Road Rage: Managing Anger Behind the Wheel

Reviewed May 5, 2016

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Summary

Drivers who experience road rage often have personal or professional issues that are causing them stress.

“I’m mild-mannered and even-tempered,” says Rita, a customer service representative. “That is, until I get behind the wheel. I honk, make rude gestures, flash my high beams, tailgate—I know I’m a hazard to myself and other motorists, but I just feel so out of control.”

People like Rita often blame traffic frustrations and the poor driving of other motorists for their angry outbursts called “road rage.” Such commuting realities, however, are seldom the real problem. Rather, drivers who lash out at other motorists tend to have high levels of stress, low impulse control or other characteristics that make them prone to road rage.

Although expressing anger assertively can be an appropriate way of coping with stress, aggressive behavior on the road often is against the law and can be life-threatening. Instead, learn ways to manage stress and appropriately channel pent up anger or frustration to make your commute more pleasant and safe.

Manage stress before you get behind the wheel

Because anger is an emotional response to stress, managing stress is an obvious way to reduce the likelihood of an angry blowup behind the wheel. Try to figure out what is really causing your anger—maybe your boss is hard to handle or perhaps marital problems are to blame. Once you identify the real stressors in your life, you can seek the support you need to start dealing with these problems.

Lifestyle choices such as eating right, exercising, finding time to relax and getting enough sleep are among the best methods for reducing overall stress. But you also can do a few small things to immediately improve your mood before getting behind the wheel. Few people experience road rage when they are in good spirits:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. If you are running late, your drive will be stressful from the start.
  • Check in with a co-worker or friend who makes you laugh. Smiling relaxes tense facial muscles and uplifts spirits.
  • Call your spouse, kids or someone else you love to tell them you’re on your way home.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Grab a snack if you’re hungry or a caffeinated beverage if you feel fatigued.
  • Take a short walk and stretch.
  • Change into comfortable clothing.

Keep your cool

Realistically, most drivers experience flared tempers now and then—most likely during peak travel times, particularly Friday afternoons, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Next time you find yourself going from simmer to boil, take these steps to lower your heart rate and calm yourself down:

  • Count backward.
  • Breathe in and out deeply.
  • Tense and relax your muscles.
  • Visualize a relaxing experience or someone or something that makes you happy.
  • Slowly repeat to yourself aloud a phrase such as “take it easy" or “stay calm.”
  • Try to replace irrational, angry thoughts with logical ones. Instead of saying, “This traffic is a nightmare—I’ll never make it to work,” try “Traffic is heavy and I’m frustrated, but getting angry won’t get me to work any faster.”

When the other driver is aggressive

  • Keep in mind that other people’s bad driving is not about you. So if a car rides your bumper or cuts you off, don’t take it personally. Slow down to let the car go around you and on its way.
  • Don’t try to get even. Doing so is not worth your life or someone else’s.
  • Consider taking the blame, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Look up, wave and mouth “I’m sorry.” Then, let it go.
  • Don’t stop to talk to a hostile driver.

Resources

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
www.aaafoundation.org

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
www.nhtsa.gov

Department of Motor Vehicles
www.dmv.org

Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship by Jeremy Packer. Duke University Press, 2008.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, www.aaafoundation.org; The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov; American Psychological Association, www.apa.org; Anger-Free: Ten Basic Steps to Managing Your Anger by W. Doyle Gentry, PhD. Quill, 1999; Since Strangling Isn’t An Option: Dealing with Difficult People—Common Problems and Common Solutions by Sandra A. Crowe, MA. Perigee, 1998; The Anger Workbook by Dr. Les Carter and Dr. Frank Minirth. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993; Arkowitz, Hal, and Lilienfeld, Scott O. (2009) "How to Fight Road Rage." Scientific American Mind.

Summary

Drivers who experience road rage often have personal or professional issues that are causing them stress.

“I’m mild-mannered and even-tempered,” says Rita, a customer service representative. “That is, until I get behind the wheel. I honk, make rude gestures, flash my high beams, tailgate—I know I’m a hazard to myself and other motorists, but I just feel so out of control.”

People like Rita often blame traffic frustrations and the poor driving of other motorists for their angry outbursts called “road rage.” Such commuting realities, however, are seldom the real problem. Rather, drivers who lash out at other motorists tend to have high levels of stress, low impulse control or other characteristics that make them prone to road rage.

Although expressing anger assertively can be an appropriate way of coping with stress, aggressive behavior on the road often is against the law and can be life-threatening. Instead, learn ways to manage stress and appropriately channel pent up anger or frustration to make your commute more pleasant and safe.

Manage stress before you get behind the wheel

Because anger is an emotional response to stress, managing stress is an obvious way to reduce the likelihood of an angry blowup behind the wheel. Try to figure out what is really causing your anger—maybe your boss is hard to handle or perhaps marital problems are to blame. Once you identify the real stressors in your life, you can seek the support you need to start dealing with these problems.

Lifestyle choices such as eating right, exercising, finding time to relax and getting enough sleep are among the best methods for reducing overall stress. But you also can do a few small things to immediately improve your mood before getting behind the wheel. Few people experience road rage when they are in good spirits:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. If you are running late, your drive will be stressful from the start.
  • Check in with a co-worker or friend who makes you laugh. Smiling relaxes tense facial muscles and uplifts spirits.
  • Call your spouse, kids or someone else you love to tell them you’re on your way home.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Grab a snack if you’re hungry or a caffeinated beverage if you feel fatigued.
  • Take a short walk and stretch.
  • Change into comfortable clothing.

