Heated Behind the Wheel: How To Avoid Road Rage

Aggressive driving is one of those qualities we usually attribute to others and not ourselves. The truck tailgating you is the one at fault; the car that cuts you off is the one with the problem. It takes an honest self-examination to admit you could be contributing to the problem.

Two surveys of Canadian attitudes towards road rage capture this paradox of aggressive driving. A 2011 CAA survey found that 86% of respondents cited road rage as the most annoying driving behavior. But a 2012 Leger Marketing poll found 80% of those polled admitted to having a road rage problem. This shows that while we can identify the poor driving habits of others, it’s harder to acknowledge our own faults.

However, if we understand what causes aggressive driving and how to recognize it in ourselves, we can prevent road rage from occurring.

Why We Drive Aggressively

We drive aggressively for different reasons under a variety of circumstances. Maybe it’s because we are late to work, the kids are driving us crazy, or perhaps we are just having a bad day. Regardless of the immediate cause, there are deeper reasons why people begin to drive aggressively.

Studies have shown that people often treat their car as an extension of themselves. When something bad happens on the road, we take it personally. If a person is driving too close, we don’t see the other driver as another busy commuter who is also dropping off his or her kids at school; we see the driver as an invader of our personal space.

Other factors exacerbate our territorial attitudes towards our cars. Our moods, our sleep schedule, what we ate for lunch, and our busy itinerary can alter our mental state and make road rage more likely to occur. Pollution and loud noises can also aggravate us, subconsciously pushing us to take more drastic steps to escape what bothers us. If something or someone impedes us, we switch from flight to fight.

Canadians face another challenge that is unique to our environment. Our 8 months of winter turn our 4 months of summer into a time to escape our cramped homes. We want to be out and enjoy our temporary relief from winter’s cruel bite. The increased temperatures of summer only put us on a higher level of alertness. Our rush to enjoy the warm temperatures makes us less patient with driving conditions and more likely to act rashly on the road.

What Is Aggressive Driving?

It can be difficult to notice our own aggressive tendencies, especially when they are an almost instinctual response. Below are some behaviors that can show if you have a driving problem:

  • Mentally criticizing other drivers, or thoughts of violence
  • Purposefully disobeying traffic laws
  • Verbally condemning other drivers
  • Tailgating
  • Speeding
  • Frequently changing lanes
  • Cutting off other drivers
  • Flashing lights
  • Honking horn frequently
  • Making aggressive or obscene gestures at other drivers

How to Keep Calm While Driving

Because our aggressive driving can be a habit, it takes practice to become a courteous driver. With discipline it’s possible to make driving a more pleasant and less stressful experience. Here are some ways to calm down while driving and stay safe:

  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Give yourself plenty of time to drive
  • Play calming music
  • Turn up the A/C

Always give other drivers the benefit of the doubt (they could be having a worse day than you)

How to Respond to Road Rage

Of course, while you may be trying to avoid aggressive driving, other people might still be comfortable with their road rage. Not only can their road rage incite your own aggressive driving habits, it might also threaten your safety. Consequently, you need to respond courteously to deescalate the situation.

Here are some ways to avoid road rage:

  • Give aggressive drivers space.
  • Let tailgaters pass you. Aggressive drivers are less of a danger ahead of you than behind you.
  • Don’t engage aggressive drivers. If you return hand gestures or verbal abuse it will escalate the situation and lead to a more dangerous confrontation.
  • If a driver is persistent then take the next exit. If they follow you then go towards a crowed place or a police station.

When we take extra measures to be safe, we make driving a more pleasant experience for everyone. The best thing to do is drive deliberately rather than reactively. We need to work to be good drivers, rather than let driving conditions determine how we feel. If we’re more conscious of how we drive, we can put a stop to road rage and feel more comfortable on the road.

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