Road rage is one of the leading causes of accidents and deaths in this country. According to a report by CNN, an estimated 28,000 people each year are killed due to aggressive drivers. It’s easy to  see how cities such as Miami, NY, Boston, LA, and Washington DC (the cities with the most offenses) have a higher than average number of stressed out, hostile drivers. Yet stress isn’t the cause of road rage as some may believe. If it were, then anyone feeling under pressure who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle would react with dangerous maneuvers. So if stress is not the cause of anger, what is?

Let me give you an example. According to AAA, the leading cause of road rage is tailgating drivers. Why would that be? After all, they are behind our vehicle so they do not pose an immediate threat to us. If we stop suddenly, it is they who will be at fault hitting our bumper  and we can collect a nice check from our insurance company. Here is what typically takes place that leads an otherwise responsible driver to the point of engaging in dangerous behavior:

As I travel down Main Street, I become acutely aware that there is a black pick-up truck riding my bumper. My eyes are continually drawn to my rear view mirror checking to see just how little distance exists between our two vehicles. “I’m doing the speed limit, jerk! Get off my tail!” I shout knowing full well he is unable to hear my complaints. “Who does this guy think he is?” I mutter under my breath. “Does he think he owns the road and that I should move over and make way for him? Hell no!” My immediate judgment of him is that he is arrogant and demanding, trying to intimidate me into letting him pass. I can be just as arrogant as he is, I think to myself. “Watch this buddy!” I snicker as I slowly ease my foot off the gas pedal and watch the speedometer needle drop. “That’ll teach you!” As he applies his foot to the brake in an effort to avoid hitting me, his grip on the steering wheel tightens and his blood pressure begins to surge. “Oh yeah?” he screams through his windshield. Two can play this game!” With no thought of the safety of either driver or others sharing the roadway, he slams his foot against the gas pedal as the engine’s rpm’s hit record speed. He jerks the steering wheel to the left in a desperate attempt to pass me while simultaneously giving me the finger. An oncoming car swerves in the nick of time, avoiding a head on collision.

Why would I allow myself to become so enraged over such an insignificant incident as tailgating? It is not the act of the other driver that caused my incense but rather the judgments (thoughts) I formed about him. I chose to think the worst of him, that he was arrogant, rude, impatient, and self-righteous when in fact, I have no idea as to his motives for riding so close to me. Could it be that he simply was not paying attention or that he was late to work? Or worse, did he just receive a phone call telling him of an emergency with his child? Had I been privy to the cause behind his actions, I may very well have formed a different opinion of him and a different reaction as well.

None of us knows the real reason why people drive the way they do and truthfully it is irrelevant. All that matters is what I tell myself, my internal dialogue, that little voice inside my head.  If my voice is compassionate and understanding (“Maybe he’s got a lot on his mind and is a bit distracted”), then my reaction is more thoughtful. In truth, road rage is not caused by the incident itself but rather by the way we chose to see it, our perception, our thoughts about it and about the one causing the event. Pay close attention to what you say to yourself while behind the wheel. Be less judgmental and more forgiving of others. It just may save your life and theirs.