Keep your cool

Realistically, most drivers experience flared tempers now and then—most likely during peak travel times, particularly Friday afternoons, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Next time you find yourself going from simmer to boil, take these steps to lower your heart rate and calm yourself down:

  • Count backward.
  • Breathe in and out deeply.
  • Tense and relax your muscles.
  • Visualize a relaxing experience or someone or something that makes you happy.
  • Slowly repeat to yourself aloud a phrase such as “take it easy" or “stay calm.”
  • Try to replace irrational, angry thoughts with logical ones. Instead of saying, “This traffic is a nightmare—I’ll never make it to work,” try “Traffic is heavy and I’m frustrated, but getting angry won’t get me to work any faster.”

When the other driver is aggressive

  • Keep in mind that other people’s bad driving is not about you. So if a car rides your bumper or cuts you off, don’t take it personally. Slow down to let the car go around you and on its way.
  • Don’t try to get even. Doing so is not worth your life or someone else’s.
  • Consider taking the blame, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Look up, wave and mouth “I’m sorry.” Then, let it go.
  • Don’t stop to talk to a hostile driver.

Resources

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
www.aaafoundation.org

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
www.nhtsa.gov

Department of Motor Vehicles
www.dmv.org

Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship by Jeremy Packer. Duke University Press, 2008.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, www.aaafoundation.org; The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov; American Psychological Association, www.apa.org; Anger-Free: Ten Basic Steps to Managing Your Anger by W. Doyle Gentry, PhD. Quill, 1999; Since Strangling Isn’t An Option: Dealing with Difficult People—Common Problems and Common Solutions by Sandra A. Crowe, MA. Perigee, 1998; The Anger Workbook by Dr. Les Carter and Dr. Frank Minirth. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993; Arkowitz, Hal, and Lilienfeld, Scott O. (2009) "How to Fight Road Rage." Scientific American Mind.

Summary

Drivers who experience road rage often have personal or professional issues that are causing them stress.

“I’m mild-mannered and even-tempered,” says Rita, a customer service representative. “That is, until I get behind the wheel. I honk, make rude gestures, flash my high beams, tailgate—I know I’m a hazard to myself and other motorists, but I just feel so out of control.”

People like Rita often blame traffic frustrations and the poor driving of other motorists for their angry outbursts called “road rage.” Such commuting realities, however, are seldom the real problem. Rather, drivers who lash out at other motorists tend to have high levels of stress, low impulse control or other characteristics that make them prone to road rage.

Although expressing anger assertively can be an appropriate way of coping with stress, aggressive behavior on the road often is against the law and can be life-threatening. Instead, learn ways to manage stress and appropriately channel pent up anger or frustration to make your commute more pleasant and safe.

Manage stress before you get behind the wheel

Because anger is an emotional response to stress, managing stress is an obvious way to reduce the likelihood of an angry blowup behind the wheel. Try to figure out what is really causing your anger—maybe your boss is hard to handle or perhaps marital problems are to blame. Once you identify the real stressors in your life, you can seek the support you need to start dealing with these problems.

Lifestyle choices such as eating right, exercising, finding time to relax and getting enough sleep are among the best methods for reducing overall stress. But you also can do a few small things to immediately improve your mood before getting behind the wheel. Few people experience road rage when they are in good spirits:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. If you are running late, your drive will be stressful from the start.
  • Check in with a co-worker or friend who makes you laugh. Smiling relaxes tense facial muscles and uplifts spirits.
  • Call your spouse, kids or someone else you love to tell them you’re on your way home.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Grab a snack if you’re hungry or a caffeinated beverage if you feel fatigued.
  • Take a short walk and stretch.
  • Change into comfortable clothing.

Keep your cool

Realistically, most drivers experience flared tempers now and then—most likely during peak travel times, particularly Friday afternoons, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Next time you find yourself going from simmer to boil, take these steps to lower your heart rate and calm yourself down:

  • Count backward.
  • Breathe in and out deeply.
  • Tense and relax your muscles.
  • Visualize a relaxing experience or someone or something that makes you happy.
  • Slowly repeat to yourself aloud a phrase such as “take it easy" or “stay calm.”
  • Try to replace irrational, angry thoughts with logical ones. Instead of saying, “This traffic is a nightmare—I’ll never make it to work,” try “Traffic is heavy and I’m frustrated, but getting angry won’t get me to work any faster.”

When the other driver is aggressive

  • Keep in mind that other people’s bad driving is not about you. So if a car rides your bumper or cuts you off, don’t take it personally. Slow down to let the car go around you and on its way.
  • Don’t try to get even. Doing so is not worth your life or someone else’s.
  • Consider taking the blame, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Look up, wave and mouth “I’m sorry.” Then, let it go.
  • Don’t stop to talk to a hostile driver.

Resources

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
www.aaafoundation.org

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
www.nhtsa.gov

Department of Motor Vehicles
www.dmv.org

Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship by Jeremy Packer. Duke University Press, 2008.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, www.aaafoundation.org; The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov; American Psychological Association, www.apa.org; Anger-Free: Ten Basic Steps to Managing Your Anger by W. Doyle Gentry, PhD. Quill, 1999; Since Strangling Isn’t An Option: Dealing with Difficult People—Common Problems and Common Solutions by Sandra A. Crowe, MA. Perigee, 1998; The Anger Workbook by Dr. Les Carter and Dr. Frank Minirth. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993; Arkowitz, Hal, and Lilienfeld, Scott O. (2009) "How to Fight Road Rage." Scientific American Mind.

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