DAVE ROSS

Driving skills may be rusty post-pandemic, but shouldn’t be lost forever

May 31, 2021, 8:21 AM | Updated: 8:21 am
suburbs, driving...
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

A lot of people, including KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross, are reporting that because they’ve been holed up for so long that once they get back into a car, it’s almost like a new experience for them.

Fortunately, there are people studying things like the neuroscience of driving, one of whom is Dr. Elizabeth Walshe with the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Seattle Street View campaign gives ‘striking’ glimpse at how city has progressed during pandemic

Is this phenomenon normal if you haven’t driven for a while?

“Yeah, I think a lot of people can probably relate to your story,” Walshe said. “I know a lot of people who started working from home, didn’t drive to work, didn’t cycle to work, which is my case, something that they used to do two, or three, or four times a day, suddenly they’re not doing it at all for weeks or months. And so I’ve had a similar experience to you where there were a couple of weeks, I didn’t get out on my bicycle at all and then when I did I felt like the cars were really close to me, like closer than they used to ever be.”

“There’s this kind of like rustiness, I guess, that a lot of people are feeling, like are they forgetting how to do things that they thought they would never forget,” she added.

It’s unlikely, however, that we’re forgetting how to drive entirely, she said.

“The type of memory that’s important for remembering how to drive is called procedural memory. And it’s a really strong long-term type of memory and it’s very difficult to forget,” she said. “Our other types of memories, like memories for faces, or places, or things that happened in your past, your autobiographical memories, those we can forget all the time, and that’s kind of common for us to forget.”

“But things like riding your bike, you never forget how to ride a bike, driving your car, or if you learned how to play piano at a young age, you very rarely forget how to play piano. But you can feel rusty if you don’t do it for a while,” Walshe explained.

Part of the explanation for why we remember how to ride a bike or drive is certainly due to repetition.

“That helps with keeping, moving something from, say, short-term memory into long-term memory. But sometimes some memories are so intense that you don’t need to repeat them multiple times,” Walshe noted. “Sometimes you learn from a really, really bad experience not to do something ever again, like maybe you ate that dodgy street food and then you were sick for five days and you’re not going to go back to that.”

“So there is something about the intensity of the experience, but repetition — I think if we’re thinking about driving and things like that, it’s definitely repetition,” she continued. “And if you think about when you first started to learn how to drive, it’s really complicated. You’ve got a lot of things to remember, how to control the pedals, what to do with the wheel and the other controls in the car, like the indicator, but then also pay attention to everything that’s going on on the road around you, which you can’t control and which could change at any second.”

As a new driver, it’s stressful to have hazards coming your way at all times.

“But then, the more you do it, the more you practice, the more automated some of those vehicle control things become. So you don’t have to think about your hands anymore, and you don’t have to think about your feet so much, and that frees up some more mental space for paying more attention to what’s going on on the road around you and being ready to be able to react if there’s a hazard or potential crash situation,” she said.

UW study hopes to figure out if it’s possible to have a productive internet argument

This could also explain why some people have reported being more tired than we used to be because we’re having to relearn what was once routine.

“It takes more cognitive resources, right? More real estate. Some people describe it that way,” Walshe said. “Things that you didn’t have to think about, now you have to remember to think about because you’re a little rusty. And I think that goes for other things, too. I have friends who haven’t been out socializing and now they feel a little rusty with their social skills too, right, how to have those conversations.”

“It’s for anything you haven’t done for months, and sometimes we think we’ve done something so many times we’ll never forget it,” she added. “And even with driving, maybe you’ve driven the same route every day to your old job three or four years ago. But if you had to go back and do it now, you might remember it, or you might start questioning yourself, like was it the third turn on the right or the second turn on the right, you know? So you do lose a little bit if you don’t use it, but it’s unlikely that it would just disappear because it’s this type of long-term procedural memory.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM, and on your smart speaker as well. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

balloon...
Dave Ross

Ross: Was it a Chinese spy balloon, or luxury space travel prototype?

The defense department says it has been tracking a huge Chinese balloon over Montana
2 days ago
police...
Dave Ross

Ross: ‘Police used as substitute for properly funding social services’

The reason we keep seeing abuses like the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. It’s rooted in American culture.
3 days ago
millenials...
Dave Ross

Ross: More millennials need their parents help, but for how much longer

Dave was shocked to hear about the latest statistics from Money.com on the number of millennials being subsidized by their parents.
4 days ago
morning...
Dave Ross

Ross: Morning people have the ideal lifestyle, it’s just science!

When I took this morning job, there wasn’t much competition. It was basically, "we need someone who can be here at 4:45 a.m.”
5 days ago
tiktok challenge kia...
Dave Ross

Ross: Kia is getting sued for thefts, but why not TikTok?

According to Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, Hyundai and Kia thefts are so out of control in Seattle that its a public nuisance.
6 days ago
awe...
Dave Ross

Ross: An odyssey of awe, a leaky ceiling and the power of self-confidence

Three weeks ago, Colleen and I interviewed researcher Dacher Keltner on the subject of Awe – which he defines as follows.
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Driving skills may be rusty post-pandemic, but shouldn’t be lost forever