Picture It: You’re driving along one crisp fall morning on your day off of work. Suddenly, another motorist zips by on your left, almost clips your front bumper and flies back into your lane. You jump in your seat, stomp on the brakes and swerve to avoid a collision.
Does this seem familiar? Aggressive drivers can try even the most patient person. Your first reaction might be to yell out the window at the obnoxious driver or even speed up to “teach them a lesson.” It can be difficult not to lose your cool when other drivers don’t observe the rules of the road, but if you don’t, you end up being just as aggressive as the driver who aggravated you.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the most obvious form of road rage is aggressive and excessive speeding. It’s important to keep control when dealing with an aggressive driver and not retaliate in order to prevent further problems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that aggressive driving is a factor in two thirds of all traffic fatalities.
With that in mind, here are six tips to help you keep your cool when dealing with aggressive drivers so you don’t become one yourself:
- Make yourself comfortable before you get on the road – Uncomfortable temperatures and even poor sitting posture can fuel irritation. Make sure your seat is in the correct position before leaving your driveway and keep the temperature comfortable. That way, if you do encounter something frustrating on the road, your mood won’t be further affected by discomfort.
- Breath deeply if you feel yourself getting frustrated – Take a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Remember that you don’t know why the other person was driving aggressively. They could have an emergency and, even if that isn’t the case, its best to just let it go.
- Keep your hands firmly on the wheel – This will keep you from accidentally instigating further aggression. Even a seemingly reasonable reactive gesture, like throwing one hand up in exasperation, can cause further issues with an aggressive driver. If your driving instigated the aggression (as in you made a mistake that angered another driver), use an open palm gesture to show your acknowledgement of the offensive deed or do nothing at all to avoid misunderstanding.
- Let it all out, safely – If you feel a rant coming on or an insurmountable urge to voice your feelings, roll the windows up and let it out when the other driver can’t see you. Pull over and vent your anger to yourself instead of driving aggressively.
- Leave earlier rather than later – Waiting in long lines of traffic where many drivers are all trying to get to the same place can make tensions run high. To avoid running behind and risking aggressive driving, give yourself ample time to reach your destination.
- Stay in your vehicle – No matter what happens, do not exit your car. Situations can escalate quickly when two angry drivers decide to approach each other. Turn on some soothing music to help you relax and think happy thoughts.
To be fair, aggressive driving is not the only thing that can anger other drivers: overly defensive driving can as well. I had to use these tips in a situation returning home from a recent trip. Halfway home, I found myself behind a vehicle traveling twenty miles under the posted speed limit. It took all of my self-control and a good deal of verbal exclamations to curb the urge to get right up on their bumper. Luckily, I realized I had the resources to deal with the situation and, thankfully, the slow moving vehicle turned off the main road soon after.
Whatever you do, don’t give in to aggressive driving to punish someone. Combat aggressive driving with defensive driving and by taking steps to stay calm in the face of road rage. Next time someone late to work tailgates you in the left hand lane, or worse, cuts you off, breathe deeply, mutter under your breath, turn on the radio and stay focused on following the rules of the road.