The everyday Holocaust

The everyday Holocaust

Around seven million people were murdered by the Nazis during the six years of World War II. It’s commonly agreed to be the worst atrocity in the history of our planet, but nearly the same number of men, women, and children will die in road traffic accidents over the next six years!

We’re certainly not trivialising one of the most tragic social events in world history in any way. We are simply trying to point out the almost unimaginable price we pay for the wonderful freedom and convenience of owning heavy, metal vehicles we pilot ourselves at considerable speeds. In the last chapter* we explained why falls kill and injure more people than cars, but to be very clear, cars and bikes come a pretty close second.

You should drive to survive. Obviously, maintaining your vehicle in good order and following the laws of the road are the basics required. So, here are a few other bits of which you may be less well aware.


Tyre wear and pressure cause a huge number of accidents (or at least contribute significantly to the chain of events once things start going wrong). We know it can seem like a hassle, but get into the habit of regularly checking the wear and the pressure of your tyres, and please, always do so before setting off on a long journey with the kids in the back. If nothing else, spotting some unusual wear on the rubber may well give you a heads-up that the steering is off or that you’ve clipped a curb and the tyre is about to blow on you.

Driving “drunk”

We don’t advocate drinking and driving … we know that you know that this is more than stupid. However, studies show that there are four other things that give you the same chance of an accident as someone who’s loaded up on the sauce: driving whilst tired, driving whilst talking on a mobile phone (even on hands-free), driving whilst being distracted, and driving on medication.

Having a heated argument with your passenger? Kids squabbling in the back driving you crazy? Half asleep? Need to make an urgent call? Pull over! If you don’t, you’re as likely to have an accident as that bloke from sales who just drove off with several pints in his belly.

Before you drive

Plan the journey in advance whenever possible, so that you don’t need to rush, and make time to pull over and catch forty winks or make an important call if you need to.

Here’s an idea: why not stash your phone in the boot so you can’t be tempted to use it? If you don’t and a call comes in from your boss or a potential client you may find it hard not to answer it!

Drive in defence

Drive like everyone else on the road could be a drunken idiot. Always give yourself time and space to deal with not only your own mistakes but the mistakes of others.

Do you like to drive fast? Fair enough … we both do too. Within reason that’s your business (it’s also the business of the local police and courts, of course). But never, ever forget the second principle of defensive driving.

You see, interestingly, studies are showing that what correlates best with accidents is not speed, but sharp braking, because whilst sharp braking may well include speed (of course) it more often than not also includes a failure to maintain a suitable distance between you and the car in front and/or a lack of attention.

If you can get into the habit of travelling from A to B smoothly at all times, then that’s all we ask. Driving smoothly will also help you to “drive green”. So, in addition to not hitting anything, you’ll find you will also save cash on fuel and reduce wear and tear on your tyres, brakes, shock absorbers, and the like. You can do this by not screeching around like a boy racer, of course, but also simply by driving “heads-up” and to the distance.

A defensive driving coach can teach you all sorts of top tips, like not to (instinctively and automatically) turn and set the wheels in the direction you’re about to take when waiting to cross a dual carriageway. If the brakes on a lorry pulling up behind you fail, you’ll be shunted straight into the traffic.

Sure, the coach will have lots of other useful advice, but simply by driving smoothly and keeping “heads-up” at all times you will cut out more than 80% of the risk.

Specifically, don’t “zone out” and drive on auto-pilot, following the bumper of the car in front about one second behind. Leave at least a two-second gap (make it four in wet weather, remembering that these are minimums, not an exact prescription) and constantly scan the horizon for clues as to what’s coming next.

Watch the path of the overhead electric lines to anticipate corners and conurbations, and plan for junctions and folks joining you. Mud on the road might tell you to expect to find a slow-moving tractor round the next bend, and as you approach that patch of trees in the distance keep a look out for wild animals leaping across the road.

Now let’s go back to that first rule of thumb – assuming everyone around you is a drunken idiot psycho really helps to ensure there are no sudden surprises. This mindset covers driving in town too – just generalise that “drunken idiot” assumption to pedestrians too.

Follow these smooth driving and “heads-up” principles in towns and on motorways and you can drive almost indefinitely without bumping into anything or anyone. Finally, never overtake when you think it’s safe to do so. Only overtake when you know it’s safe.

Road rage, Buddhism, and mental imagery

We need to acknowledge here that it isn’t easy to stay calm when the roads are indeed full of idiots – some drunk, and some without even that excuse.

So, for example, you’re driving along happily and leaving that four-second gap. But, often, other drivers undertake then pull into the gap, don’t they? There are two effective responses: anger or tolerance.

Let’s tackle the first one. Even in Buddhism, it’s understood that “righteous indignation leads to a suitable response”. But a Buddhist would also say that if you aren’t going to use that anger to drive a suitable action you have to let it go, otherwise the only person it will hurt is yourself. What this means is that anger will fester inside you and cause stress, loss of concentration, reduced awareness and, in time, perhaps even a heart attack or the like. What we’re talking about here is something far more immediate.

So, how can we be like the Buddha on the road? You could simply take a deep breath and remind yourself that driving half a second behind another driver for the next mile or so really will not cause them to suddenly, calmly realise, “this is showing me … I really wish I hadn’t undertaken them now … I bet they’re really tough and everything”. In fact, it will just cause a lot of other (much more negative) thoughts instead!

The only thing that you’ll actually achieve is to significantly increase the risk to yourself and any passengers travelling with you (as well as to that person in front, who – you never know – might just be a doctor rushing to an emergency situation).

You see, it’s a simple truth that you cannot think and react at the same time. So, anything that can get you thinking is useful. As a rule, the only people who can instinctively think bad thoughts and then calmly act on them are genuinepsychopaths. And we reckon you’re probably not one of those.

If calm thoughts don’t come easily to you in such situations (they often don’t to us either!), here’s a useful trick to get you thinking: pop a picture of your children, your partner, your parents, or even your dog on your dashboard whenever you drive. As you feel yourself beginning to boil over, quickly glance at the picture to remind yourself of their faces – and then imagine these same faces at your funeral.

It works every time, and is much cheaper than that anger management course you’ve been thinking about.

Walking the line

Studies show that walking home drunk is about eight times as likely to be lethal as driving home drunk (per mile walked). And that’s not including the risk of physical attack. As tempting as walking may be, get a taxi or stay over if you can. You can catch some fresh air in the morning.

Okay, sometimes in life you may just have to walk home drunk. Maybe your friends kicked you out, you lost your phone, or there are no taxis to be found anywhere. Sometimes you may, for whatever reason, choose to do it. Whatever the case, please do it “heads-up” and be as aware as you can possibly be.

Choosing to take the slightly longer (but better lit) route home may well be just what breaks the chain for you and keeps you safe.

The truth about driving

Driving really is one of the most dangerous things you can possibly do voluntarily. Be safety savvy. Whenever you’re on the road, stay “heads-up” and in control by building space around yourself in your car, on your bike, and even on those long walks home. You know those people in that photo will thank you for it.

* This series consists of edited extracts from the book “Safety Savvy” by Professor Andrew Sharman and Dr Tim Marsh.

Published by

Andrew Sharman

Professor Dr Andrew Sharman is managing partner of RMS – consultants on leadership and cultural excellence to a wide range of blue-chip corporates and non-government organisations globally. He’s a chartered member of Saiosh; immediate past president of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health; and chairman of the board of the Institute of Leadership & Management.
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