Ten tips for mindful driving

Buddha and The Wheel of the Dharma

Photo of Buddha and the Wheel of the Dharma by Robert Eklund on Unsplash.

Driving can be a very stressful activity, but it can also be a tremendous opportunity for developing mindfulness and metta (lovingkindness), and it can even become a kind of meditation practice in its own right.

Obviously, when you’re driving it’s not recommended that you close your eyes and focus on your breathing, and I had to put a warning on my meditation CD when one customer wrote saying how excited she was about receiving her copy and how she couldn’t wait to listen to it in the car. The thought terrified me, but I hope that she’d have quickly realized even without me telling her that sitting meditation and driving don’t mix.

Then one time that I was leading a meditation workshop in Spokane, Washington, a young woman told me about a time she spaced out and rear-ended a truck, totally destroying her own car. She rather sheepishly confessed to the fact that she’d been listening to a tape on mindfulness by the Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh at the time she’d crashed. She’d been paying so much attention to what the tape was saying about the need to pay attention that she stopped noticing what was going on around her. Fortunately no one was hurt.

So here are a few suggestions for ways that you can use driving as a meditation.

1. Turn off the Soundtrack

Switch off the radio and experience the silence. We often drive along while listening to the radio or to recordings. Just as an experiment, try seeing what it’s like to have the sound turned off. It might seem at first as if something is missing, but you’ll quickly learn that the silence gives you an opportunity to fill your awareness with other perceptions, some of which are more enriching. But before that, I’d just like to suggest that not listening to advertisements, the news, music, and opinion can leave you quieter, calmer, more focused, and happier than you otherwise would be.

2. Notice Your Body

The extra attention that’s freed up because you’re no longer listening to the radio is now available to notice other things. You can notice any tensions in your body, such as a knot of tension in the belly, or your hands gripping the steering well, or a clenched jaw. Notice these experiences, and let your body relax more. Notice how your experience changes and becomes more enjoyable as your muscles let go.

3. Slow down.

As an experiment, try driving at or just below the speed limit. Most of us tend to want to push the speed limit, driving just a little faster than allowed. Driving just a fraction under the speed limit can take away a lot of tension. Shift over into the slower lane if necessary.

4. Notice your attitudes.

Often we become competitive while driving, and this leads to tension. Make a practice of noticing cars trying to enter the road, and adjust your speed so that you can let them out if it’s safe to do so. Notice if you’re in a hurry. How does this make you feel? How does it feel if you let the pace slacken a little?

5. Notice other vehicles

Practice being more aware of the other traffic around you. Sometimes we become very focused just on what’s around us, but it can be very fulfilling (and much safer) to develop an all-round awareness, using our mirrors as well as what we can see in front on us.

6. Practice loving-kindness

As drivers pass you, wish them well. Repeat, “May you be well, May you be happy” even as cars cut you off.

7. Make use of traffic jams and other enforced stops

Use every stop light or any other necessary stop to practice a fuller mindfulness of your body. When you’ve stopped, it’s safe to let your awareness more fully connect with your breathing. At those moments you can also notice what’s around you — the sky and the trees, and other people. Wish those other people well.

8. Wish your passengers well

If there are other people in the car with you, wish them well. As you drive, a part of your mind can be repeating “May you be well, may you be happy”. If you’re alone, then wish yourself well in the same way.

9. Pause upon entering and leaving the vehicle

As you get into your car, before you switch on the engine, and before you get out of the car, after you’ve switched off the engine, just sit for a moment and take three deep breaths, really letting go on the out breath.

10. Kill your phone, not yourself

When you get into the car, turn off your mobile phone, or at least silence it. And by “silence” I mean turn off the vibrate function as well. No call or text message is worth either dying or killing someone for.

Bonus Number 11: Practice self-compassion

You can practice self-compassion even at highway speeds. For a fuller description of this practice see either the article “Self-Compassion: Lovingkindness Squared” or “Transforming Hurt and Anger Through Self-Compassion.” The following is a brief summary of the practice, taken from the first of those articles:

Someone cuts me off, I start up with an angry storyline “Idiot! How dare you!” I realize that this is causing me to suffer, drop the story, notice the pain that (it’s usually fear, located in the solar plexus), accept it, and then send it some compassionate thoughts (“May you be well; may you be free from suffering”). And my having done that, the anger vanishes and I find that I’m not only compassionate toward myself, but to the other driver as well. This may take just a few seconds.

21 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    Just wondering if you have other articles or references re. Mindfulness and Driving. I recently found research-based 2 articles re. Mindfulness and Flight and thought I’d write a short paper on the topic of driving, which often pulls from the aviation arena. Any assistance you can help would be appreciated! I found your on-line article at https://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/mindful-driving/

  • Thich Nhat Hanh has written on mindfulness and driving, and you can find a reference here.

    Saki Santorelli had some tips on driving in his 21 Ways to be Mindful

    Of course there are plenty of resources on unmindfulness and driving — just Google “cell phone driving safety” and you’ll get a lot of hits!

    If you come across any more resources please do let me know!

