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Stop and Smile: Tips for Avoiding Road Rage

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The most striking cultural difference I noticed when I moved from New York City to northern New Hampshire was how quiet and patient the drivers are in the North Country. There’s no horn honking, no screaming of invectives, no shaking of fists. People up north wait for lights to turn green, let others merge in front of them, and are never in a rush to get anywhere. Could these be the friendliest drivers in America? I wondered. 


Portland: City of Roses and Road Rules
According to a 2009 AutoVantage survey of 25 U.S. cities, while New Hampshire drivers might be extremely courteous, the residents of Portland, Oregon, take the number-one spot for best road sharers in the country. Results of the national phone survey of 2,518 motorists to determine driving habits and attitudes of commuters across America revealed that Portland drivers are the least likely to experience road rage, honk their horns, curse at other drivers, run through red lights, and cut each other off. You won’t usually find a Portlander talking on a cell phone or emailing while driving, either. 


Following Portland in the top five of the AutoVantage survey are Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; Sacramento, California; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The cities in which road rage is most prevalent are New York, New York; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; and Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. 


No Pagin’, No Ragin’
No statistics are kept on road rage specifically, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that aggressive driving is responsible for at least one-third of all motor vehicle accidents and about two-thirds of all automobile-related fatalities. 


But that doesn’t have to be the case. If we all gave ourselves a little more time and stressed a little less, we’d be a lot better about sharing the roads. Here are some tips not only to make your commute more pleasant but also to help you keep your cool when others don’t keep theirs. 


  • Get enough sleep. You know how little kids get cranky when they need to be put down for a nap? Well, adults are like that, too. If you haven’t gotten your full eight hours, you’re going to be a lot less able to roll with the punches when someone cuts you off.
  • Plan ahead and leave yourself enough time. When I’m running late, my sole thought becomes Get there! I stop thinking about everyone else on the road, I forget speed limits, and I totally lose my peripheral vision. That’s a perfect setup for a fender-bender, but once I’ve gotten into one, the realization that I’m not going to get where I’m going on time makes me mad. When I make a concerted effort to leave earlier, things run a lot more smoothly.
  • Turn down the music and turn off the cell phone. Don’t eat in the car, either, or do anything that distracts you from the road. According to research from Carnegie Mellon University, using a cell phone while driving reduces people’s attention to the road by 37 percent. No call is so important that it can’t wait until you’re out of the car.
  • Observe speed limits. I know everyone does it, and I know it’s tempting when you have a lead foot, like I do, but if you think you’re antsy now, imagine how impatient you’ll be when a cop pulls you over or you get into an accident (or worse).
  • Breathe. Just relax. Our cars become our physical, mental, and emotional junk drawers without our even realizing it sometimes. Don’t take out on other drivers whatever’s going on in your life. If you have a stressful job or home life, use your commute to listen to relaxing tapes or find some other way to decompress without getting angry.
  • Learn to share. I know it’s been a while since kindergarten, but we all need to share the road with other drivers. Even if you really have to get somewhere, so do they. Pushing ahead and cutting others off sends the message that you think you’re more important than everyone else. Remember, we all get our turn. 


No Rage on These Roads
AutoVantage spokesman Mike Bush believes that tension on the roads reflects our hectic, stressful lifestyles. He argues that Portland’s low incidences of road rage indicate that its people are friendly and laid back and that the city itself is easy to get around in. “It seems like the Northwest has a pretty happy, laid-back group of drivers, comparatively speaking,” he says. 


Is road rage a sign that we need to look at our lifestyles more carefully? Probably so. Part of the AutoVantage survey asked respondents what they considered road rage behavior. In general, according to the survey responses, road rage stems from impatience, aggression, or a combination of both. Not having enough time to get somewhere or trying to multitask while driving takes our focus off the road and creates an unsafe situation for other drivers. 


This Road Is Your Road
Because I grew up in New York City, the idea of sharing the roads without being aggressive is a little foreign to me. I have to admit, flipping the bird and cursing like a sailor are my instinctual reactions to rush-hour traffic. But now that I’ve seen what life is like in a place like New Hampshire, where everyone respects one another’s rights to the roads, I’m making a concerted effort to chill out whenever my key is in the ignition.

Updated March 3, 2011

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