Keep Calm and Carry On: How to Stay Calm While Driving

I was recently driving on Union Street near Queen’s University. Construction forced cars and bicycles into two single ‘skinny’ lanes, divided by tall pylons. The narrow lanes went on for about a block. I came up to this stretch right behind a cyclist. She wasn’t going slowly for a bicycle, but she was certainly travelling at a much slower speed than the cars lining up behind her.

I had to slow down for one block, behind the cyclist. Not a big deal, right?

Wrong. The cars behind me began honking. The driver behind me decided to drive about 2 inches from my bumper. Then I found myself getting angry, too. What does he want me to do, run over the cyclist? Its easy to get worked up while driving. We’ve all been in a rush and managed to catch every light red. We’ve all been cut off by another driver. We’ve all tried to merge onto a roadway when nobody will let us in.

The question is – how should we respond when faced with these frustrating situations? In an ideal world, we’d all be patient and remain calm. This is not an ideal world. Aggressive driving is too often the response to frustration on the roadway.

According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, aggressive driving includes: running red lights; speeding up to get through the light; street racing; excessive speeding; swearing; making rude signs at other drivers; and using the horn when being annoyed. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has expanded its definition of aggressive behaviour to include stunts: “driving in such a way that prevents another vehicle from passing, intentionally cutting off another vehicle, or intentionally driving too close to another vehicle, pedestrian or fixed object”.

“Whether you are speeding, tail-gating, weaving in and out of traffic or accelerating when approaching a yellow traffic light, aggressive driving is a deliberate behaviour that costs people their lives every year.” – OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, Provincial Commander, Traffic Safety and Operational Support.

While these tips from the MTO may be easier said than done, they are worth consideration when you’re rushing to your next destination.

  • Know the warning signs of stress and combat them by getting fresh air, breathing deeply and slowly, and listening to relaxing music.

  • Make a conscious decision not to take your problems with you when driving.

  • If you are on a long trip, take a break from driving every few hours.

  • Don’t compete with another driver, or retaliate for what you believe to be inconsiderate behaviour.

  • If someone else’s driving annoys you, don’t try to “educate” the person. Leave traffic enforcement to the police.

  • Don’t take other drivers’ mistakes or behaviours personally.

  • Avoid honking your horn at other drivers, unless absolutely necessary. A light tap on the horn is usually sufficient.

In other words – keep calm and carry on.

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