Touring Tip: Keep Your Emotions In Check

Aug 07, 2013 View Comments by

Touring Tip: Keep Your Emotions In Check When the flight recording of harrowing close calls in the air are replayed on television, I’m always impressed by the calm demeanor and speech pattern of the airline pilots and air traffic controllers. My fanciful imagination constructed this illustrative example:

Tower: “Cessna 101 you are on a direct collision course with Delta Heavy 827.”

Cessna 101: “Roger that Tower, turning to 180.”

Delta Heavy 827: “Tower, I don’t see Cessna 101, is his transponder on?”

Tower: “Cessna 101, lost you on radar, turn your transponder back on.”

American 451: “Tower, Cessna 101 attempting a landing on I-95, over.”

OK, this may be more humorous than real, but pilots and controllers seem to have ice water in their veins don’t they? That’s because they have to. Hundreds of lives are at stake and their full concentration on righting a dangerous situation is absolutely necessary. But, of course, there are rare real life examples of distracted piloting, like the one who forgot to land at the destination airport, because he was surfing the web with a portable computer—S T U P I D!

Dangerous situations can also develop for motorcyclists who ride while emotionally distressed. I read recently that humans have seven “basic” emotions. Here is how they might play out while riding a motorcycle:

  • Anger from being cutoff by a car.
  • Contempt triggered by being trapped behind a slow moving car.
  • Fear produced by an unexpected decreasing radius curve.
  • Disgust from the inexplicable, erratic behavior of another driver or rider.
  • Happiness about a joyous life event or from just riding on a beautiful day, which may reduce risk awareness.
  • Sadness from the recent loss of a loved one.
  • Surprise when discovering gravel at the apex of a blind curve.

Another example of emotional risk is when a rider feels anxious and hurried. This emotion could be brought on, for instance, when the last person in a group of riders is trying—desperately—to catch up by riding too fast. I remember hearing about a highly experienced rider missing a curve and losing his life in just such a situation.

Here’s what can happen when riders are overpowered by their emotions:

  • Diminished observation and reaction times.
  • Reduced ability to detect dangerous situations, such as an abrupt slowing of traffic.
  • More likely to engage in high risk maneuvers, like abruptly cutting across several lanes of traffic.
  • Diminished ability to execute riding skills that require precise timing and finesse.
  • A feeling of detachment from the road and the riding environment.

One of the most dangerous situations that can arise is if a rider gets involved in a case of road rage, either as the aggressor or the victim. Engaging in road rage, especially if you’re on a motorcycle, is even more stupid than the pilot that missed his destination because his attention was focused on a personal computer. It’s especially important to ride courteously in traffic to avoid inciting road rage in other motorists. If a rider inadvertently does something to anger another motorist a simple hand signal indicating responsibility for the error is a good idea. And don’t ever escalate a situation with an offensive hand signal.

Let’s talk for a minute about what to do when you are emotionally distressed. First, not all emotions, necessarily, produce the same level of rider distraction. For example, “anger” is much more likely to be distractive and generate risky behavior than “happiness.” If your emotions are running high, it’s best not to mount up and ride until calmer thoughts are regained. When emotionally charged situations develop while riding, refocus attention on calming thoughts and the road. If that doesn’t work, take a break to decompress and regain a calmer state of mind before getting back on the road.

In the final analysis, safe riding demands that a rider be much like the experienced airline pilot: calm and focused exclusively on the job at hand.

Photo by Simon and Lisa Thomas.

Tags: , , , Categories: Touring & Safety Tips