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(Whether It's Your Own Or Someone Else's Anger)

by Dave Decker M.A., L.P.

Almost all drivers get angry and frustrated at times, but aggressivve driving and road rage go well beyond the normal and natural feeling of anger. However, it isn't just "kooks," "crazies," and criminals who have the potential to become road ragers. The best way to cope with road rage is to avoid being an angry, hostile, and vengeful driver yourself.

Unfortunately, few people actually see themselves as part of the problem, thus everyone else opn the road becomes "an idiot" if they are doing things that a person doesn't like. An important part of changing the ever-increasing atmosphere of anger, fear and intimidation that ixists on today's roadways is to take a close look at yourself and how you react in driving situations.


Look at the following scenarios. All of them have the potential to lead to aggressive driving or a road rage incident where someone may be hurt or killed.

  • Have there been times when you started muttering or cursing under your breath, saying things like:
    "Keep pedaling, lady" or
    "That light's not going to get any greener, yo-yo"
  • Have you ever sped up to block someone's lane change, slowed down in the left lane to frustrate a driver who is tailgating you, abruptly changed lanes without using your turn signal, or followed another driver too closely when you wanted to pass?
  • Have you ever yelled or cursed at other drivers, made obscene gestures to communicate your distress, or moved your car toward another vehicle to intimidate or punish someone for something they have done?
  • Do you feel entitled to "special treatment" when you drive because of who youare, how important you think you are, the job you have how much money you make, or for any otehr reason, which means that others should "clear a path and get out of the way" so as not to interfere with where you aer going?


