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Recently, I've been driving into NY City to do mediations for a large clothing manufacture on Madison Ave. I used to teach classes at the Learning Annex and some of my son's doctor's were in the city as well. However, it's been awhile and as incomprehensible as it may sound, NY has become even more congested than I remember. Along with additional vehicles, bikers, pedestrians, city workers and delivery trucks comes added frustration, impatience, anger, and rage. Whether in the heart of Manhattan, one of its suburbs, or major highways or bridges, our roadways have become even more dangerous to traverse than in prior years. Along with excessive speed and distracted drivers, aggressive driving has become the norm. We have all witnessed or personally experienced road rage and some have even engaged in it. Regardless of your level of involvement, road rage poses a serious threat to everyone and has proven to be deadly as well.
Stats: According to AutoAdvantage.com the cities with the most number of aggressive drivers are Miami, NY City, Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. Statistically young men are the most prone to road rage. A whopping 56% of men surveyed said they feel more rage on a daily basis verses only 44% of women and are more likely to act it out. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94% of all accidents are caused by driver error and of those accidents, 33% are linked to behaviors assigned to road rage. In the1990's AAA found that aggressive driving was linked to 218 deaths and shockingly that number has been rising by 7% each year. Half of all drivers subjected to another driver's anger admitted to retaliating. Tragically, injury or death can occur even after the incident on the road is over. Drivers have been known to continue their anger even after the initial incident has concluded.
Triggers: the most frequent triggers of anger behind the wheel are being cut off, driving slow in the left lane, tailgating, flashing lights, rude gestures, stop and go traffic, failure to signal, careless/reckless driving such as speeding, weaving or frequent land changes, and excessive use of horn.
Be aware that if these incidences trigger anger in you, they will do the same to others drivers should you engage in them. Remember to be courteous to others as you would want them to be to you.
Causes: As with all anger or rage (intense anger), there are many triggers but only three root causes: hurt, fear, or frustration. Many who become enraged feel disrespected by those who engage in rude driving. This is actually an indication of being hurt. To disrespect means to devalue - one feels as though they are less important (in the eyes of the offender) than others are. Very often they feel targeted and personalize the other driver's bad judgment. Keep in mind that their behaviors have nothing to do with you - behaviors are an expression of who the individual is and what their agenda is. Taking personal offense is the number one mistake people make that can convert any innocent incident into a more serious one.
Fear is another root cause of road rage: those drivers who cut us off or tailgate put us at risk for an accident and/or injury. Also, adults expect that those driving are mature and intelligent enough to know the rules of the road and obey them. When that is not forthcoming, people become frustrated that others haven't or won't learn responsible driving, are not capable, or that the system allows incompetent people to operate a motor vehicle.
Remember, too, that all emotions (anger and rage included) are not determined by the actual event but by how we choose to experience it (perception); what we say to ourselves about the situation; our thought process or internal voice. T~E~C~O Magic*: Thoughts, Emotion, Choice, Outcome. We choose our Thoughts which are the predecessors of our feelings or Emotions. Therefore, we choose how we feel about any given situation. Every Choice we make is determined by our Emotions: we act out what we feel. And every action (Choice) creates an Outcome or consequence. Therefore, in order to remain calm behind the wheel, one must continually monitor and choose their Thoughts. If someone is riding my bumper, I can say to myself, "This guy's a jerk!" and instantly trigger rage. My rage then compels me to slow down my car to agitate him at which point he swerves to get around me, putting others and myself in jeopardy.
Or, I can say to myself, "Maybe he's late for work and doesn't want to lose his job." In this instance, I'll feel understanding and my reaction will be a compassionate one: I'll move over to let him pass. Same incident but two drastically different outcomes, all determined by one thing only: my inner dialogue, or Thought process.
Tips if you're the driver: ~Monitor your thoughts at all times. Remember that positive dialogue creates positive feelings such as understanding, calm, patience, etc. ~Before you react, ask yourself, "If I say/do _____, then _____ may happen. Is that smart, safe, logical, productive? Can I, as well as those I impact, live with the consequences of my actions for the remainder of their lives?" If the answer is uncertain or no, then refrain from proceeding. ~Choose an affirmative alternative. ~Change your perception (thoughts) about the other driver and/or the situation. ~Don't personalize their behaviors. Remember, it's never about you. Your actions are about you; theirs are about them. ~Always assume the best; give them the benefit of the doubt. "Maybe they didn't see me when they cut in front of me." ~Choose compassion, understanding, patience and forgiveness over rage. Ask yourself, "How many times have I been guilty of this same offense?" ~Always be courteous. ~Express gratitude "Thank God I was paying attention and didn't hit him when he suddenly slammed on his brakes." ~Avoid routes that trigger anger, such as high volume traffic, construction, etc. ~Practice deep breathing and/or sipping water while driving to maintain a sense of calm. ~Listen to motivational tapes or soothing music. ~Put post-it notes on your dashboard to serve as reminders to be a safe driver. ~View every driver, even those who are careless, as your mother, father, brother, sister, child or someone you deeply care about. You'll be less inclined to disregard their safety.
Tips if you are the target: ~Don't engage. ~Don't make eye contact. ~Monitor your inner voice reminding yourself to keep calm and act responsibly. ~Remember your first priority is to keep yourself and your passengers safe (safety first). ~Remain focused on the road and driving safely. ~Take slow deep breaths. ~Recite a mantra or positive statement for focus. ~Do not return rude gestures. ~Do not stop your car, follow them, or cut them off. ~Do not roll down your window. ~Do not drive to or in a deserted area. ~Seek immediate help - dial 911 or drive to a well-lit/well-populated area, stay in your car and honk your horn to draw attention to yourself ~Drive to a police station or hospital for protection. ~Avoid! Avoid! Avoid! Immediately remove yourself from any potentially dangerous situation. Give angry drivers plenty of room. Let them pass if they want to. If someone cuts you off, slow down and let them. Do not speed up or obstruct their attempts. Never ever challenge them in any way shape or form. It could prove deadly.
R/D/C Method: Refuse, Diffuse, Choose
Refuse (to initiate or engage in dangerous driving); Diffuse (stop a bad situation from escalating using calming, responsible thoughts and actions); Choose safety over everything else. Make it your sole priority.
Final thoughts: Always choose safety first. Leave you ego locked in the trunk. This is neither the time nor place to become arrogant and self-righteous. As a responsible driver, we are all called upon to engage in safe, lawful driving habits, obey all laws, and extend courtesy to all those we encounter. It very well could be the deciding factor between life or death.
Remember: one bad choice can change your life forever! Smart actions save lives. DRIVE TO STAY ALIVE!
* TECO Magic, chapter 4 in The Secret Side of Anger
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