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You’re driving to work, minding your own business, and someone cuts in front of you. Suddenly, you’re seething with thoughts of retaliation. Meanwhile, that inconsiderate driver cruises away, oblivious to your distress. Before you lash out, consider this: Each year, 1,500 people are injured or killed in the U.S. as a result of traffic disputes and altercations. And according to AAA research, so-called “aggressive driving” incidents have increased by roughly 7% each year since 1990. Why are we so triggered by inconsiderate motorists?

We're human"People become competitive behind the wheel,” says Steve Albrecht, Ph.D., Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager and former police officer." “It’s called ‘little brain,’ or primitive thinking.” This aggressive behavior is triggered when a person feels threatened—even if the threat is only over a parking spot.

Did You Know?

66% of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving.

Driving magnifies stressWhatever is happening in the driver’s life at the time—an illness or death in the family, an argument with a spouse or setback at work—is carried along for the ride. “The stress of life becomes magnified behind the wheel,” Albrecht says. “People feel anonymous inside the car, so they do certain acts they wouldn’t do in front of their friends.”

So how can you keep your cool behind the wheel? Albrecht provides these tips:

  • Don’t take an inconsiderate driver’s actions as a personal insult. Keep your focus on your own (safe) actions.
  • Never exchange shouts or curses. When you react, you let the aggressive driver know they made you angry—and they win.
  • Take a deep breath. If you recognize that a driver just pushed your buttons, breathe deeply and focus on your driving.
  • Don’t drive “hangry.” An empty stomach won’t help your disposition. Be sure to hydrate and eat a healthy snack before you get behind the wheel.
  • Make your drive time yours rather than someone else’s. Play soothing music or audio books. Use your time in the car to chill out, and you’ll arrive at your destination more relaxed.