Saturday, February 5, 2011

Overcoming Road Rage

If you want to practise managing Road Rage, I would suggest you move to Calgary Alberta and you will have plenty of opportunity to develop your skill base on our roads.  We are currently under construction on just about every major venue in the city due mostly to the further development of our new LRT system.  Journeys that would at one time take 20 minutes now can take up to one hour assuming you can pick the right path through all of the detours and one lane reductions.  Often  detour signs present saying "road closed, take alternate route". All very helpful you  can actually take an alternate route or quickly decide with little or no information what an alternate route would be.  Hasty decisions are often required that result in the wrong choice leaving you going down yet another limited path with destination unknown.  I suppose you could consider some of this an adventure but when the desire is just to get to your office/home on time it somehow does not quite feel like much of an adventure or very much fun.

The bottom line is that virtually every day of the week you will have an opportunity to practise keeping a calm rational mind in the midst of agonizingly slow traffic, road blocks, upset drivers who are making either panic decisions or aggressive moves that threaten your safety.  Although I do not have data from any official source I would have to suspect that Road Rage is on the rise here in our city.  I am sure the city police would confirm an increase in traffic accidents and possibly altercation's/assault charges on the our roads.

Before I go any further, my definition of Road Rage is simply this:  letting  anger on the road determine ones driving habits good or bad, but usually bad.  Drivers with severe cases of Road Rage share some common traits: they drive very aggressively, become easily frustrated and angry when they cant drive at a pace that they believe they should be able to, often yell, scream, shake their fists or other objects at other drivers, get into physical confrontations, follow other drivers at unsafe distances to intimidate or in some cases actually follow a driver they have targeted who apparently has "offended"  them to that drivers destination and when arriving ,physically or verbally assault the so called "offending" driver.  Those with extreme Road Rage who posses most of these traits would probably profit from anger management counselling as they are a threat to others and themselves.  Now of course there are lessor versions of road rage where a majority of us probably fall into on bad days.  Many of us curse the driver ahead of us for going to slow or suddenly cutting us off, or perhaps curse under our breath at long waits or traffic jams that show little indicators of moving. You may even include giving someone the "finger" when they blast their horn at you for not moving quick enough.  Most  drivers do not however become aggressive to the point where they are ready to get into physical confrontations or fender benders as a result of   following to close to another driver.
 Physical aggression is only the outward signs of Road Rage and the most easy to identify with. I believe that even the more subtle forms of Road Rage can be dangerous to your own personal  health both physically and mentally and of course these two are always interlinked. Prolonged anger, stress can increase blood pressure, produce high levels of cortisol the stress hormone, is generally hard on the gastro-intestinal system, increase joint and muscle stiffness due to tension and in general cause undo fatigue.   Psychologically, the mind is in a negative mood state that can produce a generalized critical outlook on life or create a "victim"  or powerless mentality that can have impact on other areas of ones life. Left unchecked even subtle versions of Road Rage can deplete us on both levels.

Road Rage can be managed more effectively  by everyone dependent of course of their motivation to do so.  In extreme cases noted above there are some common outlooks or core beliefs that drive anger and knowing what these beliefs are can actually help the rest of us manage our Road Rage to less destructive levels.  Some of these unhelpful beliefs are: a strong sense of entitlement, rigid boundaries about physical space, irrational perceptions of threat, low tolerance for differences in others , irrational views on "justice must be served" and displaced anger whereby the Road Rage inflicted driver has other anger issues and they take it out on whoever happens to be in their way on the road.  Extreme Road Rage drivers let these beliefs and attitudes govern them, the rest of us stop short of letting these beliefs govern us but we may be allowing a toned down version of these beliefs and attitudes impact how we drive.


I will provide examples of first the beliefs/attitudes of  the road rager then provide the "Sanity Rule" that will help to manage Road Rage.

Entitlement:  Road Rage Belief
Nobody should get in my way, I should be able to go as fast as I want, whenever I want, I should be able to get where I want in the time that I think I should even if I leave late, I should be able to pass anyone at any time.

                  Sanity Rule
Of course people will get in my way, they are trying to get somewhere too.  They don't know me and they are not trying to deliberately antagonize me.  I cannot go as fast as I want, I will probably cause a accident if I do, the road to my office is not a race track. The faster I go the less control I have.  If I leave late, I am probably going to be late.  If I try to pass too many drivers I may save a few seconds but also I may cause an accident.

Ridged Boundaries:  Road Rage Belief?Attitude

No body should come close to my car when I am driving, if they do they are showing disrespect or deliberately trying to show me "who is boss".  Nobody should ever cut me off when changing lanes, they are deliberately trying to push me out of the way and once again show me "who is boss". 

                               Sanity Rule
It is normal for other drivers to come close to my car especially in heavy traffic.  Most other drivers are not trying to infringe on me, they are in the same boat I am in, just trying to get home.  If someone changes lanes quickly they may not have seen me or even if they did they are not necessarily trying to bully me, they just made a poor decision.  I don't have to take it personal and get myself all worked up. 

Irrational Perceptions of Threat:/Road Rage Belief/Attitude

If someone cuts me off, makes eye contact, or looks at me with an angry face they are trying to invite me into a confrontation.  My sense of manhood is at stake.

                                      Sanity Rule
Just because someone cut me off or glared at me that is not proof they want to fight me.  They, like me, are temporarily angry but this is not a "call to arms".  If they are waving a gun at me, perhaps it is.  My sense of manhood or womanhood does not depend on defending myself against minor facial or physical gestures made by others.  If this were the case I would need to fight someone about 50 times a day in traffic.  If I really want to do so I should consider entering the Ultimate Fighting Championships and at least make some money fighting. This person does not know me they could be judging me, but that is not the same as knowing me.

Low Tolerance for Difference in Others:  Road Rage Belief/Attitude

Everyone should drive like me regardless of their age.  Everyone should always go the speed limit, if they don't they are causing problems.  Everyone should be able to handle poor driving conditions, if they cant they shouldn't be on the road or at least get out of my way. 

                             Sanity Rule
New drivers, older drivers will at times drive more cautiously than me.  I was a new driver once and I remember how that felt.  I will be an old driver eventually so how do I want to be treated then?.  Going the speed limit is not the objective, driving conditions are always the more relevant guideline.  Not everyone can handle poor driving conditions especially drivers who are not used to Canadian winters.  I could have a little more empathy for them or simply stay a bit further back as preventative medicine.

Justice Must be Served:  Road Rage Belief/Attitude

If someone cuts me off or gives me the finger they must be taught a lesson and I must be vindicated. 

                    Sanity Rule
Just because someone cut me off or gave me the finger, it is not my job to punish them.  They most likely will  reap their own reward somewhere  else either by alienating themselves from friends and family or meeting their match in a physical confrontation. They also increase their possibility of having high blood pressure or strokes.  I can avoid the same fate by staying calm and not personalizing their gesture.

Displaced Anger:  Road Rage Belief/Attitude

If I am in a bad mood others can pay for. If I am angry about other things (having a bad day, an argument with a boss or spouse)  I do not need to contain myself, it is OK to let others feel my wrath.

                       Sanity Rule
I need to be aware of my anger and stress level before I get into my car and not let that guide how I drive.  I need to deliberately calm down with some stomach breathing, or relaxing music and shift gears to calm alert driving.  I can process my anger when I get home not while I am on the road.


I used the model of extreme Road Rage to look at beliefs and attitudes that many of us have in small doses  but but do not necesaarily result in dangerous Road Rage.  I believe that being aware of some of these traps will allow us to manage ourselves more effectively on the road and most importantly get us home in a "sane" state of mind.