Safe Driving Means Checking Your Bad Attitude at the Car Door

Nothing challenges a usually well-mannered, congenial person like getting behind the wheel. Angry, risky or unsafe driving habits cause one-third of all traffic fatalities. Statistically, you are either a victim or a perpetrator of bad behavior on the road every day. Weaving in and out of traffic to get ahead, tail gaiting, making angry gestures at other drivers, multi-tasking while driving, or taking out your frustration on other drivers when they’re in the same boat as you.

Sound familiar? It’s not surprising that we all see it every time we drive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in ten drivers are exhibiting this type of behavior every day on highways across America.

But, frankly, some of us are more prone to pushing the boundaries of driving behavior than others. If you relate to any of this, don’t feel too bad. It’s actually in our brain’s DNA. Dr. Arnold Nerenberg, a clinical psychologist, says there are four triggers that create a “fight or flight” response when we’re driving: Feeling endangered, being detained, watching others disregard the rules of the road, and feeling the need to retaliate. Though everyone relates to these triggers, many succumb to their lure and behave badly in certain driving situations.

The NHTSA claims that the best weapon to fight aggressive, angry, and unsafe driving is law enforcement, but this type of behavior seems to always happen when there’s not a cop in sight. It would ultimately be better if we could change our response and adjust our driving attitudes before we hit the road. Of course, old habits run deep, so this could be challenging. We suggest you open your mind, lay down your defenses, and see if any of these symptoms describe you.

Symptoms of Deadly Driving Behaviors

Violent Thoughts – “Why, I oughtta…”
It’s frightening to be in a close call with another driver and thoughts of revenge immediately seem to pop into our minds. But when you think of the countless times this happens, is it really worth your emotional energy to get that worked up?

Always in a Hurry – “Get out of my way!”
So much of our driving attitude is wrapped up in time management. If we have plenty of time, finding patience for traffic is a little easier. However, some of us just hit the speed every time we get in a car. Beyond the risk of getting a ticket, remember that increased speed reduces the time you have to avoid an accident.

Constantly Critical – “Idiot!”
Having a critical, judgmental attitude toward all drivers is a bad habit in and of itself. If you think poorly of everyone’s driving behavior, you could end up justifying all sorts of bad moves yourself. Following too closely, blocking intersections, making quick moves to get around slower drivers – just a few of the many things we justify when we think everyone else is driving poorly.

Power Struggle – “Nope, you’re not getting in front of me!”
Remember, this isn’t a race. Any advantage you get from a competitive situation on the road will mean little if it ends up in a major traffic incident. People will not drive the way you want them to no matter how much you believe they should, so why cause a scene that could end up ruining your day?

Obeying Only Some Laws – “That stop sign is useless!”
Being caught up in anger, aggression, or control can make you question the laws of the land. Whether you roll through a stop sign, cross a double yellow line or don’t yield to a merging car on the highway, your impatience with the rules puts you and others at risk.

Denial – “It’s not me, it’s them!”
It ain’t just a river in Egypt and it’s a common human mistake. Remember, it’s not always somebody else’s fault. Model good driving habits to others on the road and show that you don’t have to blame them or play their game. When you do make a mistake or unintentionally cut someone off, wave and apologize. Take responsibility for your own driving and you’ll feel better about yourself as a citizen of the highway.

Tips to Avoid Deadly Driving Behavior

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as, “when individuals commit a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” And there are plenty of other factors that result in bad driving habits on the road, so always check yourself for fatigue, bad moods, and your need to control your personal space. You may have grown up with an aggressive driver as a parent and know no other way. Or you see so much of this behavior on the road that you think it’s acceptable. Here are some tips we’ve come up with to at least give yourself a fighting chance to change this way of life if you can first accept that you need to change.

  • Play music that relaxes you.
  • Remember, you can’t change others, only yourself.
  • Think positively, even when other drivers are acting negatively.
  • Adopt an attitude of cooperation, tolerance and rationality.
  • Count to 20 when you get angry – or listen to the radio.
  • Talk yourself through the situation instead of reacting.
  • Use deep breathing techniques to regain your composure.
  • Model good behavior.
  • Consider that other drivers may have a reason for their bad actions.

Remember, the very act of allowing anger and aggression in your daily life can lead to health problems like headaches, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. So even if you never get into a car accident, learning to control your bad driving habits or simply your response to others is a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, it could end up saving your life.


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