Let me start by saying: I’m not proud of what I’m about to tell you. But I’m hoping it’ll help keep you safe this holiday season, and beyond. So here goes.First, the story that prompted the post, and further down, some suggestions on how to handle your own road irritation/rage:
I’m driving to work this morning, running a little behind. I’m a staunch believer that the passing lane is for passing; if you’re not going faster than the car to your right, then get behind him. But not everyone agrees, so I’m stuck behind a driver who’s not passing, and will not heed my polite flashing-of-the-headlights request for him to move over and let me pass. I’m getting increasingly peeved, and finally, I decide I need to pass him on the right, even though I don’t have quite as much room to do this as I’d like, given the BMW in the right lane. So I do a rapid acceleration and get over.
Well, the BMW driver chases me down and drives along next to me, with his teen son in the passenger seat, screaming at me. He clearly feels I cut him off. I’m thinking, Maybe I did cut him off, but what a road-raging idiot, to behave that way in front of his son.
It stays with me for a few miles, and then the shame creeps in. I HAD cut him off, endangering him and his son. My daughter wasn’t in the car, but I took an unnecessary risk with my own life because I didn’t like being stuck behind a slow driver. In effect, I gave in to my own road rage, making a potentially deadly maneuver. And if the BMW driver hadn’t hovered next to me, I wouldn’t even have realized it.
What I mean is, I wouldn’t have seen the role my own initial road rage played. Road rage isn’t always an external venting toward another driver. Sometimes it can be the slow build of our own frustrations. It can be the result of stress and not leaving enough time and self-righteousness about the passing lane, among other factors. And that can lead to poor impulse control and poor decisionmaking. Which can lead to collisions–harming ourselves, harming others. What if I had collided with the BMW and killed that man’s son? What if I’d killed the man, right in front of his son? What if I’d killed myself, leaving my daughter motherless?
I’m writing this because I feel the best way to deal with shame is to do something. Change your own actions. Try to change the actions of others. In this case, that means sharing my shameful behavior in order to make a point. During the holiday season, people are often prone to stress, short tempers, and a feeling that there’s not enough time. Yet we need to remain responsible for our actions, all the time, perhaps especially behind the wheel when we’re at our most deadly.
Some suggestions for controlling road rage:
Leave considerably more time than you think you need.
Take deep breaths. Remind yourself that a few minutes late never killed anyone, whereas reckless driving does.
Focus on your own behavior, not on other people’s.
Before you take an action, think whether you’d do the same behavior with a newborn in the car. If you wouldn’t, because you wouldn’t take a chance with a young life, why would you take a chance with your life, and the lives of people in the surrounding cars?
Finally, I want to apologize to the BMW driver and his son. The odds of them reading this are a million to one, but I owe him an apology anyway. And a thank you, because he made me give a lot more consideration to the choices I make on the road and the ones I’ll make in the future. Who knows, maybe he’s saved my life.
Road rage image available from Shutterstock.