Jeana Chen's Report 3: My Driving Persona Make-Over Plan

Report 3

My Driving Persona

Make-Over Plan

Blank Out

What is this all about?

After reading my
Report 1 you might already know why this is a serious problem for me. I don't know how it happens...or why. The sweet humming of the engine, the cool breeze from the air-conditioner, the comfortable plushy seat...lure my mind into dreams, fantasies...all of a sudden, I am somewhere. Then, confused, frightened--How did I get here? Did I run red lights on the way?

Although blank outs happen to me rather frequently, one significantly horrifying experience of mine was on the way to a dinner at a restaurant one night--back home on Guam, where traffic is thankfully less than Hawaii's--I was driving all by myself. I caught myself driving into the driveway of a friend's house; which was at least fifteen minutes away from my house. I have been dazing from the moment I left home! I don't remember how I got there at all. How did I make those turns? Did I switch lanes? I was so shocked at what I have done that I blasted the radio and...yes...sang with it (which was a scary move in itself).

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Observations

It is near impossible to make observations for my problem...because when it happens, I am unaware...blanked out. The more I try to observe how I fall into the trance, the less I do. It sneaks up on me just right after I give up on my observation. It's like trying to catch the moment sleep happens...right after you give up...you would fall asleep.

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Situation

One of the most obvious things was, I would not blank out when there is someone else in the car with me. We would usually be talking, and it's hard to fall into a phase when I have someone to interact with.

Blank out happens when I am alone in the car. Especially in my car, since the brand new Kenwood stereo had been stolen out of the old Honda long ago. I haven't had the heart to replace it...what's the use? So it's awfully quiet inside the car. When I drive alone and there's nothing but thoughts keeping me company, I often blank out for an intersection or two.

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Frequency

I don't drive more than two or three times a day, usually because...frankly, I am a little scared of my own driving. During the week which I attempted to observe the dazing, I noticed I would blank out for at least one intersection every time I drive.

I have a feeling that during these short blank outs I would just follow the actions of the car in front of me. I would not change lanes if they do, but if they step on their brakes, I would too. I think that is why I have not gotten into any accidents during blank outs.

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Possible Causes

Driving by myself, of course, is one of the most crucial factors for blank outs. However, it is not the only cause, because it does not always happen every time I drive alone, yet I can some times phase out even with a passenger sitting right next to me.

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Thoughts

Being more than a full time student (I have at least 16 credits per semester) and working over 22 hours each week since my freshman year in college, driving has become the only time I have for my thoughts.

What will I be doing on the weekend, do I have any food left in the refrigerator, when will I be able to study for exams, am I broke again, what homework is due, when will I find time to do laundry, what will I be eating after work, do I need gas, is the bank open...and of course, when will I be able to go to the computer lab!? I don't have the time to plan things at home or before I go to bed. When I'm in a car and there's nothing to do but drive, I naturally try to plan out the things I need to do between school and work.

Sometimes my mind becomes too preoccupied to pay attention to the road. I would frequently "wake" up only when I'm finished with my planning, or at the sound of a honk as I am about to run a light or stop sign.

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Fatique

The hectic schedule I keep makes me very tired almost all the time. I have to wake up at 7:30 in the morning to get ready for school, my class schedule is fully packed till 12 o'clock (and sometimes 3:30). After which, if I don't have to work till 5PM, I usually stay around school to finish some work on the computer, or go get a bite. If I work at 1:30, I'd go home right away to get dressed for work. No matter what time I start, I always get off work and reach home around 11 or 12PM. Then I would have to eat, shower, and look over some homework. I sleep at around 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. If there's an exam on the next day, I'd get up at 5AM to cram. During my offs from school or work, other things take up any possible nap or leisure time I have...going to the temple, shopping for groceries, laundry...the computer lab.

By the time I sink into the driver's seat I am pretty wasted. Sometimes I don't even have the strength to think. I would just sit there, with nothing on my mind. Just drive. Uncontrollably numb. Sometimes I just look straight ahead, not really knowing where I'm going. Not caring. I'd miss turns and get completely lost.

This happened once--after the computer lab. I was supposed to go to Sheraton Waikiki; all of a sudden I found myself turning into KCC instead. My mind was so numbed and fatigued that I couldn't remember why I was there or what was I really supposed to do...for about one full circle in KCC's parking lot!

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Distractions

What do you do when you drive? Look straight ahead and stare at the road? Sing with the radio? Talk to yourself? Study? (something us students know and do well)

Radio Stations

When I am in a car, I do a lot more than just drive...I would change radio stations ; it's not my fault. The radio stations in Hawaii sucks! What's with all those 10-minute ads every two songs? Ignorant DJ babbling redundant, stupid comments all the time...just want to wack them and tell them to shut up! You're are NOT funny, all right? You're NOT cool...might think you are...just because they let you--of all idiots in the world--on the airways. Oh...and play something decent for once!

Okay, finally got that out of my system.

Maps

I am still pretty new to the roads in Hawaii. Another distraction of mine is the maps...can the prints get any smaller? Usually by the time I find the road I was on, I'm on a whole different road. Then I'd be looking for road signs again.

I have this recurring fear, all the time, of getting lost. It's like a driving nightmare. Every time I miss a turn, I freak out, break out the maps, pull up to a Seven-Eleven, harass the clerks...

Along with the feeling of getting lost and never to be found again comes the fear of missing the place I was supposed to go to. I have, once, crashed onto the curb while looking for a boutique. Since then, I try very hard not to look to the side of the road for very long periods of time. It can be financially damaging.

