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Road Rage

Censored image of a driver giving the finger.

I’ve been on several podcasts recently, and I’ve shared the experience of being a young child in the car.  My parents had a disagreement after an incident with another driver.  My parent driving erupted in rage.  The car hurdled down the highway on backroads in Iowa going 123 miles an hour.  It was terrifying.  I was young enough that I didn’t have the term for what was happening.  Road Rage.

Road rage has become rampant in our society.  I decided I’d do some research to discover what was on the internet available for people today to learn about and help this behavior.  The first article I discovered was accusatory.  It said, "Road ragers are selfish, power hungry, angry, and vindictive."  That’s harsh, and judgmental–not at all my style.

Someone in the midst of road rage isn’t terrible, they are having a terrible moment, and it can change. 

Other articles I found discussed what it is, the dangers it presents, and examples.  I decided I wanted to focus on helping people understand, change their behavior, and find coping skills when they encounter it on the road.  

Understanding and Changing the Behavior of Road Rage

Because I grew up with this pattern of behavior, I learned it.  I thought that I was supposed to respond angrily, aggressively when experiencing something negative in traffic.  Being cut off triggered me big time, someone driving slowly in front of me made my blood pressure elevate.    My childhood experience came up in therapy one day, and I learned that this wasn’t something that should have an overactive response of a 10, on a scale of 1-10.  That was news to me!  Because I had only ever seen this behavior modeled it was startling to realize that others didn’t experience it.  It was an entirely new way of thinking.  

Then I tried to apply in my life.  I wasn’t always successful.  

One day I caught myself when my son was in the car with me, and I said aloud, “Not a 10!”  And my son asked, “What?”  So I explained to him a bit of my story, and how I was working to change my behavior.  He immediately agreed that indeed, it was NOT a 10!  He proceeded to remind me on future occasions and call me out when I didn’t manage to catch it first.  We laugh about it now.  So much better than being upset!  

Finding the Off Ramp to Road Rage…

Self awareness is the first step.  You’ll notice that I first had to learn that the behavior didn’t require such a forceful response.  This happened in a calm environment where I wasn’t driving the car.  It took a bit of time to consider a new point of view.  The way I had experienced the world could be another way? I had to open myself to change.

There was another incident I recall. That time, my parent stopped the car on the side of the road, and got out. They began walking.  This behavior was a better choice.  Physical activity is something that works to help us calm down.  Obviously this worked better in Iowa, where I grew up than it would in high traffic areas.  The reason walking helped was it calmed the body, and allowed access to the prefrontal cortex of the brain.  

Here are five suggestions of things to try if you must stay in the car during a bout of road rage.

  1. Take deep breaths: Deep breathing can help calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of anger and frustration. Take slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth to help regain composure.

  2. Practice mindfulness: Focus on the present moment and let go of negative thoughts about the situation. Pay attention to your surroundings, the road ahead, and your own actions behind the wheel.

  3. Use positive self-talk: Remind yourself that getting angry will only escalate the situation and increase your stress levels. Use phrases like "I can handle this calmly" or "I choose not to let this affect me" to shift your mindset.

  4. Avoid engaging with aggressive drivers: Refrain from making eye contact, gesturing, or responding to aggressive behavior from other drivers. Instead, maintain a safe distance and focus on safely navigating the road.

  5. Listen to calming music or podcasts: Create a soothing atmosphere inside the car by listening to calming music, podcasts, or audiobooks. This can help distract from stressful situations and promote a sense of relaxation while driving.

Encountering Other’s Road Rage

What to do if someone in another vehicle is near you and you find yourself the recipient of their rage?  It’s important to remember that the only person you can control is yourself.  You have power over YOUR actions.  Here are some ideas that you can use should you need them (and I hope you don’t!)

  1. Stay calm and avoid retaliation: The most important thing is to remain calm and avoid escalating the situation further. Refrain from responding with anger or aggression, as this can fuel the other driver's rage.

  2. Keep a safe distance: If you encounter an aggressive driver, maintain a safe distance from their vehicle to avoid potential accidents or confrontations. Create space between your car and theirs to minimize the risk of a collision.

  3. Do not engage: Avoid engaging with the aggressive driver by gesturing, honking excessively, or exchanging words. Responding to their behavior may only escalate the situation further. Instead, focus on safely navigating the road and getting to your destination.

  4. Report dangerous behavior: If the other driver's behavior poses a threat to your safety or the safety of others on the road, consider reporting them to the appropriate authorities. Use hands-free technology to call law enforcement and provide them with details about the situation, such as the license plate number, vehicle description, and location.

Someone I know found themselves being followed during a road rage incident.  They did not drive home, but to public areas, and began a loop until the raging person gave up.  This was wise. It kept them and their family safe. 

While road rage isn’t pleasant, there are ways to manage in different and safe ways.  I hope thinking about this allows you to respond in new ways.  Wishing you a fun and safe drive wherever you’re headed!

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