I’m sure a case could be made that, through more intentional observation, every activity – interaction, conversation, and decision – is an opportunity for greater awareness. Yet, some activities are surely more telling than others. Driving habits is indeed a telling activity.

Last Thursday, I drove into Chicago to meet two friends for lunch. There wasn’t anything unusual about the drive except the extended search for parking and an increased sense of observation on a perfectly beautiful eve of autumn. As I weaved through the Fulton Market area there was plenty to notice. For some reason, I took particular notice of the variety of driver habits weaving through the tight streets and a plethora of construction obstacles.

On my return trip to the burbs, I resumed my observation of driver habits. No judgement, only observation – for the most part! Moving back through the tight city streets, open interstate, tollways, mid-afternoon “rush hour” bumper-to-bumper back-ups and finally amongst the busy suburban avenues – provided a variety of context to observe plenty of driving habits. Somewhere between the bumpers, my mechanical observations leaped to an uncertain awareness:

How one drives may say a whole lot about who they really are.

I’m sure we have all known that calm cool collected individual who turns into a completely different person behind the wheel of a car. Some of us have seen them in the mirror.

Driving includes a lot of choices, sometimes quick decisions, a variety of distractions and a mixture of give-and-take. It also provides fertile ground to reveal selflessness or self-interest.

The roads create common ground. The “rules of the road” don’t change based on the value of your vehicle, where you are driving from or to, the distance of your trip or circumstances of your day. The title of your position or circumstances of your family don’t authorize your own set of rules. Regardless of the terrain on which you drive, it levels the playing field.

And this playing field is your daily opportunity for awareness.

My brother, Steve, first pointed-out to me the psychological opportunity that driving the speed limit provides each of us. Subsequent conversations, with numerous psychologists, have confirmed what he shared with me: It is a constant limit you impose, regardless of what everyone else is doing. If your immediate reaction to this “speed limit” virtue is arguing the case for going-with-the-flow, you will certainly find grounds for making a point. You may also find a trap for building convenient excuses.

Yet, driving the speed limit is just one telling habit of driving. Merging is another – both those allowing others to appropriately merge as well as those passing a long line of cars, waiting to exit, only to force their own merge near the front of that line. Tailgating must certainly be a sign of aggression or a misconception of perceived progress. Signals are thoughtful. Some hand signals are not. Repeatedly and aggressively changing lanes in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic is your dead give-away. I’m certain, from experience, you could add a number of other telling habits to this list – through both your own observations – and confessions.

Some driving habits are critical for safety. For instance, stopping for red lights and stop signs is a good place to start. Other habits are more reflective of deeper character or just common consideration of others. Kirstin, my future daughter-in-law, likes to observe that some drivers seem to think their time is more valuable than everyone else’s time. Sometimes the truth beneath our actions aren’t intentional, yet no less truthful. As guilty parties, we sometimes don’t bother to connect the dots. If you are feeling a little defensive at this point, I know the feeling!

Not only are there more cars on the road, there are more distractions within them: cell phones, navigation systems and entertainment to name a few. Concoct a blend of these distractions, some questionable driving habits and a self-examination and you might have trouble recognizing the character of your own self behind the wheel.

It has been said: integrity is what you do when no one is watching.  When it comes to driving, many seem to recast that quote: integrity is what you do when “no one you know” is watching! The fact is, when you are driving, everyone is watching! The driving habits of others may tell us more about them than they would like to admit.

An analysis of our own driving habits will do the same.

As you drive along the road, you will arrive at a whole new place if you allow yourself to be driven to awareness – possibly just a little closer to your core values. Those values make the perfect fuel for better driving!

What bad driving habit is your pet peeve? How could it teach us a valuable lesson on our own road of life? Please share your insights below.