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Calming an Aggressive Driver

What do you do with a guy who turns into a human cross between Mario Andretti and Tony Soprano, when he gets behind the wheel?

That was Joyce’s conundrum on this week’s show. (You can listen to the call right here.)

Tom and Ray’s advice? He needs to resolve the underlying issue – because his behavior is at odds with his true personality.

Ray’s guess? “Frank,” as we’ll call him, has way too much stress in his life. Tom’s solution? Primal scream therapy.

Got a theory of your own, or a possible solution for Joyce’s husband? We’d love to hear it. What’s your solution for calming an aggressive driver whose a risk to himself and everyone around him?

And oh, by the way – want to guess “Frank’s” career? When he’s not behind the wheel, Joyce’s husband is teaching meditation. No kidding.

Go figure!

Actually, the chances are that Frank is vaguely aware of his aggressive tendencies and that this is precisely WHY he studies and teaches meditation. What he hasn’t done yet is to apply his meditative techniques to himself when he is driving. He needs the book “Road Sage: Mindfulness Techniques for Driviers” by Sylvia Boorstein. I recommend that his wife buy him that book on audio so he can listen to it while he drives (by himself, because nobody else will drive with him). (The Rev. ) Kate Lufkin Day, Syracuse, NY

Hi Click/Clack. In the early 1950’s, there was a Disney cartoon featuring Goofy with the affliction identical to Frank’s. He was so gentle that he would not step on an ant, but behind the wheel he became a monster. Frank should be made to watch this cartoon repeatedly until he identifies with Goofy. Then he’ll calm down.

My theory on compulsive tailgaters is that they are addicted to adrenaline. Driving along safely makes people sleepy and bored, so to wake up, they move closer to the car in front of them. This wakes up the brain and makes the driver feel like they are more in control. The distance between cars is really titrating a dose of adrenaline for the driver of the tailgater.
My other theory on cars and people is: People with the cleanest cars are the worst litterbugs. At least that is what I think as I pick up trash along the road in front of my house.

Hi guys,
The reason people drive like this guy is this: He is a normal American guy so when he is walking on the sidewalk, he is a pretty good citizen, aware of the humanity of the old lady in his way. When he is behind the wheel, he is not a citizen, he is a motorist. The power and the isolation of the car makes him feel as an autonomous person flying through space at whatever speed and in whatever style gives him satisfaction.

It’s not so different than holding a loaded gun in your hand. The loaded gun also makes one feel powerful and autonomous. Why do you think so many Americans want to carry a gun? They are not really planning to use it in self defense. It’s the same impulse for perceived power and autonomy.

If we did a much better job of teaching people how to drive then this thing people loosely call “aggressive driving” would be greatly reduced. I’m sure some people might call me an “aggressive driver” at times - for having the audacity to believe, for instance, that people should know how 4-way stop signs work, or know how to properly enter or exit an interstate, or how to correctly drive on one…

Every problem in the world is not a problem of individual persons behaving badly, no matter how much we’d like to continue to believe that.

As a professional mental health counselor who drives all over Chicago to see clients, I feel qualified to throw in my opinion. I’m a generally nice person ( as most counselors are) but from time to time, I lose it behind the wheel. Not a tailgater, but the road rage! Getting cut off, perceived misjudgments by others, and I can feel more enraged than even my boyfriend can bring out in me. Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s like it says above. Once you’re in the car, and every thing around you is also a car, you stop thinking of them as people who deserve love and respect. they’re just hunks of metal! That is until the human driver emerges with his human fists. But that has yet to happen to me, and if it did, I think I could counsel my way out. So that’s my take.

Though there are undoubtedly bad drivers, you must know that the problem in your car is YOU! Make yourself a safe word and say it instead of swearing when cut off. And think of driving as a dance instead of a competition. A good dancer/driver can sometimes actually smooth out a ragged traffic pattern.

To calm an aggressive driver takes real life one on one example ( they’ll only change with first hand experience when the change their oem mind set. ) that takes a bit of time to produce.

What you do is ;
on any given day, challenge them to a ‘‘race’’.
Drive two vehicles from exactly the same starting point to the same destination. It can be anywhere but see if you can manage it during heavy traffic or other times when he shows his worst behavior.
You drive your way.
He drives his way.

When you both arrive there…who beat whom ?
More importantly by just how much…or how LITTLE time difference.
AND perhaps did YOU actually beat HIM there ?

Then discuss ;
Is 37 seconds truly worth all that agravation and potential danger ?

So, ken, all “aggressive driving” (in quotes because I still don’t know what it means) is as simple as being about speed?

Yes, the underlying root is speed. ( even on the 45mph city boulevards )
The perception of speed.
…to their destination.
Their intended hope of shaving time.
Their subconsious desire to be in front. ( they get there sooner that way ? )

Manifested by constant lane changing to get one more place forward, coupled with it’s tailgating to be forward enough to zip into the other lane just two inces in front of that other car.

Tailgating in hopes of ‘‘pushing’’ the other driver to go faster.

If you had to put it in just one word,
yes, …speed.

