You’re running late for work, the freeway is jammed with traffic and the person in the next lane just cut you off. Like many folks, your natural inclination might be to curse at them (because they can obviously hear you) or use an inappropriate gesture (because that will teach them a lesson). While seemingly harmless, these knee-jerk reactions are a microcosm of a much larger issue that affects our safety on a daily basis—road rage.
While road rage is unsafe for a number of obvious reasons, let’s take a closer look at the psychology behind this common occurrence and the underlying issues that contribute to it.
- Anger – A mild amount of anger behind the wheel is common and understandable at times. It’s only when your anger leads to destructive choices that it becomes a problem. I would encourage you to examine the source of your anger. Perhaps it stems from stress at work, a broken relationship or a hurtful experience. Whatever the cause, it’s important to seek help and learn how to control angry emotions. If you’re angry behind the wheel, try these tips instead:
- Practice deep breathing. Deep, slow, heavy breathing calms the body and the mind.
- Lower your expectations and assume the best in people. This one applies to your behavior off the road as well. Remember, people make mistakes, so practice grace.
- Remember your loved ones. Road rage affects everyone around you, including your family. If necessary, tape a picture of your kids on the dashboard and think about them when you feel the urge to drive recklessly.
- Practice courtesy. A little kindness goes a long way. Allow the person in the next lane to get over, use your horn less, and smile and wave from time to time.
- Control Issues – In addition to anger, folks who struggle with control issues are prone to road rage. Although it may be easy to think that you can manipulate or control other drivers, you can’t. The only person you are responsible for on the road is yourself. Try to remember that the freeway is a shared space and that the lane you’re driving in does not belong to you alone.
- Egocentric Mentality – If you’re prone to egocentrism or narcissistic pride, check yourself before operating a vehicle. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your car is bigger, faster or more expensive than everyone else’s. It still moves you from point A to point B, just like your fellow motorists. If you compete with other drivers, exert dominance on the road and struggle to share your space, try to remember that it’s not all about you. Other lives are at stake and the people around you are just as busy as you are. Everyone has places to go and people to see.
- Anonymity – The same anonymity that allows people to hide behind emails, message boards and chat rooms can also lead to poor behavior behind the wheel of an automobile. You may not know the person in the next lane, but that doesn’t make it okay to behave badly. Next time, forget about judging and apply the Golden Rule instead.
As summer approaches and traffic increases, remember to drive calmly and extend courtesy to other drivers. It will do wonders for your mental state.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.