(OFTEN BY ACCIDENT)
ROCHELLE JACOBS; SEPTEMBER 2020
I am not, typically, an angry driver. I have not really experienced road rage and have never really understood those who get truly angry at others while out and about on the roads. I consider myself to be a generally cautious driver and, once I have made a driving decision, I try to be decisive, firm and quick in executing it.
This is not to say that I am completely free from a little driving frustration. Short, quiet swear words or child-like insults are not uncommon from the right-front seat of my car (which is where the driver sits in South Africa) and I am not afraid to use my hooter as a means of communication. Never a large, blaring “BEEEEEEEP” but often a small, short “toot” to illustrate my annoyance.
Two years ago, my little car I got before becoming a student heaved its final metallic breath. It sputtered to a halt (again) somewhere in the 20km drive I needed to make between my house and my then-boyfriends’. The next week, I began a job in the city, which was 60km away, and I had had enough. I sold the car and, after almost a year of sharing and making do, we bought another.
This was my dream car, in most ways. It was big, capable of some minor off-roading and had enough space in the back for a camping trip, a holiday to the family farm in the Karoo and my dog. Two dogs, when I get there. I was in love.
But there was one interesting feature about the car which made me a better (and calmer) driver. Instead of the hooter being placed in the typical position of the steering wheel, it was shifted to a small button on the end of the indicator stick.
If I am honest, I was probably an angrier driver than I thought I was. I realized this — abruptly and unpleasantly — when I was frequently interrupted in my hooter-hitting behaviour. Every time I went to make that angry, but rewarding, ‘beep’ sound… it didn’t come. The few-seconds gap between trying to hoot my horn and failing to do so was, invariably, enough to make me reconsider the action.
Of course, at the time, I was fairly frustrated by the lack of motor memory. What if it was an emergency? What if I need to toot my horn? My frustration was entirely unwarranted — the mechanical consistency of design meant that the behaviour was unrewarded every time I tried to take the action and, within a week, I was a hoot-free driver.
I’m writing this now, nearly two years after getting the car, and having needed — for the first time in those two years — to use the hooter for its emergency purpose. I found myself first going for the steering wheel — habits are, after all, hard to break. But I interrupted myself, mid-action, and redirected to the little button on the side of my indicator stick and successfully avoided being reversed into.
This is, I believe, the first step towards developing the new habit and the beginnings of new motor memory actions. Perhaps someone will take a drive with me in two years and comment on my liberal use of the hooter. I hope not, but it will be an interesting little study on the stickiness of habits and the power of design.