Staying cool behind the wheel - A guide to Road Rage
It’s believed that the term originated from the United States, but road rage is a problem throughout the world, including in the UK. Occasionally instances of road rage do make the headlines, but it’s mainly a daily problem happening everywhere. From motorways and A roads, to traffic-choked intersections throughout the country, drivers are giving into road rage or being subjected to outbursts of it.
We’ve all witnessed or been part of road rage, be it an altercation between drivers by the roadside or filling our cars with curses at the driver that just cut us up, but what behaviour actually classifies as road rage? What causes it and how do we avoid it?
Let's start off with what road rage is.
It’s defined as “a sudden eruption of violent anger in a driver triggered by the direct actions of a fellow motorist”. Road rage can be expressed as spectrum or a scale from mild to strong. On the mild end we’ve got things like horn honking or verbal reactions.
To understand how common it is, the insurer Ingenie, who uses black boxes to monitor driver behaviour, conducted a survey and found that around seven in ten motorists they were monitoring had been subjected to road rage incidents in the previous 12 months. 65% of the motorists monitored said that they didn’t consider themselves as “road ragers” but nearly 9 out of 10 admitted to showing signs of road rage occasionally.
So we know what it is, but what causes road rage?
Dr Lisa Dorn from Cranfield University in Bedford suggests that people who are naturally angry can become aggressive and show signs of frustration on the roads. Asked why some motorists tend to get enraged by other people’s behaviour on the highways, she said: “It’s like looking through a distorted lens, and the person in front of that distorted lens becomes someone who is trying to stop them from achieving their goal.”
She added that road rage can be dangerous because when people are in this frame of mind, they are not focussed on the traffic conditions but instead on letting off steam. She also noted that when people are angry and rattled, they can’t process road conditions as effectively, and this has a negative impact on driving performance.
Some experts believe that extreme cases of aggression among drivers can be attributed to a condition called intermittent explosive disorder (IED) because the contextual stressors do not appear to be sufficient for the level of hostility found in drivers. IED is an impulse control disorder characterised by the failure to resist aggressive impulses. It can lead to verbal aggression, property destruction and assaults.
How can we stop road rage?
So some instances of road rage, we can chalk up to IED but the vast majority of road rage instances are not related. This means that it's up to us as drivers to make a conscious effort to act calmly and safely as often as we can behind the wheel.
There’s small steps we can take to do this - for example if there’s an impatient driver following closely behind you then give them chances to overtake you. This will stop you becoming increasingly angered and distracted by their behaviour and you can pay attention to the dangers in front of you.
Another tip is to avoid eye contact with an aggressive driver if you find yourself in a potentially confrontational situation. Self awareness is also key here - if you get into a car when you’re tired or stressed then you’ll be more likely to make mistakes on the road and act angrily to others around you.
Try to avoid driving if you’re too fatigued or wound up, and if you have to make a journey when you’re feeling like this, be conscious of the impact it may have on your mindset and try to make allowances for this.
Look at the bigger picture too. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re in the driving seat, but when something happens that irritates you, remember the things that are really important in your life. This can help you to act in a more disciplined, measured way and prevent you from getting into unnecessary altercations.
Here are some other tips that may help:
- Breathe with a steady rhythm. A potentially dangerous situation causes shortness of breath putting us in a heightened state of emotion, which can escalate, so just slow everything down.
- Try not to take it so personally. It can feel like the world is against us - and that driver who cut us off is too. He or she might be inconsiderate, but the truth is, they are not personally attacking you.
- Know your own limits. Many of us overestimate our driving skills and the sense of superiority this can cause makes us believe we can take greater risks and can mean we are less tolerant of others.
- Take time to consider that other people are stupid. People drink and drive, they talk on their phones while driving. While you’re busy thinking about your destination, some people out there are snapchatting behind the wheel, the boy racer in front of you is slowing down and speeding up to hear how amazing that £4.99 “performance air filter” that they got on Ebay sounds. (Side tracked here, do performance air filters even make a difference? Find out here). People are idiots, understand that and expect it.
By having greater awareness of the causes of road rage and actively taking steps to avoid it, you can help to keep yourself and others safe - and make your journeys less stressful as well.
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Special thanks to Matti from MWM Digital for helping us with the blog!