And the example I used to teach the non-neccessity of pushing the envelope so hard also takes some time to re-teach their bad habbit.
You have to remind them over again "just how much do you think you’re gaining here ?.
When they remember the ‘‘race’’ and how little time was saved…or even lost…they finally begin to calm down.
But it takes time, as with any bad habbit or long learned behavior.

A more immediate way to use the ‘‘race’’ example ( say you’re in the car together and want to make this point ) is to pick out any vehicle or two and compare their actual location compared to yours in a mile or so.

There’s this cool guy named Tolle who talks about something he calls your painBody - which needs to feed (on your emotions) from time to time. Like a backseat driver who grabs the wheel and stomps the accelerator bent on raising some hell - while you’re rendered ‘asleep at the wheel’. His suggestion to deal with it goes something like:

  1. Work on becoming aware that there IS a problem - can’t fix what ya think ain’t broke (start with just the possibility). It’s helpful to have friend/relative to point out ‘did you notice you weren’t your normal self for a while back there ?’ ( note: after you’ve returned to normal would be best, else it’s like pouring gas on a fire ).
  2. Here’s the easy part - just watch it ! - because, to quote Star Trek’s Borg’s: ‘Resistance is Futile’.
  3. Over time you can become aware earlier and earlier - and the earlier you ‘catch it’ the more possible it is to make another choice… till eventually it’s diminished to the point where it disappears or, at least, is so infrequent & diminished in intensity that it’s no longer an issue. Personal aside: I quit smoking 40 years ago using something like this - but, a couple times a year, I still get a minor ‘pop-up’ enticing me to smoke - so guess I could ‘work on it’ some more.

I think the only cure for driver aggression is removing all the numbskull drivers from the road. I still believe that only 40% of the drivers currently on the road are even qualified to drive. I used to believe that about 60% were qualified but then the cell phone came along and I had to revise my figures.

I’m sure that I do things that people would describe as “aggressive” from time to time. Its pretty much never about speed.

None of us are “perfect” at all times and aggressive behavior (pent up anger), whether behind the wheel, at work, dealing with your own children, etc.- regardless of the situation it is not uncommon; but how we deal with it is often the problem. As an anger management coach I believe this man could greatly benefit from some serious one one one counseling to find the cause for his underlying anger issues. I believe the caller would also benefit from anger management sessions so she can learn ways to honestly and openly (without fear) express how much his actions affect her and puts her life in danger…

He doesn’t seem to have self-respect, therefore he does not respect others on the road and the danger he is putting them in by his careless actions.

If he continues to refuse to listen to those who care about him and try to help him - I suggest a hearing test.

Traffic laws must be written to deal with the below average driver, not the expert driving a new Lexus. The country cannot operate with 60% of the population staying home because they are unable to deal with driving. I will again state my opinion that licenses should be 3"x5" and color coded to denote skills and restrictions and it should be prominently displayed at the rear of the vehicle. Learners permits, 1st year drivers, the old and infirm should be restricted to 45 mph and kept off freeways. A DUI, road rage, excessive accident history or tickets should be made evident to other drivers and law enforcement at a glance. Having no license displayed would be a significant fine. Wouldn’t good drivers with excellent records and well maintained vehicles enjoy the cops seeing their GOOD DRIVER license displayed and getting a free pass if they were 5 mph over but the nut case riding up their tail pipe with a ROAD RAGE license gets bulled over. Maybe some of the good cops would like such a system.

I have a theory that is fairly universal, leads to logical ways to test it, and can be expressed in Latin. These make it a good theory, IMHO.

I call it the “Ex Machina Theory”, which is that humans interfacing with machines inherently behave differently than they do with other humans. Nevermind that at the end of that machine there is another machine and then, finally, a human - all people tend to see is the machine. Lacking input from facial expression, tone of voice, and so on, people tend to behave in ways they would not otherwise.

This should apply to both driving and the internet, so my question is to ask how “Frank” behaves when responding to email, facebook or, especially, when responding to an editorial in the online version of the newspaper (want to talk about jerks! yeesh!).

A detailed description of this theory can be found on my blog from long ago:

Note that my blog, Barataria, is very … well, Tommy-like in general. If you like this theory and description of it, there are many more in the same vein. Thanks! :slight_smile:

Regarding “Joyce” and her aggressive driving meditation instructor husband…it’s “armor” surrounding yourself with a couple tons of steel (not sure how much a car actually weighs…) creates armor…it brings out the testosterone driven warrior in our species…get out of the car and he feels naked and loses the aggression…men are so simple!! LOL!

“Cigroller” pretty much hits the nail. One of the causes of aggressive driving is born out of frustration with the motoring public at large. I would venture that Joyce’s husband is a very proficient driver and that he is able to recognize poor driving habits and techniques exhibited by the other drivers around him.I might also add that the skill level of drivers in general has,(in my opinion)diminished dramatically in recent years. Due in large part to new citizens that have immigrated to the U.S. from countries that have little to no drivers education coupled with the aging of the “Baby Boomers” of which I’am one.

The automobile is an equalizer in that a person who may not be able to compete in other areas becomes equal to everybody else on the road when that person is behind the wheel. When I used to compete in 5 kilometer “fun runs”, I was near the back of the pack. However, I can purchase an autombile that will put me in the front of the pack on the road if I drive aggressively.