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08 May 2017

Mental Preparation for Driving

By Andy Pilgrim -

It is very rare for me to use anything directly related to racing in my traffic safety education work. To most people, they are mutually exclusive and I don't need to create possible distractions from any safety message. But, there is one technique I learned from my racing that transferred perfectly, first to my driving on the street and from there, to the message in my educational videos.

Let me give you a little background. I have been racing cars professionally for over 30 years.  In the early days of my racing career, I still had a full time job in IT. Being paid to drive race cars is not the most secure income, one-year contracts being the norm. In 1989 I made the decision to leave my full time job in IT. Using all my savings, I started my own small IT company. Needless to say, the very underfunded company took off like a single engine Cessna aircraft with a misfire and loaded with elephants, but, it is still going today. 

Why would I tell you about all this? I wanted to paint a picture of extreme mental distraction, squeezed by ridiculous time constraints. I was initially responsible for all the business functions within my company. At the race track, I would have a practice session, then I would run to a pay phone (in 1989 we really had them), call in half of payroll and maybe squeeze in calls to a couple of clients. Then, I would qualify the car for the race, run back to the pay phone hoping it was free and finish payroll, then maybe call the bank, hoping the manger would ok an overdraft until a late paying client came through. It was like this for at least the first 2 years.

My race teammate once asked me, "How on earth do you jump from handling your IT company stuff to the race car and qualify in first place like that? When I have something else on my mind I have the hardest time driving my best". 

I honestly had no answer for him. I had never thought about it before. In my mind, I had to do both jobs, so I got on with them and did my best.

After his question I had a little think. It turned out I was actually doing something—a physical something—before I got into the racecar. This seemed to be the trigger for my mind to be able to switch from IT payroll mode to race mode very quickly.

Here is what I did; after putting on my fireproof racing gloves (which we all have to wear), I realized I would always interlock my fingers. It was a good way to stretch my gloves out—they would always shrink after being sweaty from previous use. 

As it turned out, interlocking my fingers was my physical hook and the trigger for my mind to switch into race mode. I never really thought about it until my teammate asked me the question. I had come up with this routine automatically, but it worked. I still do it to this day, whether my gloves need to be stretched out or not.

It is so important these days for new driver's to have something they can use to get their heads in "the driving zone". So, I modified my technique to something they can use before driving. I call it 3,2,1 GO.

I’ve received great feedback about 3,2,1 GO from new drivers and teachers alike over the years. The latest version is in The Driving Zone 2 DVD, available to anyone who would like a copy at

Here is 3,2,1 GO. Have your teen give it a try: 

When a driver first grabs/touches the car keys/fob, they should simultaneously say the number "3"—out loud, as they will with all the following steps.

Next, the driver says "2" as they touch the vehicle door handle.

As the driver starts the vehicle (but before they put it in gear), they say “1”.

Finally, they say "GO" as they put the vehicle in gear, but before releasing the brakes and setting off. 

Obviously each driver can individualize the 3,2,1 GO routine to something that is comfortable and familiar to them, but I encourage them to always have 4 word interruptions linked to physical triggers.

This is how it works:

The four words spoken out loud provide four interruptions to whatever they were thinking about along with the four physical actions. The technique nudges the mind into dealing with the fact they are now going to drive and really need to get their heads out of whatever they were thinking about before. They are moving their mind into "the driving zone". 

Over the years, I have heard from some new drivers who used the technique, but had forgotten to one particular time. Maybe they were on their phone or just really mentally distracted on that day. After not using it, they told me they felt they drove much worse and a few actually made driving mistakes ending in crashes or close calls that really woke them up.

Smartphones are a nightmare to all drivers nowadays. Too many people are getting into their cars while on a phone call and just driving off. If this is applies to your teen—or you—I hope using the 3,2,1 GO technique will help stop the behavior. We all need to be off a phone call before driving, to give our minds a chance. Stay off the phone completely at all times, especially when kids are involved. Any adult on a phone call with children in their vehicle, even hands-free is not only endangering everyone in the car, but also teaching and exposing those children to a very dangerous skill. 

Let's give everyone on our roads a chance. Let's all get our heads in "The Driving Zone", before we start driving.  Take care out there…

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