead of facing other motorists with a glare, put on a good face and a smile.

A supportive driving style brings you safety and peace in traffic. It's the way to go.

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