Controlling Emotions and Road Rage Effectively | Defensive DrivingUpdated Sept. 26, 2020
Holding a driver’s license is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is not enough simply to say that you will not become an aggressive driver, you must continually monitor yourself and be proactive about avoiding aggressive behaviors behind the wheel. Most new motorists believe that they will not act aggressively on the road and yet many drivers end up doing it anyway.
As mentioned in previous chapters of this course, a large number of drivers admit to behaving aggressively at one time or another, despite recognizing that road rage and driver aggression are serious public safety issues. The problem is perhaps that it is easier to identify your own aggressive behavior in retrospect, than it is in real time. Many people fail to notice themselves becoming angry, frustrated or otherwise worked up behind the wheel, soon enough to prevent those feelings leading to aggression.
Aggressive drivers are a threat to themselves as much as they are to other road users. If you want to avoid this unnecessary risk, you must learn to keep track of your emotions and mental state while driving.
Controlling your emotions
Having a naturally negative or volatile disposition leaves you at greater risk of becoming angry in adverse roadway environments. However, even people who are usually calm and easy-going can buckle under the pressure of driving and become aggressive. Unfortunately, powerful feelings like anger, frustration and anxiety are so consuming that they often blind an aggressive driver to the fact that they are acting unreasonably. They can also push everything you have learned about road rules and road safety right out of your mind!
You must learn to identify feelings of anger or frustration as they develop. Without an awareness of your changing mental state, it is impossible to keep negative emotions in check. When you do notice aggressive thoughts and feelings starting to bubble up, it can be helpful to think of the bigger picture. If you are frustrated because you are stuck in traffic, remember that every other driver around you is in the same boat. These people are not out to get you, they are suffering right alongside you. Remember that everybody on the road will have a less stressful experience, if you can all commit to being courteous and staying calm.
Much of the work you will need to do to avoid becoming an aggressive driver happens before you set off on your journey. Make sure you are mentally and emotionally prepared for the trip and it will be far easier to stay in control.
Preparing to drive
Get into the habit of briefly reviewing your mental and emotional state prior to driving. If something has happened in your personal or professional life that makes you feel angry, sad, frustrated or emotional in any other way, you must try to address these feelings before getting into the driver’s seat. Consider what tactics you can use to prevent these emotions causing loss of focus and overreactions on the road.
Taking a brief “time out” before driving is often the most effective way to calm negative emotions. For instance, if you are feeling worked up:
- Take 10 minutes to talk to a close friend or family member. Avoid talking to anybody who may leave you feeling more emotional.
- Go for a short walk and get some fresh air before driving. Try to focus on your breathing rather than dwelling on the situation which upset you.
- Sit quietly and reflect on the things in life you would miss if your negative mood led you to be injured or killed in a traffic accident.
Even if you are in a hurry, it is important to make time for these calming exercises before driving. It is better to be late for an engagement but turn up in one piece, than it is not to arrive at all because you’ve been involved in a collision. If you cannot calm down despite your best efforts, accept that you cannot drive and consider alternative means of transport.
Calming yourself behind the wheel
While driving, keep an eye on your mental, emotional and physical condition, using these aggravation-prevention tips to keep yourself calm:
Make sure the temperature inside your vehicle is comfortable. It is easy to get worked up if the car is too hot. High temperatures can also cause drowsiness.
Avoid clenching your teeth and make sure your jaw is relaxed. Holding tension in your face can lead to feelings of anxiety.
For the same reason, watch your grip on the steering wheel. Grasp the wheel firmly but avoid gripping too tightly, as this may lead you to feel tense.
If you are becoming frustrated, try listening to relaxing music on the stereo. Keep the volume low, as loud music can worsen anxiety and irritate other road users.
Practice controlled, deep breathing to manage feelings of frustration. Oxygenating your body can relieve tension, ground you and leave you feeling more relaxed.
Do not let others provoke you
You can either be a victim and allow other drivers to provoke you, or you can take control of your emotions and choose how to respond to negative situations. If you see a nearby driver becoming agitated, do what you can to help them rather than getting flustered yourself. Remember that emotions and behaviors are contagious. Just as frustration can pass from driver to driver in tightly packed traffic, behaving calmly and courteously can sooth other drivers and lead them to behave more courteously in turn. Sometimes all it takes is one kind act to restore a frustrated driver’s faith in humanity and bring them back from boiling point.
Aggressive driving consequences and penalties
Nobody can force you to drive courteously and respect the rules of the road. Driving is an adult privilege and as an adult (or young adult) you have the right to choose how you behave. However, know that if you choose to drive aggressively, ignore traffic laws or endanger other road users, there will be negative consequences. They may be immediate, delayed, subtle or catastrophic. The bottom line is that a negative backlash of some kind is inevitable.
The most obvious immediate consequence would be a collision occurring as a result of your actions. This could result in your death, somebody else’s death, serious injury, expensive property damage and a rise in your insurance premium. If you live and are found to be at fault, you can expect legal consequences too.
Even if you manage to avoid a collision and get away with your aggressive action without injury, there is a strong chance that you will be held legally accountable for braking traffic law and endangering lives. Aggressive driving is dangerous and has severe legal consequences, for instance:
- If you hurt another person, you may be convicted of assault or manslaughter, both of which would likely result in a lengthy prison term.
- It is VERY likely that your license will be suspended or permanently revoked.
- You could be ordered to attend a compulsory anger management class.
- You will be fined and may be ordered to pay compensation to your victim.
In moments of blind anger, a person often feels untouchable, making the prospect of being held accountable for their actions the furthest thing from their mind. Focus on the fact that if a police officer sees your actions cause any damage, you will be forced to face-up to what you have done. If you collide with another vehicle and need to exchange insurance details, you will come face-to-face with the person you have wronged! Run away from this responsibility and you could face criminal charges.
One of the saddest things about serious aggressive driving incidents is that the perpetrating driver usually acts in a moment of madness, in a way that does not reflect who they really are in day-to-day life. Good people do terrible things on our roads every day as a result of unchecked anger and frustration. They must then carry the guilt of what they have done with them, for the rest of their lives.
Make your behavior on the roads reflective of the person you want to be in life. Focus on developing a helpful, courteous attitude, show tolerance for other road users, forgive their mistakes and have the best possible driving experience by maintaining a positive outlook. Remember, driving is supposed to be a fun and liberating activity!
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