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Don’t rise to the bait

Road rage occasionally makes the news when drivers really lose their temper but there are earlier stages of this potentially dangerous condition that many of us witness, or are even subject to ourselves, on a day to day basis. Some of us are prone to a form of road rage because we take other peoples’ actions far too personally when we’re driving, so it may be helpful to have a look at why we do this.

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So why do we take things so personally when we’re in our cars and why does it matter? Let’s tackle the second part of that question first. It matters because anything that takes our mind off the road can contribute to an on-road incident. When we allow ourselves to get angry with another road user, that person becomes the focus of our attention, which often clouds our ability to make good driving decisions and can increase the chance of being involved in collisions.
Take this typical scenario, which many of us might have witnessed first hand.
You’re on a motorway stuck in a traffic jam which extends well beyond an on-slip. A car drives down the slip road toward the traffic jam and you can almost see all the drivers in the vicinity saying “I’m not going to let him in…..I’m not going to give him an advantage.” Drivers can get quite belligerent about it, especially if they’ve been caught up in the jam for a while and tempers are wearing thin.
It’s as if those caught in the jam thought the joining driver had been following them for months, waiting for a chance to get one up on them and get further ahead in a traffic jam just to annoy them. The truth was of course much more mundane and far less threatening. Rather than being some strangely patient stalker, the other driver would have had little option but to drive the length of the slip road and join the traffic jam wherever he could. But many drivers don’t see it like that and gradually close the gap between their car and the one in front in a vain attempt to shut the newcomer out, which is of course when many typical motorway low speed rear end shunts occur.
So, back to the question of why we let other peoples’ actions affect us so badly. The first thing to note is that it isn’t the logical part of our brain that does the thinking when we are angry; it’s the more primitive areas. When someone cuts us up on a motorway we don’t think “Well that was rude” and carry on driving. Instead we react emotionally. Even if we don’t decide to hunt them down and remonstrate with them, there are a few seconds after the incident where our focus is not on the road in general or the traffic around us but on the person who cut us up.
There is even a sporting analogy to consider. How many times have you seen a football team score right after something unusual or distracting happens? The temptation is to allow our attention to become focussed on the wrong thing. Sports psychologists are only too aware of it. They know that when a team scores, the resulting euphoria causes their focus and attention to drop for just long enough to allow the opposition to score one back almost immediately.
The same is true on the road. If you allow your concentration to drop, so that you get caught out when others around you drive badly, you’re increasing the likelihood of being caught up in an incident for that short period. In short, you’re allowing your emotions to control your vehicle, rather than the logical part of your mind. You’re also allowing the other person affect how you drive. If you’re involved in an incident on the road, and then drive differently from the way you had originally intended, you’re effectively allowing that other driver to control your actions.
I would suggest that it’s far better to accept, from the moment you get behind the wheel, that you may come across others who won’t show you the courtesy you think you deserve. At that point it’s also crucial to accept that you can do nothing to influence their actions. Instead, it’s far better to drive as you had originally intended and be in total control of your actions; after all, that is the only way to win on the road. Remember that moments of anger and inattention pass relatively quickly if you don’t allow the feelings to take control. Also it’s vital to be aware that it’s those moments when you are most vulnerable to becoming involved in an incident.

Driving Risk Management Ltd

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