Recently I was in a car with a usually empathetic friend. She took a momentary break from our conversation—and her sanity—to scream out of the blue “You’re disgusting!” to an elderly woman who looked about 85 year old. The great travesty committed by this grandmother? She was driving 25mph in a 30mph zone. My friend shifted into 4th gear and revved passed her (ignoring the double yellow line).
Yes, road rage is on the rise, and patience levels are at an all-time low. Roads are more congested than ever and the hectic pace of our society continues to raise our stress levels. So what can help?
Interestingly, while we like to blame our road rage on other drivers, studies show the real root of aggressive driving lies within each of us. It’s frequently related to our accumulated stress. Let’s take a moment to look honestly at our driving behavior and try to reduce our stress behind the wheel.
1. Go to Bed.
Nationally, Americans get less sleep than ever before, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Lack of sleep makes us prone to feelings of annoyance and anger. Are you getting your 7 – 9 hours a night? It’s still the minimum recommended for adults.
2. Plan your day.
Do you cut things close, allowing just enough time to make it to work or school? If so, you’re probably more prone to have a lead foot and a bad temper on the road. Add 10 extra minutes to your travel time, and you’ll be amazed how your patience also increases. More time means calmer driving. If your mornings are a hectic rush, try preparing school bags and lunch the night before. Pick out your outfits ahead of time, and get anything possible done to avoid a rushed morning.
3. Drop your ego.
Don’t try to prove yourself by zooming past drivers on heavily trafficked roads. Competitive types might pass for fun, but it’s contributing to an atmosphere of stress. You may also be tempted to respond to a tense conversation—either with a passenger or on the phone—by taking it out on the road. Resist this. Your vehicle is a mode of transport, not an expression of your mood or a stress outlet.
4. Take a breath.
Look at your hands. Are you clenching the steering wheel? If so, release your death grip and take a deep breath. Make sure your windshield is clean, since this can also make it hard to see and make you extra tense. If you’re on a long ride, take a break every couple of hours to walk around, stretch and relax for a few minutes.
5. Listen to something light.
It doesn’t have to be Mozart, but you know which music makes you feel revved up and which music chills you out. Try an audiobook or jazz to reduce stress. Comedy stations are also great to lighten your mood and help you laugh at the idiocy of others.
6. Remember it’s not all about you.
Don’t assume everyone is out to get you. Before you assume other drivers are zeroing in on you, realize that they might have a screaming baby or a dog jumping around in the backseat. Maybe another driver just made a mistake. Save yourself some stress, and don’t take it personally.
7. Pretend you’re in a restaurant.
Folks don’t usually go on rants in restaurants—it’s bad manners. Hold the same standard in a car. Just because you’re isolated doesn’t mean you should let another driver make you relinquish your good manners. After all, they’re something to be proud of! The next time you want to curse at another driver, imagine he’s at a table dining next to you.
8. Protect your Heart.
Heart problems are a number one killer in America. Anger, depression, and hostility are toxic to your health—specifically your heart. Value your own heath enough to laugh off another driver’s stupidity. Being furious doesn’t remedy a situation, and it actually makes you sick. It’s just not worth it.
9. Show Kindness.
We’re all bound to make a mistake at some point, so allow some frazzled man or woman to cut in now and then just to be nice. Apologize when you accidentally cut someone off. Try to treat other drivers how you’d like to be treated on a bad day.
10. Test yourself.
The American Institute for Public Safety (AIPS) has a great self-test called RoadRageous. Take it today and see how you rank. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions, you might be on the aggressive side with your driving. Does this sound like you?
- I frequently weave in and out of traffic to get ahead.
- I regularly exceed the speed limit in order to get to work on time.
- Flashing your headlights in retaliation.
Putting aggressive driving habits away will make the roads a happier, safer place. Let’s plan ahead to keep things in perspective and treat others kindly.