LOS ANGELES --- As a fleet manager, there are times when you have to deal with a driver who seems to live by the road rage motto: "Anyone going faster than me is a maniac; anyone going slower than me is an idiot."
Driver stress can lead to aggressive driving, which in turn can lead to a higher accident rate. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that aggressive driving -- ranging from tailgating to speeding to running red lights -- accounts for about one-third of all crashes and about two-thirds of the resulting fatalities.
Edmunds.com recommends that drivers can better cope with stress by taking an honest look at their driving behavior and taking steps to reduce their stress level. Here are some steps your drivers can take:
1. Get your Zs. Drowsiness is a major contributor to road rage. When a driver is sleepy, he's more likely to get distracted, to get annoyed and to miss highway signs or turns. Get your eight hours of sleep each night.
2. Plan ahead. Add 10 minutes to your expected travel time so that if there's a delay, you aren't in a panic to get to your destination. Take measures to minimize your morning rush, like preparing clothes, briefcases and the kids' lunches the night before.
3. Don't treat your car like it's your therapist. Resist the urge to use driving as a means for blowing off steam. The vehicle is a mode of transportation, not a weapon.
4. Turn down the bass. Listening to relaxing music, or even a comedy channel on satellite radio, can reduce stress levels for many drivers. Music can also help drown out stressful traffic noise.
5. Loosen up, then breathe. It's important to relax. If you're clenching the steering wheel in a death grip, loosen your hold. If you're on a long road trip, roll down the window every now and then and take a deep breath. Take a break every three hours or so and get out and stretch. While you're out there, make sure the windshield is clean. Straining to see through a dirty windshield can also contribute to stress.
6. It's not about you. Maybe another driver cut you off, or the car in front is braking erratically. That doesn't mean you should assume you are being targeted or disrespected. More likely, those other drivers just made a mistake or were being oblivious. Maybe there's a screaming baby in that other car, or the driver is upset at his boss. When another driver misbehaves, don’t take it personally. Maybe he's distracted because he's having a really bad day.
7. Hostility is toxic. And risky. Keep in mind that people prone to anger are almost three times more likely to have a heart attack than those with low anger, according to the American Psychological Association. Hostility is also associated with obesity, depression and stroke. Ask yourself: "Is making my point worth endangering my life?" If another driver pulls a boneheaded move, try laughing it off instead of getting even. It's healthier that way.
8. Use grocery store etiquette. Driving in a car makes many people feel protected and anonymous, allowing them to act in ways they normally would find embarrassing. For example, if you were shopping at Costco or Wal-Mart and someone accidentally turned their shopping cart in front of yours, would you shout at them? So why act that way when you're on the highway?
9. Take the self-test. Some classes designed to help aggressive drivers actually ask the drivers to tape-record their driving trips. When they listen back to the tape, they're often surprised by their own ranting and swearing. Try analyzing your own behavior. Do any of these statements sound like you?
-- I regularly exceed the speed limit in order to get to work or an appointment on time.
-- I tailgate other drivers, especially those who sit in the left lane.
-- I flash my lights and honk my horn to let drivers know when they annoy me.
-- I verbally abuse other drivers whether they can hear me or not.
-- I frequently weave in and out of traffic to get ahead.
-- I feel the need to set bad drivers straight.
If you answered yes to any of these, your driving may qualify as aggressive, according to Edmunds.com. For another test, click here.
10. Practice kindness. OK, stop rolling your eyes. The truth is, simple courtesies, like allowing someone to merge or apologizing when you make a mistake, can go a long way in making driving less stressful and safer.