  • I have recently discovered a new mindful for driving that is also better for the environement (marginally at least!) and financially. Many newer cars have a readout of the average fuel consumption for the trip. Driving better, ie keeping better distances, keeping speed under control, braking in plenty of time etc greatly improves fuel consumption and can of course only be done well if driving with carefullness, awareness and concentration – ie mindfullness. I find having this on the dashboard a very useful “bell of mindfullness” for bringing my attention back to driving well and mindfully – it is very apparent in the fuel comsumption if my mind has drifted and i start to drive on autopilot and therfore with less care!

    kind regards


  • Hi Stephen,

    That’s a really good point. It’s possible to fit a real-time fuel meter to most US cars made after 1996 (unfortunately that rules out my vehicle). People interested in this could check https://www.scangauge.com/.

    Of course although monitoring fuel consumption is a good thing to do, and a mindfulness practice in its own right, we still have to be aware of how we’re mentally monitoring our fuel use. It’s possible to do this in a way that’s not at all mindful — for example one person who uses a fuel meter commented, “It’s actually really annoying, because it dips down every time I accelerate from a light and makes me feel bad.”

    We have to learn to use these tools mindfully — being aware that we can respond either skillfully or unskillfully to the information they’re giving us.

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder about this important aspect of mindfulness while driving.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa
    Yes, i agree, that’s why i actually find the average fuel trip consumption more useful than the real time indicator which keeps changing every few seconds. Using the average one I know if i drive well over the course of the trip. In some ways the actual figures don’t matter that much to me – it’s just there as a regular reminder each time i glance down to come back to being fully mindfull of my driving. As i say, i think it is important to view it as a “bell of mindfullness” (i think that’s Thich Nhat Hanh’s phrase is it?) than something to overly focus on for it’s own sake

    kind regards

  • I’d imagine with practice the real-time indicator could be used mindfully — just noting that this time that you’re pulling away from the lights the consumption is a little more or less than usual — but alas I’ll have to wait until I purchase a new car before I’ll be in a position to experiment!

    It occurs to me that another mindfulness practice involving driving is being mindful of whether we actually need to drive. If we plan we can usually reduce the number of trips we make, and sometimes we can use alternative means of transportation (which reminds me that I need to pump up the tires on my bike!)

  • I think the advice on mindfulness while driving is quite helpful. I will incorporate it into my driving. Thanks

  • Laura at GiveMe10.info
    September 10, 2013 3:23 pm

    I love these ideas. I’m always trying to find creative ways to sneak 10 minutes of personal time — rewarding time in the little gaps in the day’s schedule. This is a great example of changing perspective — instead of cursing the traffic, making the most of it.

  • LOL + Great tips.

    My tip is to notice how your attention changes with the road conditions. Winding or busy roads it narrows down as you have to focus. Quieter, wider roads you can go broader with our attention. This is kind of like focussing on just the point of the breath or broadening out to the body and room like you might do in sitting meditation. One can observe the quality/nature of attention and how your react to it.


  • True Alisandre
    July 27, 2015 11:48 pm

    Namaste Bodhipaksa-jii:

    I appreciate most of what you suggest to have a more mind-full drive. I’d suggest you refrain from the phrase: “Take a Breath,” for it implies that ‘breathing in’ is helpful in having a calm mind, which it isn’t! The exhale conversely is the ‘letting go’ part of our respiratory cycle, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system connected to the Relaxation Response, not the fight or flight response (Inhale triggers this!) I love the things to do at red / traffic lights, and at S T O P signs I recommend coming up with acronyms for those letters, such as: Small Time Of Peace,or Stillness Touches Out Planet, or this spontaneous one: Stretching Treats Our Pain! Going under the speed limit is fantastic, and I’ve even suggested in one of my essays that we “Catch People Slowing,” and give them a prize, not a ticket! This positive reinforcement of the behaviors we want to see behind the wheel might create a safer highway, than penalizing those who drive unsafely. Finally, I strongly encourage we ‘drive defenselessly’ rather then defensively, since we can just have a practice of blessing our fellow travelers on the highways of life instead of fearing them. I have even had a number of amazing ‘holy encounters’ with drivers traveling next to me where we’ll exchange peace signs, smiles, or a few kind words if at a red light, or in traffic. Once on Alton Road in Miami Beach, a few young ladies were stuck in traffic across from my sister’s home, and I was playing my djembe on the porch, and they picked up on the beat, and began gyrating in their car,and having a blast! We can all do this with some form of music in our vehicles, and have a Happy, Healing time behind the wheel. I have a Facebook page I’d love anyone to post on with ‘rhythmic experiences while driving.’ After being at drumming gatherings, I just flow down the road and am sure it’s brought on by the peaceful, harmonious vibe I feel with my fellow human beings there,and it transfers to the highway! All fear if gone, out the window.True Alisandre, Peaceful Driver in Savannah

    • Hi, True.

