Churchill magazine

How to stay calm behind the wheel

Updated on: 17 September 2020

road rage

There’s a pretty good chance you’ve either been on the receiving end of road rage or have been the one dishing it out. Sure, we all get frustrated from time to time, but are things you can do to better deal with the stress.

Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart head of driving and riding standards, said: “No one need experience road rage. But it is up to each of us to ensure it stays that way.”

With help from the IAM, here’s some advice to help us all be a little bit nicer on the roads.

If you’re the one with road rage

1. Allow plenty of time for your journey

Road rage is caused by anxiety, and one of the main triggers of this is being late for an appointment. Psychologists claim that an appointment is like a goal. We can see other drivers as trying to get in the way of us achieving that goal. Leaving plenty of time for your journey means you won’t see other cars as obstacles in your way.

2. Plan ahead

The IAM recommends forward planning because knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there removes uncertainty. This in turn can prevent drivers feeling tense and minimises the chances of them becoming aggressive.

3. Be forgiving

Have you ever made a mistake at the wheel of your car? Of course you have. So, cut other drivers a little slack. Their behaviour might be irritating, but are you going to change it or make the situation better by getting wound up? Probably not.

4. It’s nothing personal

That driver who’s doing 20mph in a 40 zone? Probably looking for an address. The other one who’s driving too close behind you? Maybe they’re late for a potentially life-changing meeting. Neither has anything against you personally.

5. Think ‘what if?’

How much do you know about the other driver? You don’t know why they’re behaving the way they are. Confrontation on your part could escalate a situation, so avoid shaking your head, gesticulating or shouting out of the window.

If you’re the victim of road rage

1. Don’t retaliate

If you find yourself being subjected to road rage, and another driver is being confrontational or aggressive, ignore them and don’t make eye contact or react in any way that they can see.

2. Let them go

If someone’s driving aggressively behind you, aching to get past, find a safe place to pull over and let them go. It’ll add seconds to your journey but may save you from being involved in an accident or having an unpleasant confrontation.

3. Recognise your failings

As we’ve established, we all make mistakes. But it’s easy for other road users to take it the wrong way. Acknowledge your mistake with a wave of the hand. There’s a very good chance it will pacify the other person and could prevent the situation escalating to a confrontation. “Sorry does help. If you were at fault, admit it and apologise,” said Richard Gladman from the IAM.

4. Is it you?

If you keep being subjected to road rage, it might be down to the way you drive. Perhaps you’re overly assertive. Or maybe you’ve fallen into some bad driving habits that wind others up, such as not indicating. Gladman said: “Road rage does not affect everyone every day. If you’re finding it’s happening often, you might want to think about how you engage with other road users, or take a refresher driving course.”

5. Calm down

If you’ve been in a situation with another driver, it will undoubtedly affect you. But if you get too wound up, your concentration levels will drop, putting you at greater risk of having an accident. “I was angry” isn’t going to get you out of trouble with the police or help you with a car insurance claim.

To help prevent stress levels rising, Gladman advises: “If you feel upset or emotional, pull over and get some fresh air, or walk around if you need to before resuming your journey.

“Alternatively, find some distraction, like listening to the radio. Move your mind deliberately onto something else and don’t dwell on the incident.”

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