How Emotions Make Your Driving Worse

Photo by  Maria Geller  from  Pexels

Photo by Maria Geller from Pexels

As human beings, we are emotional creatures. Despite how much we’d like to believe that we are logical and are always in control of our behaviours, the fact remains that our emotional state affects how we think, behave, and even how we make decisions. This can be quite risky and dangerous when it comes to driving, seeing as how at the core of it all, it means operating a complex machine going down a road at high speeds.

Driving in itself can be quite emotionally stressful, but this is even more true when driving on busy city roads like the ones in Kuala Lumpur. The relative chaos and sometimes negative behaviours of other drivers can serve to trigger us and amplify whatever negative emotions we may already be experiencing at the time. Three examples of emotions that can affect us badly while driving are anger, anxiety, and believe it or not, even sadness.

While it’s true that these emotions can affect our driving negatively, each of them actually do so in very different ways. Let’s take a quick look at each one.


When speaking of negative emotions that affect driving, anger is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Part of the reason is because when we’re driving, our level of alertness suddenly goes much higher. Essentially, we go into what’s known as ‘Fight or Flight’ mode, depending on our inclinations. If our emotions lean more towards the ‘fight’ side of things, that manifests in the form of anger, while those who are more ‘flight’-inclined will experience it as anxiety (discussed later).

Anger affects our driving firstly by making us more prone to conflicts. We become much more confrontational and might resort to slightly more aggressive driving behaviours, including high speeds, aggressive braking, and even road rage. Road rage needs to be managed carefully, regardless of if you’re on the receiving end or even more so if you’re the one that’s getting excessively angry at other drivers.


Anxiety is somewhat of the opposite of anger. Where anger is an emotion that is expressed outwards, anxiety tends to be the one that is expressed inwards. Typically drivers who are new or inexperienced can fall victim to anxiety, especially when they’re driving. Bear in in mind that when we’re driving, our senses are somewhat over-stimulated. We have to be aware of everything going on around us, and our brain also has to coordinate our hands and feet to ensure that we’re driving our cars exactly as we should be.

Excessive feelings of anxiousness can be dangerous for driving as it can cause you to hesitate when making important maneuvers (such as when switching lanes). On the road, moving in a predictable manner is important so that other drivers and riders are able to anticipate your movements. For this reason, hesitation during maneuvers can pose quite a risk to everyone on the road, not just yourself.

Additionally, anxiety causes you to be hyper-vigilant, meaning that you’ll be over-sensitive to the things happening around you. This can be quite dangerous on the road as it may cause you to overreact to dangers, such as a car halting in front of you or even a small pothole on the road.


Believe it or not, sadness can also be as dangerous as angry or anxious driving. This is because when we are sad, we tend to under-react to the stimuli that our senses pick up on. We may be slow to react to dangers headed right for us, especially if we’re distracted by specific sad thoughts, which takes away or reduces our ability to drive defensively.


Ideally, when we are experiencing these negative emotions, we should not be driving at all. Plenty of alternative modes of transportation are available these days, but they aren’t always practical for us to rely on if we have our own cars and a very busy schedule to adhere to. Having said that, awareness is very important. If we know that we are angry, anxious or sad, we can at least take a few steps to help us manage our emotions before we actually get in the car and take the wheel. Once we’re in the car, we can make better decisions that ensure our emotions don’t get in the way or put us in any danger.

In doing so, we not only ensure the safety of ourselves, our cars, and any passengers we may have, we also contribute to the safety of all road users we pass along the way.