Two men brawling in a Chesapeake, Va., intersection because a van blocked a car’s passage. A woman beating up another in Virginia Beach because she thought her victim didn’t accelerate quickly enough when a light turned green. What’s with all the road rage?
According to a 2014 AAA study, 3.7 percent of respondents said they had gotten out of their vehicles to confront another driver, and 2.8 percent admitted to purposely ramming or bumping another vehicle. A whopping 78 percent of the 2,705 drivers surveyed admitted to at least one aggressive driving behavior in the prior year, mostly yelling, honking and/or tailgating.
Without having to take the proverbial chill pill, here are a few ways to calm your commute.
The simplest way to stay calmer is to give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Leave 10 minutes earlier than necessary and you’ll be more patient with your fellow motorists.
Unclutter Your Car
“Just as your office desk or house reflects your inner state of mind, clutter in the cramped confines of your little Honda will subconsciously poke at you on the road,” advises Joseph Rose, former commuting columnist for The Oregonian. He suggests a quick end-of-the-day pick up of any gas receipts or food debris, and a monthly dusting of the console and cleaning of the inside of the windshield.
Smells also affect your mood. Wipe down your dash with an aromatherapy wipe or add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a soft cleaning cloth for a more natural and sophisticated version of hanging a tree from your rear-view mirror.
Music Soothes the Savage Beast
Listening to your favorite music will calm you down, right? Not according to the findings of a study conducted at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. The study, which involved 85 teen drivers, concluded that they made more errors when listening to their chosen playlists, which tended to feature fast-paced rock, hip hop and pop songs.
“Drivers in general are not aware that as they get drawn in by a song, they move from an extra-personal space involving driving tasks, to a more personal space of active music listening,” explains Warren Brodsky, BGU’s director of music science research.
Instead, try turning the music off during more stressful commutes, or at least decreasing the volume. Avoid talk radio shows that get you worked up. Seek out songs with 60-80 beats per minute, the same tempo of a human’s resting heart rate.
Quit the Clenching
“Mindfulness” is an overused word these days, but it’s useful here as the opposite of the distracted-driving epidemic.
To practice mindful driving, pause when you get into your car. Take a couple of deep breaths and prepare for driving. Turn off your phone’s ringer. As you turn on the ignition, leave the music off. Listen to the sounds of your car. Notice feelings in your body. Are you clenching your jaw or gripping the wheel? Try to relax these tense areas. Notice your speed. Try driving at or slightly below the limit. Visit the slow lane for a change. Experience what it feels like to not be in a hurry. Scan your mirrors and keep an eye on the traffic around you. Stay focused on your bodily sensations and the sights and sounds of your surroundings, even at stoplights.
Despite your efforts to be the epitome of a calm, mindful commuter, another driver might still get ticked off. As Rose says, “Most road rage accidents tend to happen after small or imagined slights from other motorists on the road. We tend to become fairly insular inside our vehicles, developing a ‘me vs. the world’ mentality.”
You might never know what provoked another driver’s aggression, but suddenly she’s flipping you off and tailgating. Rose suggests acting like your kids are in the backseat, even if they aren’t. Resist the urge to slow down, potentially causing further provocation.
“Don’t engage,” Rose says. “Turn the other cheek. Pull over if you need to. That angry chick in the Oldsmobile will get over it and just keep going.”