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How to stay calm behind the wheel

Driving is a task that needs all your concentration and lots of patience, but that can be easier said than done.

Nearly one in five British drivers experience stress behind the wheel, and this can lead us to develop the dreaded 'road rage'. Stress can be brought on by lots of factors, with common culprits including:

  • Driving (or rather, not driving) in rush hour traffic, feeling completely incapable of doing anything about it
  • Motorway driving, in particular impatient drivers getting too close or pressuring you to go quicker. Not to mention, those notorious middle-lane hoggers
  • Travelling in bad weather, for instance, when there's black ice or thick fog
  • Performing certain manoeuvres, like reverse parking when you have other drivers waiting and watching you.

Other stress-inducing situations include driving an unreliable car, travelling unfamiliar routes, 'back seat drivers' – the list goes on. But stress and road rage can be dangerous; research cited by Brake found stressed-out drivers are more likely to take risks like speeding, tailgating, jumping red lights and quickly switching lanes.

How to stop road rage

If a situation has ever caused your heart to pound and palms to sweat, it's safe to say you've experienced driver stress. For the sake of you, your passengers and other road users, it's important to learn how to stay calm and prevent road rage affecting your driving ability – here are some top tips:

  • For long journeys, make sure you get enough sleep the night before, factor in regular breaks and you have enough to eat and drink
  • If the rush-hour commute causes you a major headache, ask your employer if you can work flexibly, starting and finishing before peak traffic time
  • Switch up your mode of transport – walking or cycling is cheaper, healthier and far more refreshing
  • Plan routes and leave with plenty of time to spare. Feeling like you're going to be late to a meeting or event is bound to raise your stress levels
  • Clear your mind by resolving work or home-based problems before getting behind the wheel.

Dealing with someone with road rage

  • If you annoy another road user, a friendly hand gesture or mouthed apology may be enough to calm them
  • Dealing with a tailgater? It can be tempting to stay put, particularly if you're driving near the speed limit. But for everyone's safety, it's best to pull over when it's safe to do so and let them pass
  • If a driver becomes abusive, try saying sorry even if it wasn't your fault. Lock your car doors if you feel threatened – if they get out of their car, refrain from unlocking your door or winding down your window
  • If you're ever in a situation where you feel threatened, drive away (at a normal speed) when it's safe to do so. In the unlikely event they follow you, drive to a public place like a petrol station, where CCTV cameras are installed
  • Consider mounting a dash cam in your car – this might stop an angry driver from targeting you. And if they do become abusive, at least you'll have footage you can use as evidence.

No one sets off on a driving trip expecting to get stressed or experience road rage. Hopefully these tips will allow you to manage stress levels, helping you to keep calm and carry on.

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