Open Road

Exploring the puzzle of road rage - and 9 tips for avoiding it

From Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.

Imagine this scenario...

You're driving along, but the lane you're in is about to end. As you normally do, you plan to merge into the now-single lane, but the person in the other lane is speeding up so as to not let you move over. There's also a vehicle in front of you, so you're unable to speed up and merge. Unsure of what to do, you hold your position and force the merge, but not before evoking a barrage of horn-honking from the person in the other lane. You honk back in response, and perhaps a few hand gestures and choice words are shared.

Now, what could you have done differently to avoid this situation? Sure, you could have moved over to the primary lane earlier had you known that your lane would soon end. But was it really such a big hit to the other person's ego to allow you to merge and be in front of him? If he didn't let you in, where exactly were you supposed to go? Up the curb and into a ditch?

Perhaps you've experienced something like this, or worse. One has to wonder, what exactly is going on in motorists' minds when having to share the roadways with others while piloting machines weighing upwards of two tons? Outside of driving, these people may be perfectly nice and amicable. When behind the wheel, it's as if the proverbial switch is flipped, transforming one from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.

Psychology of road rage...

A lot of it probably has to do with a desire for power and control. It's pride and ego at work. One feels that he has certain rights and privileges, and if violated by another driver, he will respond in kind. Some people seem to become territorial on the road, like a lion protecting its turf.

One might also have pent-up aggression and anger, and exercising dominance while driving may be a way to let it out, although martial arts and sports would be better options. Of course, congested roads and stop-and-go traffic doesn't help any, as it just adds to the stress of the daily commute. At the same time, when one is nestled in the safety of a vehicle's cabin, he might get a false sense of invincibility, as if the metal and glass act as some sort of armor.

Furthermore, we live in a fast-paced world where everyone has too much to do and too little time. People are stressed out, and understandably so. It's no secret that the U.S. is an overworked nation, with people checking emails and such even while on vacation. On top of the stress from work and other obligations, one could also be suffering from relationship or other personal issues, and the emotional strain from these matters can end up manifesting while one is driving because a minor irritation may be just enough to trigger a less-than-ideal reaction.

How to respond...

While it can be entertaining to read about or watch videos of road rage incidents, we need to take a step back and remember that such incidents can have serious repercussions. In a best-case scenario, it could cause stress and ruin one's day. In a worst-case scenario, it could lead to arrest and charges being filed. And for what? Following are some tips to help you avoid and/or manage road rage:

  • Take a deep breath. Remember, you're in a vehicle because you have somewhere to go. Likewise, other drivers have the same goal.
  • Even if you are angry, exercise self-control and avoid obscene hand gestures and eye contact with a potential offender. It's a crazy world we live in, and you never know if someone has a gun in his car or decides to follow you home.
  • Distracted drivers can cause frustration and put others in danger, so pledge to not text or play with your smartphone while driving.
  • Don't hog the left lane. Move over and let faster traffic pass. Even if someone is speeding, it's not your job to stop him (unless you're a cop, in which case, carry on).
  • Conversely, don't tailgate others or drive like a you-know-what. The rules of the road apply equally to all of us.
  • Be courteous. If someone needs to get into your lane because his lane is ending or because he has a turn coming up, let him in. Think of it as paying it forward. Next time you need to make a lane change, hopefully someone else will be just as courteous.
  • Signal before changing lanes. It lets the other person know your intentions. And if another car happens to be in your blindspot, the signal will allow the other driver to react more quickly since he will know that you're trying to move over.
  • If you feel you are in danger, pull over and call 9-1-1 to report the incident, noting the location and make/model of the other vehicle, along with the license plate number if possible. During the call, ensure that your doors are locked and windows are closed.
  • To help you relax, turn on the radio or listen to an audiobook.
At the end of the day, we're all just trying to reach our destinations, and we have no choice but to share the roads. Let's strive to drive safely and courteously and avoid the dangers of road rage.

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