Angry driver is honking and is yelling by sitting of a steering wheel.

Take Your Foot Off the Gas

We’ve all been there. We are running late. We've got to get to our doctor's appointment, a work obligation, or an important meeting. We find ourselves behind another vehicle that seems to be deliberately moving at a snail's pace. We can feel our heart racing. We edge up behind their bumper just a little too close, trying to urge them to go faster. Our palms start to sweat. We imagine people waiting for us, tapping their feet, looking at their watches, and shaking their heads in disgust because we are so late for our appointment. And yet the driver in front of us continues to drive below the posted speed limit, and we can do nothing about it. I have found myself in this situation many, many times before. And in my own mind, whatever obligation that I am trying to get to is the most important responsibility out there. I allow myself to think that everything important in life hinges on my arriving to my destination a couple of minutes sooner. I'm not proud of it, but I've driven aggressively.

I’ve been thinking about aggressive driving lately. My son, Tripp, just turned 16 and has now started driving on his own. He drives slowly. That’s all there is to it. He drives at, or just below, the speed limit wherever he goes. And of course, as a father, I do not discourage this. I would much prefer him to drive below the speed limit than way above it. But occasionally, when I am riding in the passenger seat, I look into the side mirror and see a driver get on his bumper, aggressively tailgating him. It’s made me think of my own driving habits. It has given me occasion to consider who it is that may be driving in front of me when I find myself thinking that someone is driving too slowly. Is it someone’s grandmother? Or is it someone like my mother, who drives very carefully because the hustle and bustle that plays out on the roads can seem overwhelming?

Aggressive, road-rage type driving is a real problem. Of course, it occurs on a spectrum. It can range from tailgating someone a little too closely all the way to unpredictable, erratic, crazed driving which places other drivers at great risk of death or serious injury.

Road rage tends to occur with two or more participants. One driver gets overly aggressive, and another driver aggressively responds. This can escalate into an out of control, very dangerous situation. The NHTSA has reported on aggressive driving/road road-rage incidents. Deaths from aggressive driving increased by almost 500% between the years 2006 to 2015. Why there has been such an increase is a complex question. Have we simply become more rude as a society? Or is it a feature of more congested roads and highways? Or is it, more likely, a combination of a variety of factors? Whatever the reason, we know that we cannot control the actions of others. We can’t prevent another driver from acting overly aggressive or rude to us or other fellow drivers. But what we can control is our own behavior. I’m trying to realize that when I feel my heart racing or if I get frustrated with another driver, I need to take a deep breath and remember that getting to my destination in one piece is more important to me and those that love me than arriving a couple of minutes late. And let’s all remember that when someone drives rudely or aggressively, the worst thing we can do is to respond in like manner. That’s the way that tensions escalate into potentially deadly consequences. It's just not worth it. Let’s also remember that drivers on the road are our mothers, our grandmothers, and yes, maybe even young 16-year-olds learning how to drive defensively, who are trying their best to exercise the safe driving habits they have been taught. Stay safe out there!

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