Keep your cool when driving

Try these tips for staying calm when other drivers stress you out.

Woman driving a car | Photo by Matthew Henry
Woman driving a car | Photo by Matthew Henry

If you are on the road a lot, either for your job or family commitments, you have probably witnessed (or been a part of) road rage. The fear of what others may think of us prevents many of us from admitting we have engaged in road rage, though it is likely we have. In a 2014 study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 78.1 percent of respondents reported engaging in at least one driving behavior that is considered aggressive such as:

  • Tailgating
  • Yelling at another driver
  • Honking to show anger or annoyance
  • Making an obscene gesture
  • Blocking another car from changing lanes
  • Purposely cutting off another car
  • Confronting another driver outside the car
  • Purposely bumping or ramming into another vehicle

The Midwest, which includes Michigan, ranks first in tailgating (53.8 percent) and second in yelling (51 percent), honking (46 percent), and gesturing (46 percent) out of the four regions in the continental United States. We do not have control over how others act, but we can take steps to minimize our risk of being a victim of road rage.

Be a courteous driver. Use your turn signal before changing directions. Make sure you have plenty of room when merging into traffic. Apologize with an appropriate gesture when you make a mistake such as accidentally cutting someone off. When someone cuts you off, give room to merge into the lane. Use the left lane to pass, and then move over to the right lane to allow cars to pass. Leave at least a two-second space between you and the car ahead of you: when you see the car pass a fixed point—like a road sign—you should be able to count “one-thousand-one, one-thousand two” before you pass that same point. When following a slow-moving car, leave that same two-second space between you and the car until it is safe to pass. If a car is following you too closely, signal, move over and allow the car to pass. Resist the urge to use your horn, make an obscene gesture and engage in other expressions of irritation (like shaking your head) when another driver angers you. Keep your eyes forward and your hands on the wheel.

Stay clear of aggressive drivers. Give aggressive drivers a lot of room and get away as quickly as possible. Do not make eye contact with a driver who has made you angry or is acting angry with you; eye contact can make the situation seem personal and cause it to get quickly out of control. If you feel another driver is following you or is trying to start a fight, call the police or drive to a public place (police station, shopping center, gas station) and use your horn to get someone’s attention. Do not get out of your car to confront the person and do not drive home.

Develop a new perspective on driving. You have the power to change your approach to driving and can make your travels more pleasant. Your goal should be arriving safely at your destination. Allow more time to get to work, sporting events, school, the store, etc. Play relaxing music or an audiobook. Practice relaxation techniques such as those taught in Michigan State University Extension’s Stress Less with Mindfulness classes. Consider what might be causing the other driver to drive aggressively. Maybe he or she just learned a loved one is in the hospital or is a volunteer fireman. Get help if you have trouble managing your anger. Self-help books on anger management may help, and MSU Extension offers anger management courses throughout Michigan and online.

To find an MSU Extension class near you contact your local MSU Extension county office.

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