I used to love driving. My car was an old powder-blue Mini panelvan and relished the idea of beating the car next to me at the lights as soon as they turned green – even if it was only for a split-second at the pull-off. I also loved taking sharp corners – well, I still do, but I’m afraid I seem to be losing my joy of driving. Driving has become scary because the drivers have become scary. As drivers, we’re allowing all our pent-up anger and stress to come out on the roads, and road rage is deadly.

In the last few days, I’ve been tailgated, cut-off and almost smashed into, leaving me tempted to ditch the car and walk, although that can also be quite hazardous.

I was born in South Africa and this is where I learnt to drive. I have also lived in the UK and Dubai and in my view; South African drivers are some of the most aggressive, while those in Dubai tend to be frustratingly impatient and dangerous, while British drivers tend to be some of the most courteous and calm. I recently returned to the UK after being out of the country for a number of years however and the one big difference I noticed was the driving. Although still mostly polite and courteous, there is sadly a growing level of rage on the roads.

Prevention is better than a cure

Why does it appear that our deep-seated stress and anger comes out so easily when we’re driving, how can I be more calm when driving and what can I do when I’m faced with road rage?

    • Stress globally has increased dramatically in recent years and many of us don’t effectively manage this increased stress. If I don’t have a healthy outlet for that stress, the car (which is a relatively anonymous place) becomes a space where I can vent my frustrations.
    • Take action. Instead of regretting the consequences of a bout of road rage, manage your stress by scheduling time for exercise, a hobby, relaxation with friends or family or doing something that makes you laugh out loud. Become aware of the negative impact of stress on your health, your relationships, your job and your driving and then take action – be proactive and do something to help you de-stress.

Reaching boiling point

No matter how you try sometimes even the most even-tempered person gets angry.  Here are some things to remember when confronted by road rage:

    • Recognise your rising anger.  Angry or vengeful thoughts, muscle tension, headaches or an elevated heart rate are some of the indicators of rising anger.
    • Take time to calm down.  If you’re able to get off the road safely and stop for a few minutes, do it. Collect your thoughts and calm yourself down, before returning to the road. If you’re unable to leave the road, try to calm down inside the car. Driving while angry puts you, your passengers and other road users at risk. Take deep breaths and count until you can feel yourself calming down.
    • Listen to calming music.
    • Resist the urge to retaliate. If someone does something to upset you on the roads, your initial reaction may be to blast your horn, flash your lights, scream or swear at them and maybe even use a rude gesture. It may initially make you feel smug, but it will also aggravate the other driver, and could lead to an explosive situation on the road.
    • Keep your distance. You may be tempted to drive right up to the person who’s just pushed in front of you but this is dangerous and could cause an accident.
    • Take the high road. Getting angry and losing your cool on the roads is just not worth it. Let it go and get to your destination safely.
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