Why is it that driving a vehicle on the road turns normally mild-mannered Dr Jekyls into aggressive Mr Hydes? In the US 66% of traffic fatalities are attributed to aggressive driving. But why does this metamorphosis come about once the ignition is switched on and when it does, how can we manage it?
The key to this is to understand why we react the way we do and coming to terms with some very basic facts about the human condition: Firstly, sixty-five per cent of our communication is via body language, the balance is the actual words used and there intonation. In any given social exchange, it allows us to evaluate another individuals state of mind (are they angry or apologetic, happy or sad?), and how best to react to them. Inside a car, on the road, this information is no longer available to us except for the most basic, close quarter hand gestures (that can be easily confused). When we perceive there is an issue with the actions of another road user, it is, therefore, nigh on impossible to predict the other persons (driver) intentions. This inability to understand is in itself a threat and we now have to decide on the response i.e. “fight or flight.” Secondly, we feel somewhat invincible in our tin castles, and therefore a little more confident in expressing our views of other drivers in the first instance whilst safe and secure inside our vehicle.
It’s is these two points that collude to create the aggressive feelings and reactions manifested on the roads today. How often have we perceived that the person cutting us up has planned the manoeuvre meticulously; targeting us specifically; lying in wait until the perfect opportunity presented itself for them to execute their devious and spiteful plan to swerve in front of us into our lane, without warning! Alternatively, they just made a mistake and realising this, are actually feeling contrite for causing you a problem. Of course, WE don’t know this. And whilst we may not all be guilty of such extreme conspiracy theories as suggested above, I’m sure we have all harboured the basic thought when encountering dubious driving actions that “they did that on purpose. To me.”
The solution to managing this is simple albeit challenging as it tends go against the grain of human nature but why not give it a try; simply take a deep breath, remember that you have probably made the odd driver error yourself and accept it’s nothing personal against you. Reactions like branding the person an “idiot” loudly to ourselves are permissible if it is required, but furious horn honking, or outright revenge by replicating the manoeuvre against the same person will only escalate the situation and could well lead to an accident.
So next time the driver behind you is flashing their lights sufficiently to promote an epileptic seizure. Take a deep breath, pull over and assume they have a medical emergency or were trying to notify you that your car is on fire or whatever… it doesn’t matter. You're going to arrive at your destination in one piece and remember, whoever has not done something stupid on the road......honk the first horn.