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Interview with Leon James and Diane Nahl

Chatelaine Magazine Shandley McMurray December 2000

Could you classify this as a road rage incident?

Yes. A chase took place, someone got out and beat on the car and used their car to block, police were called.

How would you define road rage?

Road rage is the inability to let go of the desire to punish or retaliate. It is an emotionally impaired state of anger leading to aggressive behavior in words, gestures, assault, or battery.

How could she have avoided this? Could she have avoided this?

You said she drove for 5 mins. before realizing she was being followed by a hostile car. After inadvertently cutting someone off one must be vigilant and alert to the consequences. And in that case she could have called 911 sooner (rather than calling a friend). Also, how could she have prevented inadvertently cutting someone off--this is important because it's a frequent source of road rage duels. Late at night one must be especially vigilant, and especially for women driving alone in a sports car--all of these are social signs of vulnerability on our highways that require increased prudence. Because being in a rush is so fundamental to our society's dynamic, inadvertently cutting someone off has become routine and not unusual, hence a very large pet peeve of the driving public.

How can women drivers avoid being the victims of road rage?

Besides the above, women drivers need to practice being more alert and conscious of other drivers. We are not alone out there, driving is a group activity and all of us need to treat it as such.

Can you name 10 ways that women drivers can avoid being road ragers or aggressive drivers themselves? (or what are the top 10 ways to dispel road rage?)

Dr. James and Dr. Nahl:

  1. Slowly count to ten. While you force yourself to count slowly, your adrenaline goes down to normal levels. Take deep breaths as you do this.

  2. Forgive and forget Think about the people who are waiting for you to arrive and how you don't want to disappoint them. Tell yourself it's just not worth the hassle.

  3. Make funny noises Laughter not only interrupts your negative thinking, it unloads the stress. Try animal sounds or any nonsense noise--really get into it.

  4. Use the Castanza Technique When you're in a bad mood, act the opposite of what you feel like. It worked for George on Seinfeld--remember that episode?

  5. Act as-if Do your courtesy waves and put on a pleasant face. The way you drive is contagious. You're influencing others' behavior, not by retaliating, but by peacemaking.

  6. Shrink your emotional territory Develop an attitude of latitude. Think of positive reasons why drivers do things that annoy you. Perhaps they're sick or confused. Maybe they're rushing to the bathroom. Maybe they just got some bad news. Maybe...

  7. Come out swinging positive Don't be rude to the rude. Seize control by defusing anger. Apologize, don't argue, be sympathetic. Don't challenge anything. Go out of your way to appear friendly and peaceful.

  8. Drive with emotional intelligence It's intelligent to choose positive explanations, rather than negative because they are less disturbing, more community oriented, less alienating, and ultimately more satisfying than the "you stupid clown" approach.

  9. Commit to Lifelong Driver Self-improvement Keep a Driving Log or Diary and make appropriate entries after each trip. Or, you can record yourself while driving, speaking your thoughts aloud. What a revelation when you listen to it later! It's a wake-up call to a driving personality makeover.

These tips and explanations are part of a large collection on our DrDriving.org Web site:

See Traffic Emotions Education (TEE Cards)  ||  See DrDriving's Collection of Tips and Advice

We review various gender issues in driving differences between men and women on our site.

Why did you write your book "Road Rage And Aggressive Driving"?

We wanted to improve our relationship, and later to teach our students a useful method to improve their driving personalities, and now we want to help people on a wider scale to gain self-control over their traffic emotions and stress for a safer, happier, healthier life.

What did you hope you would achieve by writing this book?

What we learned by recording the thoughts and feelings of many drivers in traffic made us realize that we're in the midst of a public health crisis on the roads, and that people are ill equipped to cope with the complexity and intensity of driving today. For today's generation of drivers, both men and women, young and old, professional and inexperienced, it has become normal and common to drive aggressively but calling it something else--assertive, excellent, precision, effective, defensive, careful. This is a symptom of the definition gap we discovered that exists between most drivers' definition of what is aggressive and law enforcement's definition of what is aggressive driving.

The reason that aggressive driving is now the norm in society is that we as toddlers in the back seat, absorbed our parents' driving emotions and attitudes, including how fast they usually drive, what they say out loud to or about other drivers, how they handle distractions inside the car, who they blame after an incident, and their ongoing feelings in the vehicle.

We discovered that people can acquire self-control behind the wheel by overcoming misconceptions acquired in childhood and using simple strategies to diffuse dangerous situations or to avoid them altogether. Our book enables drivers to re-educate themselves to cope with the increasing complexity of driving, including emotional complexity, technological complexity, and situational complexity. Our hope is that people will learn Driving Psychology, practice safer behavior on the road so that the crash and fatality statistics will be dramatically reduced within a generation. We created driving psychology because it teaches drivers of all ages and experience how to engineer their own driving personality makeover. Since we begin our long driving careers as adolescents rigged for road rage and aggressive driving, people need technical skills in self-science to change long habits.

How long have you been interested in this topic?

Since 1981, when we got married and Leon began to drive Diane and her grandmother, who was a vocal commentator on Leon's driving (this is portrayed in the Preface). Subsequently we designed instruction for our college students who learned to engineer their own driving personality makeovers.

Do you think this topic is of more concern to women than men? If so, why?

We get more from women. They are usually concerned about a spouse whose aggressive driving has become very dangerous and frightening to their children. Women spend more time driving children and have more opportunity to pass on their driving habits to their children. We devote chapter 7 to Children and Road Rage with exercises they can do in the car to teach children to become emotionally intelligent passengers and future drivers. A basic tenet of driving psychology is that driver education begins as toddlers. We recommend that mothers take time to engage the children in critical thinking about routine traffic and driving issues.

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