Early last month, a commercial pilot appeared in the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court after an alleged road rage incident that claimed the life of another motorist. He was travelling with two children (aged 10 and 14 years) in the car when he allegedly shot and killed the other driver. The other driver apparently gestured for him to pull over, confronted him in an aggressive manner and tried to grab the accused’s firearm from his hand.
“We live in times where people are more stressed and rushed and, consequently, more susceptible to anger and rage. Road rage is a recognised psychological phenomenon,” says Elmarie Twilley, spokesperson for Afrikaans insurance company, Virseker. “Some people suffer from ‘Intermittent Explosive Disorder’ or ‘IED’, which makes them more likely to have physically violent outbursts as a result of triggers they experience whilst on the road, but we should all be conscious of our emotional reactions while behind the wheel.”
If you’ve ever cursed at another driver, hooted excessively, tailgated a slow driver or tapped your brakes in front of a speedy follower, you have also exhibited some mild road rage-related behaviour. “Road rage is not just bad for your blood pressure,” Twilley goes on to say, “you’re more likely to make riskier, more aggressive driving decisions while angry. It’s a road safety hazard.”
Isabel Clarke, a well-known Clinical Psychologist from the UK who specialises in anger management, offers the following short-, and longer term, advice for dealing with anger in general:
- Recognise your anger signs – If you notice signs like breathing more quickly or your heart beating faster, get out of the situation if you have a history of losing control.
- Count to 10 – Counting to 10 helps you to cool down, think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.
- Breathe slowly – You automatically breathe in more than out when you’re feeling angry, and the trick is to breathe out more than in in order to calm down and think clearly.
- Exercise – It helps to get rid of anger and irritation.
- Look after yourself – Make time to relax regularly, and ensure that you get enough sleep. Drugs and alcohol can make anger problems worse.
- Get creative – Writing, making music, dancing, painting and other creative outlets can release tension and help reduce feelings of anger.
- Talk about how you feel – Discussing your feelings with a friend can be useful, and can help you get a different perspective on the situation.
- Look at the way you think – Thoughts such as “It’s not fair,” or “People like that shouldn’t be on the roads” can make anger worse because it keeps you focused on whatever it is that’s making you angry. Let these thoughts go and it will be easier to calm down.
In addition to the above tips, Twilley recommends that drivers plan their time and routes carefully to avoid frustration, avoid driving when they are angry or exhausted, use public transportation where they can and listen to soothing music when they drive.
And if you feel that you are being targeted by an aggressive driver on the road, she suggests doing the following:
- Ignore verbal abuse and rude gestures. Do not engage with the aggressor.
- Keep your doors locked and your windows rolled up.
- If you are being followed, go straight to the nearest police station or any other public place that you can get help.
She also says that, if anger persists – perhaps due to underlying problems such as unresolved issues of the past, relationship problems, inability to express your emotions, stress, depression and others – it may be best to consult an expert.
Finally, Twilley encourages South African drivers to ensure that their insurance companies offer emergency medical and roadside assist, and that the relevant emergency contact numbers are saved onto their cellphones. “If you make an effort to drive calmly and defensively, and you know in the back of your mind you’re prepared for the worst, it can alleviate a lot of stress before you even start your car.”