| Driving
an upset driver honks the horn with both hands

If you’ve gotten angry behind the wheel, you’re not alone. In fact, in a 2019 survey, 82% of U.S. drivers told The Zebra that they’d experienced road rage or driven aggressively at least once in the last year. While we can’t control traffic or how other drivers behave, we can control how we react to what we encounter on the road and prepare for potentially frustrating scenarios in advance. We’ll explain what road rage is, what causes it, and how to prevent road rage so you can find your zen while you’re stuck in traffic.

What is road rage?

In the 1990s, people began to use the term aggressive driving to describe dangerous driving behavior, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Their definition of aggressive driving is “the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.” Aggressive driving behaviors might include:

  • Following too closely
  • Speeding
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Disregarding stops signs and red lights
  • Cutting someone off

When a driver displays outright angry or violent behavior, aggressive driving becomes road rage. The NHTSA says road rage is used to describe acts on the extreme side of aggressive driving behavior. Examples of road rage include:

  • Making profane gestures or screaming angrily
  • Physical confrontation after reaching a destination
  • Running a vehicle off the road
  • Deliberately ramming or sideswiping another vehicle

Causes of Road Rage & Aggressive Driving

Ana Jovanovic, a psychotherapist, told NBC News that underlying stress and emotion are often the real cause of road rage:

“The initial turn [in our mood] usually has nothing to do with the traffic,” says Jovanovic. “We can be feeling upset over something that happened at work, or with a friend or a partner. The ‘turn’ we make is allowing angry thoughts to occupy our minds [such that it] infiltrates into the very thing we are doing at that moment, even if that thing — such as driving — has nothing to do with the reason for our anger.”

But what driving behaviors can set someone off or push them over the edge? Here are some actions, real or perceived, that might anger someone in another car and cause them to drive recklessly or violently, according to the Police Department of Springfield, Missouri.

  • Driving too slowly
  • Following too closely
  • Cutting someone off
  • Being rude behind the wheel (stealing the right of way, making unkind gestures, etc.)
  • Pedestrians or bicyclists being “in the way”

Adjust your driving habits if necessary.

To avoid angering others (or getting angry yourself) while on the road, take some precautions and steer clear of these driving behaviors.

  • Don’t yell or make obscene gestures.
  • Always signal when changing lanes and use your horn sparingly.
  • Don’t drive too closely to other drivers.
  • Don’t compete on the road.
  • Don’t take other drivers’ actions personally.

How to Stay Safe from Angry Drivers

If you’re in the presence of someone who is driving aggressively, you want to remain cool and collected to prevent setting them off. Even if it’s tempting to retaliate, try to be patient and follow these tips.

  • Don’t react to another driver’s aggression and avoid eye contact.
  • Don’t be tempted to fight — stay calm.
  • Lock your doors in the event you are confronted.
  • Go to the nearest police station if you are being followed or feel threatened. If you’re worried someone is a danger to drivers on the road, call the police.
  • Leave enough room between yourself and the aggressive driver. Don’t follow too closely. Move over if they’re attempting to pass.

How to Prevent Road Rage: 8 Practical Steps

If you or someone you know identifies with the signs of road rage, rest assured there are ways to control road rage and prevent road rage attacks. We’ve discussed driving behaviors to avoid, but here are eight actions you can take to help keep your mind at ease.

1. Just Breathe

Deep breathing is a helpful way to alleviate tension in any situation, and it certainly comes in handy if you want to prevent road rage. Instead of stressing out the next time someone tailgates you, cuts you off, or lays on their horn, focus on your breath and the road ahead. Pay attention to your breath as you fill up your lungs, and as you exhale.

2. Curate a driving soundtrack.

Research suggests that music can affect your mood, heart rate, and blood pressure while driving. Researchers put participants in a simulated traffic jam, which caused cardiovascular activity to spike. Cardiovascular activity increased even more among those listening to aggressive music or no music at all. However, participants who listened to soothing music experienced reduced cardiovascular activity.

If you find yourself routinely wound up while driving, try listening to a relaxing playlist, audiobook, or podcast. It can provide a safe level of distraction from the frustration of your commute. Just try not to listen to any deep relaxation or meditation recordings — you’re trying to stay calm, not fall asleep behind the wheel!

3. Carpool.

Splitting the driving responsibilities with your spouse, neighbor, or coworker is a great way to prevent road rage. You’ll stress less, produce fewer carbon emissions, and save money on gas. You may even be able to bypass traffic if your commute includes an HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane for carpoolers like you.

4. Be proactive.

Traffic is unpredictable, but you probably know how much time it generally takes you to get to work. Be proactive and see what else you can do to prevent traffic from being such a constant issue in your day-to-day.

  • Budget a little extra time into your commute. If you do encounter a bumper-to-bumper backup, construction, or other delays, you’ll still be able to get to and from work in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Experiment with leaving at different times or taking alternate routes. You may find that leaving your home just 15 minutes earlier or later makes a huge difference.
  • Explore other ways to get to work. If the thought of sitting in stop-and-go traffic stresses you out, you might prefer taking side roads where traffic moves more steadily — even if it means going a few minutes out of your way.
  • Anticipate delays, especially during inclement weather. Traffic is always worse when it rains, so budget a little more travel time if you can.

5. Adjust your work hours.

Ask your boss if you can work from home one or two days a week or if you could come in earlier and leave earlier to avoid peak traffic times. Or, if you could avoid the worst traffic by leaving an hour earlier, but your work hours aren’t flexible, why not use that hour to work out or take a walk in your neighborhood before heading in?

6. Get your stretch on.

Sometimes a good stretch is just what you need. Car yoga is a great way to find peace and tranquility on the road, as long as you’re not actively driving. One simple yet satisfying stretch you can do while you’re at a complete stop is a hand stretch. Reach your arms over the steering wheel and flex your hands, spreading your fingers. Hold for a few seconds, then stretch your wrists. Then, work through each of your fingers, bending them backward and forward to release tension. Don’t forget to breathe.

7. Remember that you’re in control.

Why let another driver whom you don’t know and will likely never see again affect your mood? No matter how frustrating another driver’s actions may be, only you are responsible for how you react.

That said, if you do something that makes you feel like you’re not in control or another driver does something that makes you feel unsafe, pull over to a safe place to collect yourself. Safety is paramount, and being stressed out could affect your driving.

8. Change your perspective.

What purpose does anger serve while you’re gridlocked? Soaring into a fit of road rage isn’t going to help you reach your destination any faster. Have you ever heard the saying that it’s not about what happens to you, but how you react to it? Instead of working yourself into a frenzy, assess your perspective. What can you change about your attitude to dial back the stress?

Don’t stress over driving — or your insurance!

Traffic isn’t worth your worry, and neither is wondering whether you have the right car insurance. To get a free quote, call 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732), click, or come into a Direct location near you.

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