Ways to stay cool during hot-temper driving season
For years, I was a bad driver. I exhibited a mixture of passive-aggressive, self-righteous and just stupid fast driving that I cringe to think about. I think I’ve wrecked three cars, although I could be forgetting one, and I’m sure for a long time there was at least one serious near-miss a year or more, like swapping ends on a dirt road. Those impulses are still there beneath the surface, but the key has been learning, slowly and painfully, to control them.
For many people, this is a time of year when that behavior is hardest to control. Even if you love the holidays, they are often highly stressful and while you might be coping, other people probably aren’t. Add in heavy and frantic shopping traffic, short days and weather for which people are never prepared, and it can become a cauldron of emotion.
I have had to work very, very hard not to be exactly the kind of jerk I hate. I know, right? For me, it’s all about preparation.
The worst place for many people is a parking lot. It’s certainly where you see the worst driving—a mall parking lot on a big pre-Christmas shopping day is a display of unconcern for one’s fellows that makes you question your place in the universe. My solution has been to short-circuit the whole aggression-begets-aggression process. If you don’t spend 10 minutes fighting for a spot near the entrance, you can park at the back of the lot and be inside in half the time. It pays a second dividend, as it’s easier to get out—and no one’s fighting over your spot, either.
A major second technique for me, believe it or not, has been viewing the Russian dash-cam videos I mentioned last month. Go to YouTube and search for Car Crash Channel to find them. The trick is to watch a lot of them. After a while I started recognizing what everyone was doing wrong in every incident, then trying to predict it.
Now while I’m driving I’m constantly alert for those mistakes from both myself and other drivers, and the sorts of situations where accidents are likely to happen. Not only am I driving much, much more safely, but my whole attitude is better. I see the crashes in the videos and I’m always thinking, “I don’t want to be like that,” whether it’s a driver causing a crash or someone inattentive who could have avoided one. Yes, sometimes someone is going to do something really offensive and I could brake-check them, but is my satisfaction worth the risk and incredible hassle of not having a car? It never is.
My last major breakthrough has been an acceptance that I’m going to be late sometimes. I hate being late. I think it’s the epitome of rudeness and shows an utter lack of respect for anyone you keep waiting. The problem comes when I feel as though I’m being held up by a slow driver. It enrages me, even if it just makes the eight-minute drive from my kid’s school to my office into a ten-minute drive. Don’t they know this is a 40 MPH zone? Why are they going 30? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!
But I won’t speed, pass illegally or run a yellow because of it—because it’s not worth it. Part of my coping has been a rule I have for my kids, which I started after a near-disaster this summer: If they distract me, we stop. It doesn’t matter if we’re going to miss Grandma’s last lucid moment on her deathbed, we’re stopping. That insistence has also made me recognize when I have a moment like that myself, without them there. And it’s made me accept that being late isn’t the worst thing in the world. I still hate it, and will yell at the person in front of me, but from a safe distance behind.
It’s like the AA Serenity Prayer: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Inwardly, I may be still seething, but my anger doesn’t direct my actions, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the important part. If it’s a 12-step program, then this part, where I’m a safe driver, is the first step.