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Best way to handle aggressive drivers? Model better behavior

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Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:38 am, Fri Oct 3, 2014.

(BPT) - Aggressive drivers speed, drive too fast or carelessly, change lanes without warning, cut off other vehicles, tailgate and pass in ways that endanger others. Aggressive driving likely causes “a substantial number” of the 6.8 million crashes that occur every year on American highways, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. Everyone is aware of aggressive drivers, but you may be surprised to learn how many people think that other drivers are the only offenders; the truth is that most drivers should take a closer look in the mirror – aggressive drivers may be closer than they appear.

Eighty-five percent of motorists describe other drivers’ behind-the-wheel behavior as aggressive, yet only 36 percent admit their own driving is aggressive, according to a survey by Safeco Insurance. Despite that discrepancy, the survey also revealed wide-spread agreement on two important points: 82 percent said they experience negative feelings because of how other people drive, and 72 percent said they would welcome the chance to improve the driving experience for everyone and make at least one change to their own behavior.

Recognizing the need to reduce aggressive driving, Safeco launched a “Drive it Forward Fridays” movement. Drivers can visit www.safeco.com/diff, or use the hashtag #DIFF, to pledge to be more courteous drivers, and to share how they’re making positive changes to their driving habits.

The survey also identified behaviors that, if stopped, would make driving more pleasant for everyone. This includes cutting off other drivers (59 percent), using high beams toward oncoming traffic (57 percent) and tailgating (56 percent).

“People’s emotions and anxieties often will play out on our roads and highways, putting us all in tense, high-stress driving conditions that can be dangerous,” says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and author of the book “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.” Alpert has also written about road rage. “Changing aggressive driving habits is not only good for society, but it's good for your mental health. Simple positive acts can have a huge impact on how you feel by activating the reward center in the brain - meaning it really can make you feel good.”  

Alpert offers some tips to help drivers begin curbing aggressive road behaviors:

* Aggressive drivers cut off other motorists, tailgate, have unnecessary and excessive use the horn, speed and change lanes rapidly. If these behaviors describe your driving habits, resolve to make a change for the better.

* Model good driving behavior by being friendly and courteous on the road. Your good behavior can inspire others to be courteous as well. Give up a parking spot, and when it’s safe to do so, allow other drivers to move into your lane.

* Accept that some undesirable road conditions, such as heavy traffic, slow drivers or excessively fast ones are a normal and unavoidable reality of driving. If you normalize these irritations, you’re less likely to be frustrated by them.

* Don’t take it personally. A driver who cut you off was likely just being thoughtless, and didn’t intend to anger or endanger you. Consider other explanations; perhaps the driver is traveling to an emergency or simply didn’t see you.

In addition to improving your own behaviors and encouraging others to do so, too, avoid antagonizing aggressive drivers. NHTSA recommends you do your best to get out of the way of aggressive drivers and don’t encourage them by speeding up or attempting to block them. Avoid eye contact and ignore rude gestures – in short, don’t encourage bad driving behavior by behaving badly yourself.

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