Anger: Road Rage

Angry driving

We were driving in sub-urban traffic towards Bournemouth. It was just over two miles from the town centre and the traffic wasn’t heavy but was continuous.

But the big off-road vehicle wasn’t going to wait in the queue. In the rear-view mirror I’d noticed it dangerously using gaps in the oncoming traffic to leapfrog the queue. And now it again overtook a few cars, including mine, and forced itself into the lane I was in, about 6 or 8 vehicles ahead. At the next roundabout it did the same. And at the next. After that I lost sight of it.

I was too engrossed in conversation to pay much attention and only recognised what it had been doing when chatting about it later.

‘Road Rage’: a loser’s game

Yes, it was bad driving. Yes, it was inconsiderate. Yes, the driver was likely provoking lots of people with his inconsiderate behaviour. Yes, something should be done about drivers like that. And so on.

But no, I wasn’t getting into a relationship with the driver – there are too many such drivers and nothing will change them all or teach them a lesson or stop them behaving like they do.

I don’t like the term ‘road rage’ because it almost gives status to what is really ‘angry drivers’.  To the point where if someone is not able to control their anger it’s not just socially unacceptable, it’s a personal weakness.

But if I ‘suffer from road rage’ that’s different. Now, because it’s featured so much in the media, it has recognisability, respectability and is almost something to boast about in the pub.  So, because it has recognisability, I’ll use the term in this article.

The mechanics of road rage

Let’s look at the mechanics of what occurs.

Stage 1

Someone cuts in in front of us. Or suddenly changes lane without indicating. Or tailgates. Or drives too fast. Or drives too slowly. So we get angry with them. Not with their car, that’s just an inanimate object. Not even with them personally (at least in the beginning) because they’re still total strangers; we haven’t yet formed a relationship with them.

We get angry with their attitude toward us.  Or, to be more exact, what we decide their behaviour indicates about what they think of us.  We are angry with the Attached Meaning we give their behaviour… They don’t like me. They do not show me consideration. They feel superior towards me (they have a bigger, faster, more expensive, newer, etc. vehicle). How dare they be so careless as to endanger my life!  And so on. Our list of possible interpretations of their behaviour is endless.

Stage 2

Now that we have magically determined, not just their thoughts and emotions, but their actual intentions it’s time we begin to have a relationship with them.

This may begin with imagined mental or out-loud conversations with them. Then try to get a look at them. Here it works a treat if we can find evidence to support our prejudices.

“There! See! Another b****** man/woman/black/white/brown/young/elderly driver!”

Now, righteousness rules!  We have a double reason for getting angry with them. They’re the wrong sex or age or colour or race or shape. AND they have decided to personally insult or endanger us.

Stage 3

By now the red mist is descending. It’s time to show them a thing or two! We hammer on the horn and, to further engage them we display appropriate facial expressions and gestures. And, as our feelings escalate, we match their driving style, drive too fast or too close and, in general, make complete fools of ourselves!

You’ve lost

Guess what? When you are involved in so-called road-rage you may be physically in the driving seat – but the other person is driving your emotions.

You’re now a victim of their behaviour. And for a period of time they are managing your adrenaline levels, your heart rate, your mental stability and peace of mind. In some cases this can last for hours – even to the point of it keeping people awake at night while they re-run how they could have got even with the other b******.

Sad, isn’t it.

A fact or two

Let’s face it. You cannot win them all. You cannot teach the millions of other drivers to drive properly (do you drive properly, all of the time?) You cannot change the emotions of other people. And you are quite powerless to do anything about the driving style of other people.

Yep. You are powerless! This may stick in the throat a bit. But it’s the reality. So either stop using the roads or start developing a better strategy for responding to how some idiots drive – and there are a lot of really poor drivers about, no question about it.

The alternatives

Consider the alternatives to taking charge of your anger responses while driving:

You end up in court on an assault charge

You get beaten up, or worse, when you take on a driver who is bigger than you

You damage your car

You damage their car and have to pay the damages

You endanger your passengers

You endanger yourself

You endanger other, quite uninvolved, road users

You destroy your own peace of mind

You allow someone else to influence your mood.

(This is not a complete list – see how many you can add…)

3 tips for responding on the road

Goal: Select your goal. How do you want each trip to be? How do you want to be driving. How long do you estimate your journey will take? How will you respond to traffic delays? How will you respond to idiotic drivers? How do you want your emotions to be during this trip? Create a complete scenario for how you want the trip to be. Then determine to stick to your outcome and not be deflected by the behaviour of others.

Downside: Remind yourself of the potential down-sides of getting hooked into an ‘anger loop’ by another road user.

It’s not personal! Remind yourself of the fact that idiotic drivers are probably quite unaware of you. It’s not personal – it’s pretty likely they drive like that all the time!

Not a long list – nor a complete one. Just something to get you started. So how about using this 3-step strategy for a week as a trial…

So what about the impatient driver?

What about that inconsiderate driver who was heading for Bournemouth? The one who was dangerously leap-frogging the traffic queue?

Well, we arrived in central Bournemouth 5 or 6 minutes later, having driven at the almost sedate pace of the traffic, having been delayed at a number of junctions, having maintained a safe distance from the vehicle in front, and having enjoyed good conversation.

At the final roundabout before entering town the vehicle in front of the car in front of me was… yes, the same off road vehicle.

He’d gained nothing by his behaviour other than, perhaps, a feeling of superiority.

And he probably needed lots of that.


Originally published 21 May 2001 in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter

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