      I’m puzzled by your suggestion that I avoid the phrase “take a breath,” since I don’t actually use that expression anywhere in the article. At least I can’t see it — please point out to me where it is. What I do is to encourage people to let go deeply on the out-breath, for exactly the reason you suggest: because it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and thus promotes calmness and relaxation.

      Anyway, thanks for your other suggestions.

  • True Alisandre
    August 18, 2015 6:31 pm

    Hello / Namaste Bodhipaksa:

    I’m pasting below the part in your writing (blog) where you tell people to: Take A Breath! No need to ‘take anything’ in this vast Uni-verse, just receive. You probably weren’t even aware you wrote this, or possibly speak it. I sure wasn’t when I wrote a song: Being Intimate with my Breath. Here’s the excerpt:

    9. As you get into your car, before you switch on the engine, and before you get out of the car, after you’ve switched off the engine, just sit for a moment and ‘take three deep breaths’, really letting go on the out breath.

    My dedication to Not Taking Deep Breaths comes from years of massage therapy & helping people to use The Incredible Exhale (TIE) = Take It Easy,to destress & let go, as well as from Ian Jackson’s book: BreathPlay which emphasizes Upside Down Breathing…Exhale Focused.

    • I hope you’ll excuse me, True, but I decided to edit your rather lengthy comment so that it only included the part relevant to the point you’d made; “Take three deep breaths, really letting go on the out breath” is not the same as “Take a breath.” “Take a breath” would certainly emphasize the inhalation, but what I wrote emphasizes the exhalation.

      Your aversion to whatever it is you have an aversion to is interesting, but I don’t see it as very relevant, since my experience is the practice I’ve just describe leads to a sense of relaxation.

  • True Alisandre
    August 20, 2015 1:48 pm

    Braking & Accelerating Peacefully

    Does ‘getting behind the wheel’ tense you up?
    Then chill down your shoulders
    & say “Enough!”

    As you pull up to a red light or octagonal sign,
    Have a little time to unwind, maybe just Rewind
    You possibly anxious mind!

    Let out a hefty sigh as you approach
    the light or sign.

    You’ll be simultaneously exhaling & also
    Relaxing your human mind,

    As you prepare to go again, gently inhale
    While you push down the pedal
    You’ll be glad you settled down too ,
    no screwing around!

    (Excerpted Pg. 121—Pictures of Health to breathe & Move with book)

    Thanks for the feedback, we are on the same page, just viewing phrases differently & how they are used and interpreted. In my previous, lengthly response, I was agreeing with and emphasizing many of the points you make in the 10 Tips for Mindful Driving. The above Breath-Movement practice was presented at an open mic here in Savannah, and got a good response. I even handed it out to audience attendees!

  • Driving experience
    February 26, 2016 4:56 am

    Thank you for sharing, I will test your technique this week-end, we will see !

  • Georgia Green
    June 29, 2018 4:03 pm

    I like all of the suggestions except the driving a little slower than the speed limit part. Even those in the slow lane prefer to drive the speed limit, and don’t want to impede those who are in the “fast” lane. One person’s driving meditation should not override others’ right to go the speed limit :)

    • I agree that it would be obnoxious to drive significantly slower than the speed limit on a road where people can’t pass you (I’ve been behind that person!). That’s simply being inconsiderate. But if you’re on a multi-lane highway with a speed limit of 65mph and you’re driving at 62 mph, you’re not overriding anyone’s right to drive at 65 or even faster. They can easily pass you.

      When I borrowed my ex mother-in-law’s hybrid vehicle for the first time it was a rather interesting experience to be on the interstate. My focus changed from getting to my destination as quickly as possible, and therefore driving over the speed limit, but not so much so that I risked being caught, to driving as efficiently as possible, keeping an eye on the MPG display. I discovered that there were lots of other people who seemed also to be doing the same thing, slowing down while going up hills, for example. It turned out to be very relaxing. It turns out that driving over the speed limit does induce a degree of anxiety, even when I’m only going a small fraction over. And it’s nice not to have that anxiety arising.

  • Drive as if you were a fugitive on the run in a foreign hostile country: you don’t want to attract any attention of any sort. That’ll keep you focussed.

  • These are especially excellent tips for new drivers too. It is important to stay focused on the road.

  • Joanna Mason
    June 22, 2021 9:30 pm

    Thank you for this great article. I find taking a deep breath anytime really relaxing. Having been a yoga teacher and mindfulness coach, I’m also aware that for many people it can trigger a feeling deep in the subconscious that they are not safe. It can appear as anger, resistance, irritability, wanting to run away, fidgeting, or some kind of craving such as needing to eat or drink for distraction. So the comments above are really interesting in this regard.
    So great to hear so many people discussing blessing other drivers too. My yoga teacher taught us (in 2003) to send a blessing to everyone we see as part of an international program. I was working in retail at the time and I remember a customer came in each week and gave us a hard time. One day, after rolling our eyes a lot, I remember saying the blessing to her in my head, as she walked across the car park. Then I saw the ‘magic’ I saw that she was part of this divine planet, and beautiful.
    You can also see http://www.mindfuldriving.org for more inspiration.


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