Bad driving by others seem to be able get the hairs to rise on the backs of even the most calm, measured people in society. And somehow being enclosed in our little metal boxes with wheels seems to make us think that there’s no harm in shouting out all sorts of obscenities at those around us who don’t drive the way we think they should. I can also, rather embarrassingly, acknowledge the fact that I myself have said some rather out of character things when someone drives a bit to close behind me, or cuts me off, not to mention the even worse scenarios where I’ve spitefully slowed down more or accelerated when that ‘idiot behind me’ has been swaying side to side behind my car bumper to try and overtake.
So let’s take an honest look at the effects of getting so angry behind the wheel. Sure, people drive irresponsibly and it puts us on edge to think that someone else’s actions are putting us at risk, but how do you really feel after you’ve said your bit or done your spiteful manoeuvre? Do you feel any better for it? My guess is that it leaves you with an increased heart rate, tightness in your shoulders and a sour taste on your mouth that puts you in a foul mood, likely for the rest of your journey if not the rest of your day.
Did your actions actually genuinely persuade that person to change their behaviour? I doubt it, if anything your bit of hand signalling, shouting or spiteful driving has upped that other person’s adrenaline and fueled their already rushed state of mind making them more likely to take it out on the next driver they try to get past. But mostly that other driver doesn’t even notice, nor care that you’re almost bursting that vein on your forehead and raising your blood pressure as you’re telling them how stupidly they are driving.
So why do we do we get so angry?
Generally speaking it’s a defensive reaction… we feel that the other driver is somehow insulting our driving skills. Because he/she is driving so close behind us we feel that they must think we are not driving fast enough or that they are undermining our sensible driving skills.
Most of us are also guilty of getting that ‘how can they drive like an idiot, I know better’ judgemental voice in our head that makes us feel that we should let that person know that they are driving bad in the hope that it will teach them a lesson.
In both of these cases, it’s simply not true… It’s not a personal thing, that other driver doesn’t have a care or thought about who you are, what gender, age, race you are… they would be doing the very same thing if it was someone different driving your car. And secondly, no matter how loud you shout or what signal you show them, it wont change their behaviour.
Is it worth it?
Well I think we’ve just established that it’s definitely not worth getting your blood pressure up because of another person’s driving habits. That anger and resentment you start o feel affects you much worse than it does the other person in the car. The Roman philosopher Seneca said that “Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it”.
How to stop yourself from getting angry?
The best way to keep your calm is to practice ‘mindful driving’. Being fully aware of driving, rather than drive on autopilot and allowing your mind to wander will allow you to spot aggressive drivers sooner and move out of their way, it will prevent your from being taken by surprise and will allow you to put things into perspective before you react.
But even if you get caught off guard, take just a second to think about it before you slam your hand down on your steering wheel and spew out what you think. Use that moment to ask yourself if this really matters? We’ve already established that you can’t change the other driver’s way of thinking or driving by shouting at them, so you aren’t doing anyone a favour by shouting or swearing, least of all yourself. I like to use the phrase’ Oh well, it’s not the end of the world’. So, the person behind me is in a rush, or the girl on her mobile phone has just cut me off, ‘It’s not the end of the world’ I’m still on the road and if I just keep concentrating on what I’m doing on the road I’m being safer for everyone. If someone is trying to get past you, pull over and remind yourself that it really doesn’t matter. If you pull over (safely that is, remember to indicate) to let them pass, they can happily move on, you’ll be happier because you don’t have another car almost touching your bumper as you drive along and everyone can get on with their day.
Don’t let your anger control you, you DO have a choice, we always have a choice. In that second before your raise your voice you have a choice to make, so make the better choice, choose not to get wound up, choose to focus on your own driving and drop the judgements that spring to mind. I promise you that you will feel happier everyday, and what a great lesson to transfer to other areas of your life. See your car as your yoga mat on the move, a great place to practice awareness.