Minds off the road

By Chelsea Khakshouri 

It was the last day of finals and Alex Goodwin’s ’12 stress level was higher than usual. Goodwin had only gotten three hours of sleep the night before and was driving to school to take his last two finals. Goodwin recalls “passively driving and going though the motions” as his anxiety distracted him.

“The natural flow of traffic came to a halt without me noticing until the last second, when I snapped out of a daze and hit the brakes,” Goodwin said. “It was too late by then though.”

Goodwin hit the car in front of him, driven by another Harvard-Westlake student, causing serious damage to both cars.

“The immense stress levels I encountered due to countless hours of studying and preparation for finals had me distracted and overly fatigued,” Goodwin said. “My message would be don’t drive when you’re stressed or tired.”

Most people are aware of the consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol or other illegal substances. With a new law banning cell phone use while driving, the public is more aware of the resulting dangers. However, people forget that driving under stress or fatigue can cause equally serious damage.

High school students in particular are susceptible to distraction because of the stress of schoolwork and other activities. As a result, students often sleep the least when they are the most stressed.

“It’s stressful having to make sure your academic work is done while you are so busy with activities outside of school,” Aneri Amin ’12 said.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens require about nine and a quarter hours of sleep a night, which seems unrealistic to many students.

The Department of Motor Vehicles says that driving on minimal sleep “delays reaction time, decreases awareness and results in auto accidents.”

The DMV suggests pulling over when overly stressed or distracted.

“Take a few moments to close your eyes, take a few breaths and relax,” the DMV website says.

A driver’s education teacher at Melrose Driving school, Jesse Ranilla, sees stress as a definite distraction that prevents one’s ability to be a smart driver.

“Stress definitely affects the way a student drives because when you’re driving you’re supposed to have a clear mind and be alert to be able to prevent an accident,” Ranilla said. “If you’re stressing and thinking of something else, you are unable to make the correct action to be a defensive driver.”

Autumn Chiklis ’12 often finds herself having to make a conscious effort to not let her schoolwork distract her while driving.

“When I’m driving I’m actually very focused on not getting distracted by my work and such, but it can affect it,” Chiklis said.