Imagine this scenario
Jim is walking down the grocery store aisle and he stops to compare prices on cans of dog food. Behind him, Larry has to step around him in the aisle to avoid crashing into him. Instead of quickly stepping around Jim and moving on, Larry flies off the handle. He starts screaming at Jim and threatening him. And maybe he follows Jim around the grocery store, trying to do the same thing to him.
In a grocery store setting, that sounds ridiculous. It would be ridiculous if it happened at the park, at the gym, in the Laundromat, in church, at a restaurant, or at the movie theatre. But on the road – with Jim in one vehicle and Larry in another – that is an all-too-common occurrence. If Jim stopped suddenly, forcing Larry to react defensively by driving around Jim, Larry is very likely to fly off the handle. And it wouldn't be the first time that someone followed someone else around town to confront them on their error.
In other situations, Larry's reaction is not normal but in the vehicle, Larry's reaction is quite normal. There's something weird that happens to our brain when we get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Here's what seems to happen
- We expect everyone to drive as well as we do. We may be good drivers and we expect everyone else to be equal to (or better than) our driving ability. Unfortunately, not everyone is and we end up frustrated by them
- We can take personal offense to errors that another driver makes, sometimes going so far as to assume that they did it on purpose just to drive us crazy. We wouldn't think that in the grocery store but on the road it's a different story
- We feel the need to shout our frustration and perhaps signal our disapproval with hand signals, even though they can't hear us and even though our distracted driving suddenly puts everyone in danger
- If #3 didn't feel cathartic enough, some drivers have been known to stop at the next stoplight or follow a driver around town in order to confront them
Most of the time, we are in control of our own actions. At home, at work, with friends; we decide how to act and react. But not when we're driving. When we're driving and overcome by road rage because of another driver, we give up control of our own actions and that other driver dictates how we respond. Unfortunately, that is NEVER a safe driving decision.
Allowing yourself to be overcome by road rage – even occasionally – puts everyone in danger. Yes, you might be a better driver than the person who just cut you off but your distractedness (by focusing on the other driver and shouting at them, for example) removes your focus from the road.
Safe drivers remain fully in control of their vehicles at all times, and that means remaining fully in control of their emotions at all times.