12 Tips to Defuse Road Rage in Yourself and Others

Someone once told me, "Jeff, you cannot help how others feel about something, but you can help how YOU feel about something." Wise words. And mostly true. My control over others' feelings is rather limited, and I have much more control over how I respond or react when things don't go my way.  But how I respond or react can escalate or defuse things.  And I definitely want to defuse things.

When I'm in a hurry and I'm driving on a two-lane country road (lots of them out where I live) and someone is casually poking along without a care in the world ... I am tempted to get angry.  Or if I'm driving on the freeway to work and someone is driving in the left lane ... slowly. Aaarrrrrgh. I can see why road rage is a real thing.

Or how about this one: I'm just driving to the store, in town, obeying all the traffic laws, being courteous, and someone blazes past me — just about runs me off the road! — and gives me "the finger" while they are passing me. Ever had that happen? I have. What's the best way to handle this? Here are a few tips I have found helpful to avoid exploding on other people, and to prevent people from exploding on me:

1. Pray, Meditate, Listen.

I am a pastor, and honestly some of my best prayer times are in my truck while I'm driving to an appointment. Yes, I am focusing on the road, but if you see me driving and notice my lips are moving, it's usually because I'm praying. It helps keep me calm and relaxed.

Other people enjoy using some kind of meditative discipline (like breathing deeply or chanting the words to a poem or song). I like to sing a hymn or listen to a great piece of music (classical music is wonderful, but I also listen to the Allman Brothers, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Elvis!).

Whatever keeps you calm and joyful and peaceful, use it.

2. Be a courteous driver.

Please don't stay in the left lane if you are going to drive the speed limit. The left lane is a passing lane. Use it to pass. But if you are going to poke along, stay in the right lane! That will save you and others lots of aggravation.

Be careful when changing lanes ... use your signal, use your mirrors, and then physically turn and take a quick glance at that area that is a blind spot. More than once I have had people not paying attention try to move over on me, all because they did not see me in that lane!

Just try to be aware of the cars around you, especially the ones behind you. Do you notice that you are holding up traffic with a huge line of cars behind you? Let them get around you.

3. Practice sympathy.

You really don't know what other people are going through. I remember once some lady just pulled out right in front of me and didn't even look to see if I was coming. I almost hit her! Well, I was thinking she must be a very rude person.

Then I recognized her car ... I knew who it was. And I knew her story. I knew she was going through some very rough times, and she was probably terribly distraught. Remember how you felt when someone told you horrible news that day? You and I probably don't drive so well when we are thinking about bad news. Try to practice sympathy.

4. Be careful about advertising.

I love to read bumper stickers (when I'm walking through a parking lot, not when I'm driving!). Some are pretty funny. However, some really irk me. And I can tell they are intended to do so. And you know that there are people who do not have a very good sense of humor, are highly sensitive, and are volatile. So, think before you put that provocative sticker on your car.

5. Bless, do not curse.

So, some people are just going to be real jerks. Yes, I am tempted to explode and give them a piece of my mind. I decided a long time ago to bless, and not to curse. It helps my peace of mind. When the terrible driver does something really stupid or rude, I just say "Bless you," give them a friendly wave, and then pray for them. If they are being dangerous and putting lives at stake, I call the police immediately. I give the dispatcher as many details as possible and pray that they catch him/her as quickly as possible.

6. Be careful about the phone.

Yes, I know I just said I would use the phone. But really we need to limit our phone use to just quick calls, if at all possible. I can't tell you how many slow, discourteous, oblivious drivers I have had to pass who were yacking away on the phone — completely oblivious that they were going 50 mph in a 65 mph zone with seven or eight cars behind them!

If being on the phone causes us to do this, then we really seriously need to limit our phone use. Or we might just make the wrong person very angry at the wrong time.

But let's say you and I do all this, and act like the nicest person in the world, and some insane lunatic (to us) pulls up alongside us and starts screaming invectives at us. Or worse yet, he actually gets out of his car and starts approaching you with maybe a baseball bat. Here is an awful video about a road rage incident which resulted in a fatality:

So what should we do? I've actually been in a potentially violent situation. I was driving home from work just dog-tired. I had to stop at the store for some reason, and I pulled my truck in front of another truck and just barely tapped his front bumper. Man, the guy and his girlfriend came outta that truck like they were going to kill me. The man slammed his fist down on the hood of my car threatening all sorts of violence.

I don't want to fight anyone. I don't want anyone to get hurt. I rolled my window down just a bit so they could hear me and immediately starting apologizing. I admitted it was entirely my fault (it was!) and offered to pay for any damages. I said, "Let's call the police and make a report, and I will tell the police it is my fault and I will pay for whatever damages there are." Well, that calmed them down immediately. They were still mad, but said that that was not necessary, and they got in their truck and drove off. Whew!

So, here are a few tips if they are coming at you:

7. Stay inside.

Don't get out of the car. Just don't. Unless you are a kung fu master and are heavily armed, you are really bucking for trouble. Your car is the safest place to be. Drive off without hurting anyone if at all possible.

8. Keep the windows rolled up.

I only rolled down my window just enough so they could hear me. They could not reach in and grab me.

9. Keep your distance.

If you are in traffic, don't pull up next to someone at a stop light if you are having problems with them. Keep several feet back. When parking, make sure there is plenty of space between you and all other cars.

10. Don't look at them.

Don't look the other drivers in the eye if they are pulled up next to you. Some people will see that as a challenge. But do casually glance over and see if they are about to become violent. Use your peripheral vision.

11. Watch the language.

Do NOT use abusive language or vulgar gestures. I know it may be tempting for some of us, but all that does is escalate the problem. Let that parking space go. Let their rude behavior go. You want to get home safely tonight, right? Then swallow your pride, focus on the things that really matter (like your family or friends that are waiting for you), and just get home.

12. Call the police.

If something starts to get out of hand, drive away if at all possible, and call the police as quickly as you can. They are the ones trained to handle dangerous people on the highways, so calmly give them all the details you can and let them handle it.

Here is a good video that goes over these ideas and gives a few more:

Happy driving!