Don’t Give In to Road Rage

A quick temper can put you and others in danger.

One-half of drivers who are subjected to aggressive behavior will respond with hostility, according to published research. Anne O’Dwyer, a dean and professor of psychology at Great Barrington, Mass.-based Bard College at Simon’s Rock, researched this topic and found that more than half of study participants express their anger verbally (such as by swearing) and more than 25 percent do so behaviorally (such as with a gesture).

Here’s how to keep your emotions in check and stay safe on the road:

It’s nothing personal. Remember that the other motorist doesn’t know you. The anger you’re feeling doesn’t merit a response that could cause an accident or police intervention. No one wants a citation to blemish their record and increase insurance premiums. “Moral outrage is usually a pretty healthy emotion, just not behind the wheel,” O’Dwyer says. “The things we get angry about in a car probably do not justify the level of emotion we feel in the moment.”

Give them the benefit of a doubt. There may actually be a valid reason for an interaction that appears hostile, but isn’t intended to be. “Keep in mind that the other person could be lost or late for a plane,” O’Dwyer says. “If you do this, you’re less likely to get angry.”

Get a good head start. Tension often stems from a feeling of constantly running late. “You need to plan ahead and allow time for traffic delays,” says automotive expert LeeAnn Shattuck, aka the Car Chick, who co-hosts the nationally syndicated radio show America’s Garage. “You don’t want to feel rushed and stressed.”

Practice basic courtesy.
The more you stick with fundamentally sound, safe habits, the better your chances of avoiding a confrontation. So put away the phone and pay attention to what’s going on around you. “This way, you’re less likely to do something foolish to make someone angry,” says Shattuck, who indicates that road rage is a popular topic on her radio program. “Don’t veer into someone’s blind spot. Get up to speed on the entry ramp and merge
properly—it’s not someone’s job to let you in. Stay out of the left lane unless you’re actively passing another vehicle.”

Use restaurant etiquette. In a potentially explosive situation, defuse it by acting as if you were face-to-face with the other person. “This will help keep your manners in mind,” Shattuck says. “Driving isn’t a contest. If you put safety and courtesy first, everybody wins.”

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