October 10, 2015 11:43:18 PM
You know the feeling. It's rush hour and you're sitting in the parking lot that the main highway in town has become, or waiting at the world's longest red light. There are cars everywhere. None of them are moving, someone is honking their horn obnoxiously and another driver with their car window down has their radio tuned to your least favorite country music station and you finally. Just. Snap.
Everyone has gotten frustrated and infuriated while driving, but road rage, which specifically involves aggressive and sometimes violent behavior toward other drivers, can be dangerous.
It manifests itself as tailgating, honking the car horn, yelling or making obscene gestures at other drivers and sometimes, in situations that really get out of hand, physical violence.
Almost everyone experiences road rage at some point or other, but some people experience chronic road rage, according to Dr. Mallory Malkin, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Mississippi University for Women.
"Road rage is an exaggerated aggressive behavior (from) somebody perceiving that they've been slighted while driving," Malkin said.
It happens when a driver takes another driver's actions on the road personally. And while it has been linked to intermittent explosive disorder, which occurs in individuals who disproportionately lose their tempers over trivial irritants, road rage can also occur in people who are normally relaxed and polite, Malkin said.
It occurs often when a driver has already had a hard time. Following a hectic day at work, someone driving may yell at another driver who pulled out in front of them, Malkin said, because if they had gone off on their boss earlier at work like the wanted to, they would have gotten fired. So instead that stress and anger manifests itself as road rage.
"The person that cut you off or didn't use their turn signal doesn't know you and didn't do it (to you) personally," Malkin said. "But when you can't have that catharsis in your daily life of dealing with all your stress, you're going to personalize everything."
Don't get pulled in
It's hard to know for sure how common road rage is, according to Master Sgt. Criss Turnipseed of the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Officers in Mississippi don't write tickets for road rage, and it doesn't come up in accident reports. Still, Turnipseed knows it's common. He says it happens any time a driver lets emotions like anger and impatience affect his or her driving.
"It's a state of mind," he said.
Turnipseed does presentations on safe driving for schools and other organizations. In his presentations, he talks about things that can impair people's driving. Alcohol and drugs are obvious examples, but sometimes people are surprised when he tells them emotions can also impair driving. And road rage doesn't have to escalate into violence to be dangerous for the driver, he said.
"I'm not actually going to pull over on the side of the road and get in a fight," he said. "But when you get mad, it does impair your driving. It changes the way you drive."
Raymond Hackler, public information officer with the Columbus Police Department, says that road rage can lead to accidents on the road as well as physical violence. That's why it's best to not engage anyone who gets angry, he said.
"As a driver, don't be pulled into that other person's behavior," he said.
If another driver is tailgating you, just move over, he said. Don't make eye contact and don't blow the horn. Just let them be angry.
"You never know who you're driving around," Hackler said.
And if another driver actually starts to be a threat, like banging on someone else's car window or approaching another driver in a parking lot, that's when it's time to call the police to de-escalate the situation, Malkin said.
"If somebody's not trained to de-escalate them, their apologies and things like that may just aggravate the person more," she said. "By accident, they might make the situation worse rather than better."
Turnipseed thinks aggressive drivers are a cause of road rage in others.
"It's just self-involved people," he said. "They've got to be somewhere and that sets people off, too. That makes other drivers mad."
So what are good drivers to do when that inconsiderate person cuts them off in traffic and they feel like their head is going to explode?
Turnipseed suggested doing whatever it is that normally calms them down, like listening to music or counting to 10.
"Whatever works when you're not driving that helps you remove your anger should help you in the car when you're driving," he said.
Malkin had another suggestion.
"The practical intervention is, as corny as it sounds, you take a deep breath," she said. "When somebody does that, your automatic thought is that perceived slight, so you're automatically personalizing it. 'They did that to me on purpose.' ... But take the moment to take a deep breath and say, 'This person didn't do it on purpose, obviously they have somewhere to get to, this wasn't at me, I'm fine, they're fine, there's no accident'."
Since people become more stressed out and prone to anger when they are running late, Turnipseed suggests leaving early with plenty of time to reach the destination. He himself drives all over the state, not just from place to place in the Golden Triangle. It's especially dangerous to be running late when driving long distances, so he leaves an hour to half an hour earlier than necessary to make sure he's not stressed while driving to Jackson or to the coast. This has the added bonus of giving him more time to listen to music or get something to eat before being wherever he has to be once he reaches the right town.
"I'd much rather waste an hour on the plus side ... than try to make it up out there on the road," he said.
And because road rage is so much more common during rush hour, it's a good idea to avoid roads that get backed up during those times, Hackler said. The biggest example of a place that would cause road rage in Columbus is Highway 45 North.
"I know you've seen the traffic," he said. "It can get really bad at rush hour."
He suggested taking back roads around the congestion whenever possible.
Unfortunately, a driver can only control themselves and not other drivers on the road, Turnipseed said, so the best thing to do is always be careful and be considerate of other drivers.
"We live in a fast-paced world," he said. "Everybody moves a lot faster. Everybody's got to be there, everybody's got busy schedules, stuff like that ... It's going to cause a problem when everybody's schedules become the priority on the road and not everybody's safety."