Talking

I guess talking is not too relevant here, because I've never blanked out while talking to someone or while thinking about what to say. I did, however, nearly ran a red and crash into someone because I was talking.

Magic

Strange thing is, sometimes I almost feel like I want to fall into a blank. It has a mystical, romantic, curious pull on me. I want to be hypnotized; I want it to happen to me, I want to indulge in the relaxing waves of dreams. Most of all, I want to wake up and see where my subconscious has taken me. There's the thrill of getting lost, running lights and killing myself or others. But I want to phase out and find myself safe and sound someplace...when I'm not supposed to be safe because my mind was not on the road through the trip. It's like a magical reward. As if I conquered the road, the drivers around me...

Side Shows

What are side shows? The car crash to the right, the fire trucks a block ahead, the homeless guy walking toward the bus stop wearing huge bunny slippers, the clingy hookers in the corner...I'm not the only person who takes a second or two to stare at them. I think the difference between me and the other drivers is, I would take in these little scenarios on the side of the road and think about them. Wondering what happened, did anyone get hurt? What was the guy doing before he became homeless? What drove the hookers to sell their bodies? What did I do...what can I do to prevent the same thing from happening to me?

See how the mind wanders off from that point on? So from there, an old song comes on and distracts me into webs of old memories; an intersection flies by and I wonder if I was supposed to turn; a smashed cat lies lifeless in middle of the road and I pray, secretly wishing I'd blank out...

There, I did it again!

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G1 and G2 Blank Outs

G1 and G2 did not seem to discuss my problem in their reports; at least, not very extensively. G1 did not do a driving makeover report, so it's harder still to find reports discussing the problem in which I am trying to correct. Moreover, although G2 did a driving makeover report, their emphasis seem to be on driving negativity in general, and not on a specific type of driving behavior. The few reports I found were sometimes not even in driving modification reports.

Dreaming in Convoys

In Letitia Lujan's report on convoys, she agreed with Todd Takitani about switching into the automatic pilot while driving in convoys (I think this is the closest relating topic I can dig up in previous generations). Both said that convoys can present a sense of safety (sometimes false) and allow people to relax and day dream a little.

Lujan added a good point about the dangers of day dreaming on the road, which I whole-heartedly agree. Traffic can change very quickly and suddenly for anyone to dream for long periods of time.

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Pay Attention

Curtis Nakao's driving modification included a makeover on short attention spans (thank you, Curtis). He has driven somewhere and then realized that he could not remember how he got there. He mentioned this "tunnel vision type of situation" is apt to happen...especially during long trips. He also realized the danger he could have gotten into by not paying attention to the road situation.

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The Date

I am not sure if Jason Nakasato knew he blanked out at the wheel from fatigue and memories of "Cheryl"--his date the night before his driving observation, but what he had done--driving to school and finding himself looking for parking in the structure all of a sudden--was blank out...something I would have done. Nakasato said "the toughest part in any situation is trying to maintain constant self-awareness," and that after driving for long periods of time, this self-awareness is hard to maintain because we have already been "programmed" to react a certain way under similar situations. Therefore, putting on the automatic pilot or phasing out while driving can sometimes be a second nature.

It is, nevertheless, dangerous.

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The Change

Changing the way you've been behaving for a long time is incredibly hard...especially something that has almost a kind of magical hold on you.

Resistance

First of all, after some consideration I thought that changing this bad habit of mine might be too hard. So in the beginning, I still chose to phase out rather than think of ways to correct the behavior. Second, I have this perversion of not changing because the behavior is not so bad. I actually liked it, I don't really want to change.

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Positive Reinforcements

Some of the things I thought about while attempting to modify my behavior was the positive changes I make shall affect so many others. I for one, will benefit. With increased alertness, I shall be able to drive better, and decrease my chances of driving into curbs and getting lost, or waste time driving to places I'm not supposed to be in the first place.

My change will affect others by decreasing the chances of accidents I might have caused in a blank phase. For example, I shall be able to stop more promptly at red lights and stop signs. If I stop blank outs, I may also improve the flow of traffic because I would be able to keep up with other cars since being in blank phases often will slow my driving.

Changing my behavior will definitely affect the mental health of the passengers in my car. No longer will they have to yell, "RED LIGHT, RED LIGHT!" They can relax instead of acting as if they are sitting on a pin cushion every time I drive.

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The Cure

There isn't a miracle cure for this obsession to drive without paying attention to the road. The journey to the solution, however, was not as long as I thought it would be. As a matter of fact, although I am still working on the problem, the cure was as simple as a little piece of paper. A white one...with bold red letters.

I stuck a piece of paper with the word, "CONCENTRATE!!" on the top of my steering wheel. In a dark car, a white piece of paper can be quite startling. Especially when I turn the wheel and the paper turns with it, the movement catches my eyes. Or when my hands slide pass the irritating tape that's holding the paper to the wheel, when that happens, I would immediately check myself.

Everytime I start drifting away again, I would feel that paper during my drive, and I would wake up and remind myself to be more careful.

The Future

Even though the cure seems to be working fine right now, I know some time down the line I would get used to having the warning on my steering wheel and forget what it was supposed to warn. Should I buy a new stereo so that I can blast that revolting heavy metal again? Should I put signs all over the car? Should I begin talking to myself? I don't know for sure at this point, but I hope eventually I would be able to train myself to be more aware of the road conditions as I drive with a scratchy piece of paper underneath my palms.

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Afterward

I realized that driving half-consciously, while often time consuming and frightening (for me), may not be so dangerous...as Dr. James said in class today. I think the trick here is to keep at least half of your mind awake to the road conditions while you have your thoughts, plan your day...

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