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The Golden Rule of Driving

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Defensive Driving Online

How safe a driver are you? According to a recent AAA Traffic Foundation Survey, three out of four drivers say that they consider themselves safer drivers than others on the road, an interesting fact. If we were really all as safe as we think we are, then automobile accidents wouldn’t be one of the leading causes of death in the US. In the end, thinking that we are safe drivers, and safer drivers than the other drivers around us, can actually cause problems, particularly when this attitude escalates into aggressive driving or road rage. We’re all human, and no matter how hard we strive to be safe drivers, we’ll all make mistakes. Learning to handle mistakes, both ours and others, can help to ensure that little problems don’t escalate into bigger ones.

As I’ve emphasized before, staying calm and reducing stress while on the road will not only make your trip happier, but will also help to keep your safe. For most of us, driving seems like a pretty routine activity. However, we shouldn’t let familiarity lull us into a false sense of security. I was walking near a highway the other day and was amazed by the speed of the cars rushing past me: it was really terrifying!

Your emotional state can actually have a huge impact on your driving. Try remembering a time when you were really overwrought: terribly upset, perhaps after experiencing a significant disappointment or loss, or extremely happy. When I think back on times like these, my memories are always really “dim”, as though I’m watching things from far away. This is because intense emotional states actually reduce your ability to observe and focus on events around you. Driving in the grip of strong emotions can actually be worse than driving with a cell phone. Drivers experiencing strong emotions are less likely to react quickly to hazards, observe their surroundings clearly, and predict what other drivers will do; at the same time, these drivers are more likely to make risky or sudden maneuvers and to feel as though they are detached from other cars and drivers on the road, which can lead to reckless behavior.

While some people may see driving as a calming activity, it’s a good idea to cool down before you get behind the wheel. If you’re experiencing strong emotions, try to postpone driving, if it is possible to do so. At the very least, give yourself time for a few deep breaths, a short walk, or another kind of focus activity before getting in the car.

Once you’ve started driving, try to maintain an even keel emotionally. First, avoid situations that will stress you out. If you hate driving in traffic, do your best to alter your schedule so that you can avoid peak rush hour traffic or find detours to avoid the most congested spots. Next, be tolerant of other drivers. Don’t be an aggressive driver, and, if you do encounter aggressive drivers, try to get out of their way without provoking a confrontation.

According to one National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, aggressive driving contributed to 56% of fatal accidents between 2003 and 2007. This is a huge issue! Technically, aggressive driving is slightly different from road rage. Road rage is used to refer to incidents that result in criminal offenses; aggressive driving describes a range of unsafe driving practices. Drivers who bend or break the rules of the road and ignore common courtesy, for example, by speeding, tailgating, failing to signal, etc., are aggressive drivers.

As I mentioned at the beginning, most of us think of ourselves as safe drivers, not aggressive ones. However, we all have an inner aggressive driver waiting to be unleashed. For many of us, our cars are places where we would like to feel secure, in control, and free. I remember buying and driving my first car; after years of using substandard public transportation, it was a very liberating experience! While this independence and control can be great, we also need to be tolerant of those we share the road with.

A lot of “road rage” incidents actually begin with an instance of aggressive driving that then escalates. For example, one car cuts off another on an entrance ramp. The driver of the car who has been cut off takes this incidence as a personal slight, and decides to show his or her displeasure by tailgating the car that cut him or her off. If the first driver responds in a similarly emotional fashion, the incident can escalate into a serious confrontation.

Remember that it’s not up to you to enforce the rules of the road. While you may not like the way others drive at times, try to give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t respond to aggressive driving by becoming an aggressive driver yourself. Instead, take a zen attitude to dealing with other drivers. If someone is tailgating you, switch lanes and allow the other driver to pass. If you get cut off, take a deep breath and let it go. You’ll be happier, saner, and safer in the long run.
Also bear in mind that every driver is a potentially aggressive, emotional, and confrontational drive, and you never know what someone may do if provoked. Avoid behaviors that can annoy other drivers, even trivial ones, such as:
• Driving slowly in the left-hand or passing lanes
• Honking as soon as a light changes
• Cutting off other drivers
• Using high beams near other drivers
• Failing to signal
• Tailgating
• Displaying offensive signs or bumper stickers
• Making gestures that could be perceived as offensive, even if they aren’t directed at other drivers

If another driver does attempt to engage in a confrontation with you, ignore him or her. Don’t respond to any attempts to provoke you and try to move away from the aggressive driver as quickly as possible. If an angry driver starts to follow you, don’t go home. Instead, head for the nearest police station or other busy place where people will be able to help you.

Remember that fatal accidents and confrontations can begin with fairly silly confrontations. Don’t let this happen, be tolerant, calm, and in control. Extend to others the courtesies you hope they will extend to you, but don’t get upset if other drivers don’t always return the favor. The Golden Rule? Tolerate others’ mistakes, just as you hope others will tolerate yours.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

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