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Five Ways to Avoid Commute Road Rage

Five Ways to Avoid Commute Road Rage

It’s a frustrated commuter’s fantasy, right out of James Bond: After your rival in the fast lane cuts you off with six inches to spare, you respond by deploying the dual machine guns under your Aston Martin’s headlights, arriving at your private parking space in time to pull the hankie from your suit jacket and wipe the remnants of revenge from the hood ornament.   

The reality, of course, is much less romantic: Perhaps hundreds of times a year in the US, an insane escalation of drivers’ tempers leads to blows rendered by baseball bat, gun or, more mundanely, a bumper, with death as the result. Many incidents of such violence pop up during the daily commute.

“Commuters drive when the most cars are on the road,” says Timothy Dimoff, author of Life Rage. “People are trying to dodge each other, you’ve had a long day at work, you’ve already done 10,000 things. It’s a formula for people to break down.”

Some see road rage as a by-product of American competitiveness. “There is a mindless culture about getting ahead at all times, regardless of the circumstances,” says Phil Berardelli, author of The Driving Challenge: Dare to Be Safer and Happier on the Road.

Road Rage, Defined

Road rage is the most acute form of the larger phenomenon of aggressive driving, a factor in one-third of all collisions and two-thirds of resulting fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many of these accidents happen during rush hour, among commuters stressed out by the perceived need to get to the office or home sooner than traffic will permit.

The phenomenon of road rage is prone to misleading stereotypes. When you think of raging drivers, does the image of an irate woman out for blood come to mind? It should, because 25 percent of women say they’ve exhibited road rage, versus 21 percent of men, according to a survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance.

So how should you avoid road rage? Some advice gets downright silly. The American Institute for Public Safety’s RoadRagious quiz, for example, points out the inadvisability of “trying to run over someone whose actions angered you.” Other sources suggest calming audio activities for drivers, like listening to a guided imagery recording or learning a language -- both of which seem dangerously distracting for a driver dealing with demanding circumstances.

No matter what commuters do, road rage won’t go away. But if you keep the following common-sense attitudes and practices in mind, you stand a better chance of steering clear of the battle of the bumpers.

Watch Yourself

First, don’t assume careless or speeding drivers are out to get you. “With congestion, you’ve got a lot of people driving and doing things you think are intentional, but they have no idea they’re doing it,” says Dimoff.

Next, put yourself in the other driver’s seat. “Are you doing what you don’t like to see others do?” asks John Langan, principal of the private, not-for-profit Traffic Safety Institute.

Refuse to Engage

When another driver gives you dirty looks, ask yourself if you deserve them. “If you do something stupid, apologize immediately,” says Berardelli. “If somebody does something to you, look elsewhere; take your eyes off that vehicle and driver.”

As Langan puts it: “You can’t control other people, but you can control your reaction to them.”

Find Serenity

It may sound too old-fashioned or New Agey for your taste, but you can calm yourself by periodically taking a few slow, deep breaths, preferably before you enter a hostile engagement with a fellow driver. Stretch your shoulders and neck to relax; lighten your grip on the steering wheel.

Bliss Out

Tune out the shock jocks. Listen to relaxing music. Avoid nerve-rattling cellphone conversations with your boss, your rival for the corner office, an irate client -- and everyone else, for that matter. Screen your calls, and schedule difficult ones for a better time.

Get Educated

Finally, ask your employer to educate workers about road rage. “Some companies have asked me for educational information, guidelines or a brown-bag session for their workers,” says Dimoff.

Knowledge is key, because, as Langan says, “road rage is a battle of ignorance. You don’t want to prove you’re the most ignorant driver out there.”

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