Trying to Make Sense out of a Senseless Act

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A friend of mine recently had a personal encounter with a new trend called, "road rage, "a fast growing safety hazard.  One morning, driving on the interstate on her way to work, she noticed an 18-wheeler picking up speed and coming on to her from behind.  She desperately wanted to get into the right lane but being the peak hour, she just couldn't change lanes. Consequently, she was pushed off the road on to the Highway divider.  As she was trying to regain the control of her car, she saw rage in the face of the 18-wheeler driver, screaming, and shouting obscenities at her.  She had no idea what she had done to cause such rage and hate in this man to the point that he couldn't care less what happened to her.      

 As she is putting her life back together and coping with a brain concussion, whiplash, medical bills, and loss of workdays, she still can't make sense of this senseless act.  It is difficult to reconcile with this "accident" that need not have happened.  Furthermore, faces and voices of hate haunt a victim for a long time.  It takes a lot of effort to banish them from one's mind.  Luckily, my friend is not a victim, she is a survivor.  She will be fine.  

 Enraged drivers are highly accident-prone and have the potential of taking the life of another driver on the road.  Some carry a gun right on the front seat.  Road rage and aggressive driving, jointly, are more dangerous than drunk driving.  Aggressive driving is the show-off, risk taking, power seeking driving that manifests itself in the form of speeding, tailgating, weaving through the traffic, and ignoring red lights and stop signs.  Road rage involves plain hostile actions such as, shouting obscenities at a passing car, forcing another driver off the road, intentionally bumping against the other car or, in some cases, even shooting at another car.  

      People who are short-tempered stay angry all the way while driving, entertaining thoughts such as, "People are stupid," "These morons have no sense or right to be on the road, "When will this turtle get out of my way,"  "Stupid traffic light always turns red on me," etc.  Their fuse is on the slow burn anyway, a little more frustration or provocation can cause them to explode.  These are likely to be type "A" individuals with high hostility who can benefit from anger management.         

  Some people take it personally.  They consider their car as part of their body and the road they are driving on as their "turf."  Unwittingly, they assume the driving zone as their personal space and territory.  People who are very territorial are  quick to exhibit territorial aggression.  They may fly off the handle when somebody cuts in front of them,  slows down and blocks their way,  or doesn't move over immediately to allow them the passage.  Above stated behaviors are seen by them as an encroachment of their territory and invasion of their personal space.  Someone unintentionally causing a scratch on their car is likely to enrage them as if they've been attacked personally.    

 Objectively evaluate your own driving behavior.  Psychological studies of driving behavior tell us that people tend not to notice their own mistakes and magnify those of others.  According to these studies, we all considers ourselves safer drivers than an "average driver."  Hostile drivers see every other driver as "nuts behind the wheel."  Try not to blame others.  Be cautious about your own driving.  Go easy on others.  

 Frustration leads to aggression.  A driver who has a low frustration tolerance is easily frustrated by being late and getting stuck in traffic.  Such a driver is likely to act out angrily and impulsively.  Low frustration is the result of the attitude, "I want what I want and when I want it."  Recognize the wisdom of Murphy's law, "Everything that can go wrong will." Add to it, Sharma's law, "I don't control the universe, they do.  Let them."  So just relax, take a deep breath and let go.  

 After driving 25 long years, one day, it dawned on me that other drivers are not "intentionally doing it to me."  The truth is that they are lost in their own thoughts, looking forward to or, dreading the place they're going to.  I will be the last thing on their mind.  I just need to be alert and watchful, look at the scenery, look for something or someone to smile at, and protect my sanity.  

 When upset about something, we tend to pick up our car keys and drive away.  Instead, walk or run a mile and drive when you've cooled down.  

 No need to get crazy trying to reach the destination.  Fun doesn't have to begin only when you get there, you can also have fun while getting there.              

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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