  1. Tune into your own emotional state both before and as you enter your car to drive. Stop and ask yourself:
    • "Am I feeling tense right now?"
    • "Have I had a difficult or stressful day?"
    • "Am I worried, anxious or frustrated about something else going on in my life?"
    • "Am I running late and feeling pressured about getting somewhere on time or having too many things to do?"
  2. Start to become more aware of the driving situations and the types of drivers that trigger anger in you. Add these cues and triggers to an excalation prevention plan for the times when you are in the car.
  3. Slow down (your car's speed, your heart rate and physical self, and your mind)
    • Leave earlier and give yourself more time to get places
    • Learn to relax when you're driving, especially when you're feeling fearful, tense or angry and actively use relaxation and stress reduction strategies in the car:
      -Take deep breaths
      -Count to 10 (or 100)
      -Listen to calming music
      -Listen to a book on tape
      -Avoid talk radio
      -Talk to and emotionally connect with your passengers
    • Focus on actually enjoying your time in the car vs. worrying and raging
  4. Don't take other drivers' behavior and traffic problems as a challenge or a personal affront
    • Don't personalize other drivers' behaviors
    • Don't respond to others' provocative behavior with offensive behavior of your own
      -Don't glare, stare or even look at other drivers
      -Looking at someone in a driving situation is often perceived as a "challenge" by them
      -Once eye contact is made, you and the other person are "engaged" with one another and , potentially, "off you go"
    • Don't become reactive and retaliate
      -You'll never be able to teach the other driver a "lesson" or correct the other mororist's bad driving habits
    • Let go to the idea that you should be able to control people and situations when you're driving
      -The only person you can truly control is yourself
    • Realize that other drivers may be trying to "get a rise out of you:"
      -Don't give them the satisfaction and become their "puppet" or put yourself or your family in danger
      -You know absolutely nothing about the other drivers (even though you may think you do):
      -They might be drunk or on drugs
      -They might be angry about a fight they just had with a spouse
      -They might be carrying a gun
  5. Re-think your attitude about driving
    • Actively question your unrealistic and destructive attitudes and expectations of yourself and others
    • Intervene in any entitled attitudes about who you believe yourself to be:
      -"I am a better driver than other people"
      -"I should have things the way I want them to be whenever I'm driving"
      -"I'm too important / wealthy / successful to have to go by the rules that other motorists have to follow"
    • Drive by the "golden rule:"
      -Treat other drivers as you would want to be treated
    • Allow for the idea that others may make mistakes around you
      -Think about the mistakes you've made in the car - everyone has!
    • Actively look for ways to actually enjoy yourself in the car
      -e.g. connecting with other passengers, listening to books on tape, tuning your radio to enjoyable music
    • Stop viewing other drivers as "the enemy"
      -Make driving a cooperative rather than a competitive endeavor
  6. Notice what you're saying to yourself
    • Your thoughts and self-talk are powerful and demonstrate your attitude toward yourself and others. They can either:
      -Create more anger and escalate you further or
      -Help you look at driving situations wiht a more positive perspective and actually calm yourself down
    • When you start muttering negative comments to yourself, you are escalating!
      -"Move it or park it, grandpa!"
      -"What's the matter with that jerk?"
      -"Nobody gets away with doing that to me!"
    • Look for alternative explanations about what's happening around you
      -Rather than assuming the worst, start assuming that there might actually be a valid reason for the other driver's actions, even if they don't make much sense to you
      -At a minimum, start assuming that they're not out to get you personally
      -Maybe the person who cut in front of you: a)couldn't see you in their mirrors, b)is tired from a long and stressful day at work
      -Maybe that speeder or tailgater is: a)trying to get home to handle a crisis, b)rushing to the hospital to be with a friend or relative
    • Don't put yourself down for actually handling your frustration and desire for vengeance effectively
      -Taking care of yourself and your loved ones by not over-reacting to other drivers doesn't mean you're a "wimp," a "loser" or a "doormat"
  7. Be aware that you are continually making choices
    • Think about your choice points - these are the times when you can disengage and break out of your own escalation and the power struggle with the other driver
      -You are never really "out of control" although you may feel "out of control" at times. For example, when someone approaches you fast from behind when you are in the left lane:
      -Do you tap or pump your brakes?
      -Do you slow down?
      -Do you look at them as they drive by?
      -Do you speed up to stay even with them as they go by?
      -Do you pull close behind and tailgate them as soon as they are past you?
      -Do you flash them with your bright lights?
      ...all of these are clear choices!
  8. Think about the potential consequences of explosive anger on the highways:
    • The physical "wear and tear" on your body
    • Property damage / an increase in your insurance premiums if you get into an accident / time and energy spent trying to resolve the claim
    • Being arrested, time and money once you are involved with the legal system, and time in jail
    • Taking home the stress and anger from driving so that it affects your time and relationships with the people you love
    • The example you are setting for your children about how to drive
      -Ask yourself, "What am I teaching my children about driving, anger and respect for other people?"
    • The fear you create in others who are in the car with you
      -Ask yourself: "How does or could my explosive reaction affect the passengers in my car?"
    • Injury or death to you, your family members or others
      -Ask yourself: "Is this situation in the car worth losing my life or the lives of my partner and children?"
  9. Don't stop and don't drive to your home if you are being harassed by someone in another car
    • Pulling over to the side of the road to "talk" has the potential to lead to an explosive verbal or physical altercation
    • Don't let an angry driver know where you live
    • Drive to a public place if you are being followed
      -Police or fire station
      -Service station
      -Convenience store
  10. If you carry a cell phone, report aggressive driving to the police, whether it affects you or others on the highway
    • Seeing you make a call might discourage an unwanted confrontation
    • Stay away from and don't try to intervene yourself with aggressive drivers who are harassing others but do call and report this behavior to the police if at all possible
  11. If you think you might have an anger problem in the car, ask others about it and listen to what they have to say to you
    • Use other people as a "reality test:"
      -Listen to and notice their feedback, both verbal and non-verbal, when they are in the car with you
    • Get some help with your anger if you need it!
  12. Pay attention as you drive: "expect the unexpected"
    • A vehicle is a potentially lethal weapon in your hands or anyone else's
    • Think about potentially problematic situations beforehand to come up with effective solutions if they actually occur
  13. Some specific and practical driving tips related to anger in the car
    • Remember that some drivers think you're doing things to personally antagonize them ...even when you're not!
    • Remember that some drivers often make a personality assessment of you with just the information they get by seeing the way you look and the car you drive or the information you have on the vehicle
      -Be aware that bumber stickers, personalized auto licenses and other displays may be offensive to other drivers and provoke a confrontation
    • Don't tailgate
    • Don't tap your brakes to try to slow someone down or get them to back off from your bumper
    • Don't flash your bright lights at others
    • Don't change lanes abruptly
    • Use your turn signals before you make a move
    • Don't block the passing lane even if you're going at or above the speed limit
    • Don't make obscene or threatening gestures
    • Use your horn sparingly and very carefully
      -i.e. your "polite honk" can be easily misinterpreted
    • Don't let your cell phone, eating, reading or make-up become a distraction that interferes with your concentration or your driving
    • Don't carry an object or weapon "for protection"
      -e.g. A baseball bat, golf club, a knife
    • Wave in a friendly way to express gratitude for others' politive driving behaviors

© 1990 David J. Decker, MA, LP
Phone: 612-725-8402 or 651-646-4325 -





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