Science

Answering 'What do we think about when we drive?' is one professor's 20-year quest

Professor Lynne Pearce studies what people think about while driving, among other subjects.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

As a member of the English and Creative Writing Department at Lancaster University in the U.K., Professor Lynne Pearce has spent most of her career studying the fields of feminist literary and cultural theory. These days, she has one big question: "What do we think about when we drive?"

Cars often provide a sanctuary, keeping out the noise that surrounds our daily lives. There's memes that celebrate moms who hide out inside their minivans. Hitting the open road and getting away from the hustle and bustle has been a theme of ads by MINI and the State of Nevada, both featuring the song "Don't Fence Me In".

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Pearce's interest in driving was likely sparked naturally by her father. She is the daughter of a Cornwall-based mechanic and garage owner who has spent more than 20 years writing about driving.

For the past 22 years she's lived two hours north of Glasgow, Scotland and regularly took the 800-mile round trip between her late parents' home and her home. Inevitably, the drive gave her time to reflect on her day, life, and more.

"Whenever I get into the car I feel a sense of relief," said Pearce in an interview with Porsche. "My body relaxes, and I look forward to the uninterrupted time I have to think."

That feeling prompted Pearce to publish her first essay on motoring - "Driving North/Driving South" in 2000. Since, she's published "Drivetime: Literary Excursions in Automotive Consciousness". In her work, Pearce describes how driving has given her time to enjoy a "ing-fenced slice of time which nothing would intrude upon or interrupt". Further, "Many of the things I had to think about in both my professional and personal life were unravelled, sometimes resolved, in the course of my drives ...".

Lynne Pearce Porsche Cayenne Pearce recently had the opportunity to try the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid.Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

During her day behind the wheel with Porsche, Pearce took the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid on the A82, a 167-mile road that runs from Glasgow to Inverness via Fort William, Scotland. It's her favorite road in the U.K. The portion of the route that runs past Buachaille Etive Mòr toward Glencoe village contains what is widely regarded as some of the best scenery in Scotland.

"When I was working on my book, and told people that I was interested in what we think about while we're driving, I was often met with incredulity because there is this misconception that the only thing we can possibly think about when we're in a car is driving itself. However, since the early days of motoring, psychologists have been interested in the fact that driving – as well as being one of the most complex, everyday tasks – is also one that frees up parts of the brain to think productively," Pearce explained.

Lynne Pearce Porsche Cayenne Pearce says that vehicles allow us to slow down and explore parts of the world we wouldn't normally venture.Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

Daydreaming can safety occur while at the wheel thanks to the brain's central executive, which remains alert throughout and will return our attention to the road when required. This is also the portion of the brain that keeps drivers alert when driving in poor conditions like snow and rain.

"From the exhilaration and euphoria associated with speed, through the day-dreaming and problem solving promoted by cruising, to the intimate communion we can achieve with the natural world when we're driving through a beautiful landscape with the windows down, I discovered that different types of driving inspire and promote different kinds of thought," Pearce said.

"By pre-occupying one part of the brain, driving helps to calm us down and think more calmly about our problems. This is why for many of us, myself included, driving is such a great 'time-out' for problem solving."

Pearce sees electric vehicles as being a key component to relaxation while on the road, serving as an even bigger break from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

"I love to use the minor roads close to where I live and driving slowly enables me to bond much more closely with the environment. The silence and sensation of driving in electric mode really enhances this sort of experience and it's interesting that the first users of electric vehicles raved about exactly this at the beginning of the 20th century," Pearce said.

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"The Lady and The Dale" shows off the history of a three-wheeled car and an investment scheme gone awry.

Photo courtesy of HBO

Liz Carmichael claimed to be a lot of things. She said she was the widow of a NASA engineer, a farmer's daughter, and a mother of five. In reality, she was none of those things. The truth was a little less straightforward.

Carmichael was born in the late 1930s as Jerry Dean Michael, a male. By 1961 she would be wanted by police for alleged involvement in a counterfeiting operation. Carmichael fathered five children with Vivian Barrett Michael, who she would introduce as her secretary rather than spouse or partner. These exploits were just the beginning.

The Lady and the Day "The Lady and The Dale" will debut on January 31 on HBO.Photo courtesy of HBO

The Lady and the Dale

A new, four-part documentary series from Emmy-winning producers Mark and Jay Duplass ("Room 104") follows the story of Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael, the founder of Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation. During the fuel crisis of the 1970s, Carmichael was living as a woman, taking the world by storm with the promotion of a fuel-efficient three-wheeled car named The Dale.

The Dale was designed and built by Dale Clifft. Before meeting Carmichael, Clifft had built the original vehicle from aluminum tubing and covered it in naugahyde. Carmichael came along and served as the vehicle's hype woman, using her promotional zeal to build up the vehicle's design and engineering and gaining investors putting more than 100 employees on the payroll.

Soon, the media took notice and began digging into The Dale and Carmichael. What resulted next is the story that is captured on film.

"The Lady and The Dale" mixes animation, archival footage, and interviews with Liz's family members and gender scholars, including Susan Stryker.

The series debuts with two back-to-back episodes on Sunday, January 31, at 9:00 p.m. ET with new subsequent Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET. The Lady and The Dale will premiere on HBO and be available to stream on HBO Max. Watch the trailer below.

The Lady and the Dale: Official Trailer | HBO www.youtube.com

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Snake Pass is one of England's most beloved driving roads.

Britain's Snake Pass takes you though some of England's most scenic topography, curving in and out of the Derbyshire region of the Peak District. The weather there isn't always favorable - it's frequently closed due to snow or flooding - but when it's open, and you have the right car, it's a driver's dream.

The road has a rich history. It was opened as a toll road in the early 1800s and remained as such until the 1870s. It was the primary route between Sheffield and Manchester until the 1980s.

Porsche recently traced the route using its free-to-download Roads by Porsche app, which gives drivers the means of finding the best roads to travel. The route was recently voted onto the app by fans of the roadway.

Snake Pass Porche Cayman 718 Porsche recently test drove the road, which was added to its Roads app by fans.Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

The preferred route starts east of Glossop, a town just outside of Manchester. All 11 miles of the path are in a national park. Fro Glossop, the roadway climbs into the Pennine Hills reaching 1,680 feet above sea level at the point the route passes Pennine Way. A public house, the Snake Pass Inn, sits nearby. The road passes just north of Kinder Scout, the highest point in England, and through the towns of Knowsley, St. Helens, and Warrington.

The winding scenic roads naturally draws comparisons to Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, which runs along the Oregon and Idaho boarder. The U.S. route offers some of the most breathtaking views roadway views you can get in the country, and provides plenty of technical driving opportunities.

Traversing Snake Pass is technically tough. There are plenty of hazardous bends and blind summits. Fog rolls in quickly at times. Cyclists, professional and far from it, compete for roadway.

Porsche Cayman 718 at Snake Pass

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

On the flip side, the road offers perhaps the best views of the Manchester area you'll ever see. The scenery goes from moorland to forest to flatland as well.

But, you won't be able to look long because of the road's perils.

Once through the forest, the road opens up again as you near Sheffield. Drystone walls feature while sheep politely munch their lunch nearby. The route draws to a close at Ladybower Reservoir at Ashopton but there's the option to continue. The A57 carries drivers on to Sheffield, dispersing them to the cities near and far via any number of more major motorways.

Or, you could turn around and traverse it once again. It's only 11 miles, after all.

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