Fuse control

| February 01, 2006

You can stop road rage before it gets started by curbing your temper.

For American truckers, coping with potential road rage – in themselves and other drivers – is a part of the job.

“It’s not an everyday occurrence, but you’ll probably deal with it at least a couple times a month,” says owner-operator Jim Kennedy from Brooksville, Fla. It’s going to happen. How will you respond?

It helps to understand the basic principles of road rage. “The key element of civilized conduct is the skill of inhibiting the physical expression of anger or fear, so it doesn’t come out in provocative or violent behavior,” says road rage expert Dr. Leon James, professor of traffic psychology at the University of Hawaii. “This principle of non-aggressiveness has been thrown overboard by the culture of cynicism on highways.”

According to James, our national psychology can change from “normal” to power-mad, paranoid, fearful, hyper-aggressive and retaliatory when we get behind the wheel. Using self-righteous indignation and revenge, normal people can routinely escalate minor traffic mishaps into full-blown rage situations.

“Feelings, thoughts and perceptions are as much traffic and transportation issues as road conditions and traffic flow,” James says.

Driving is dangerous, often involving high speeds and heavy equipment. But according to James, it’s also a complex, demanding activity. All motorists make mistakes that scare and anger others, and that’s the crucial moment, because how those emotions are handled will lead either to peaceful coexistence or an enraged desire to get even.

James says the “emotionally intelligent” driver will understand traffic and human nature. He will expect mistakes or rude behavior, and he will drive accordingly: defensively, as if to protect himself. Drive cautiously, “and accommodate others’ movements,” James says. When other drivers do dumb or rude things, the “EI” driver naturally gets scared or angry, but he does not use these emotions as catalysts to revenge and rage. He avoids engaging in power struggles with other drivers, does not see errors or rudeness as provocation, and avoids challenges.

If he makes an error and upsets another driver, he remains calm, seeks to pacify hurt feelings, and uses his EI to actually defend and explain away the other driver’s actions. He retains self control: does not let his fear and anger run away or use them to “fan the flames of righteous indignation” and “resists the temptation to ‘teach the other driver a lesson.’”

“Use every opportunity to ‘come out swinging positive’ by appearing to be calm, like you’re no longer taking a fighting stance,” James says. “It takes the skills of switching to a non-confrontational posture and of rationally predicting the consequences of road rage.

“You need to train yourself to be able to back out of a fight by practicing ‘an attitude of latitude’ or forgiveness.”

Calm down, back down and slow down.

It sounds almost un-American; but that’s part of the problem because the alternatives are usually tragic.

Truckers deal with angry drivers on a regular basis. “There’ve been people who came up the on-ramp, and we weren’t able to pull over for them,” says Laura Rogers of Nashville, Ark. “They drove on the shoulder, and then they got behind us, and then they came around, cut in front of us and slammed on the brakes.”

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