Road rage is highly dangerous, causing people to drive erratically and increase their chances of being involved in an accident. Sometimes, road rage can even erupt in physical violence. In any case, road rage can lead to injury – or even death.
You can control your own road rage by using deep breathing exercises, focusing on the road in front of you, and listening to calming music. But what are you supposed to do if someone else on the road is dealing with road rage?
Understand the Patterns of Escalation
First, understand the role that escalation can play when dealing with road rage. It’s tempting to fight fire with fire and return with some road rage of your own; if someone is shouting at you through a rolled-down window, you might feel an urge to yell something back.
However, this is almost always a bad idea. Responding in any kind of aggressive way will likely add fuel to the proverbial fire, making the person even more angry and willing to retaliate. Most strategies for dealing with road rage are meant to remove you from the situation safely or deescalate the situation; if you escalate the situation in any way, you’re going to make matters worse.
In most cases, the absolute best thing you can do is distance yourself from the situation. If you’re far enough away from the person experiencing road rage, they can’t possibly harm you. For example, if someone is weaving in and out of lanes on the highway and you pull over to the side until they’re long gone, you’ll reduce your risk of being hurt in an accident involving that driver to zero.
Strategies here include pulling to the side of the road, slowing down to allow the other driver to pass, exiting the highway, pulling into a parking lot, or turning to follow a different street.
There’s one caveat here. If you’re stuck in a car with someone experiencing road rage, you may not be able to distance yourself at all. If that’s the case, you’ll need to utilize other strategies.
Respond to Your Negative Thoughts
You’ll likely experience negative thoughts in response to this road rage incident. You may think something to yourself like, “I can’t believe this idiot is doing this” or “I don’t deserve to deal with this right now.” Try to calmly respond to those negative thoughts with more positive self-talk, like “This is a difficult situation I can remove myself from” or “This will be over soon if I drive responsibly.” It will help you stay calm.
Try to Practice Empathy
It may be difficult when the person next to you is literally putting everyone on the road at risk of an accident but try to practice empathy. Road rage often arises when a person is already struggling with a lot of hardships in their life; they may have a sick family member, they may be lonely, or they may have a miserable job they can’t afford to leave. In these situations, all it takes is a small trigger to send someone into a blind rage.
Talk It Through Calmly and Non-Judgmentally (When Safe)
If you’re trapped in a car with someone, or if you witness a road rage incident spilling onto the side of the road, consider talking through the situation as calmly and non-judgmentally as possible. Say things like, “I understand why you’re upset. You have a right to be. Can we talk about it over here, where there isn’t any traffic?” rather than “You’re acting like a maniac! Calm down!” It’s a much better way to deescalate the situation.
Offer to Drive
If the person driving the car doesn’t want to pull over and isn’t responding to your conversational prompts, it may be a good idea to offer to drive – especially if you’re in a much calmer headspace. Encourage the driver to take a few moments in the passenger seat to think things through and process them.
Call the Police
If you’re witnessing an egregious or particularly dangerous case of road rage, such as someone intentionally trying to run another person off the road, it’s important to call the police. Getting involved in a matter like this yourself probably won’t deescalate the situation and will instead only make you a target of violence. It’s better to call the local authorities, report the details, and let them handle the rest.
Road rage can lead to death and destruction, but you don’t have to be a victim of it. If you see road rage beginning to unfold, whether it’s from another driver on the road or the person driving the car you’re in, you have the power to defuse the situation – or at least remove yourself from it.