It begins with a stiff neck, an occasional leg cramp or a racing heart-all symptoms of driving-related stress that, if left unchecked, could turn into what we know as “road rage.” You’ve seen it: the shouting matches between drivers, the reckless driving where one motorist cuts off another, even the threats of violence between drivers and passengers. If you experience the anxiety described above, you’re more likely to become an aggressive driver-and a serious or fatal accident may not be far off.
About one-third of the 3 million injury-related accidents reported each year can be attributed to behavior associated with aggressive driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington, D.C. Here’s what you can do to keep from becoming a statistic.
- Identify the root of the problem. If your mind is cluttered and you find yourself easily irritated, clear your head before you get behind the wheel. You’ll be less likely to sound off at another motorist.
- You can spot drivers who are pressed for time by their tailgating and frequent lane-changing. But, Perry Garfinkel, co-author of Stress Blasters: Quick and Simple Steps to take Control and Perform Under Pressure (Rodale Press, 1997), says “you gain only about five seconds from tailgating. You can leave a little earlier and take care of the lateness.”
- For other drivers, a sense of being wronged leads to aggressive driving. If another driver jumps ahead of you, doesn’t use a turn signal or bumps you from behind, take a few seconds before you react. Try to avoid conflict; you never know if the offender is prone to violence or has a weapon. Assume that another driver’s mistakes aren’t personal. Even if they are, ask yourself if it’s really worth it in the end to get upset.
- Cultivate a measure of self-control. Garfinkel views driver discipline as a classic case of mind over matter. He suggests diverting your mind from what angers you to more positive thoughts, like an anticipated vacation or the upcoming weekend. “Meditate in the moment,” says Garfinkel. “Take a slow, deep breath and let it out.”
- Ultimately, staying safe requires some practical steps on your part, too. Using a phone or changing radio stations while driving, for example, quadruples your risk of having an accident. Also, become familiar with the roads you traverse. A local highway map or various Internet map sites, such as Mapblast (www.mapblast.com) or CitySearch (citysearch.com) can help you find your way.