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Keeping Your Cool: Managing Road Rage

Getting aggravated with other drivers on the highway is commonplace for many drivers, even for truck drivers. Hey, we're all human. We all get mad sometimes, right? Well the truth is there's a lot of harm in letting your emotions get the best of you out there on the highway. The way a Top Tier Professional Driver handles aggressive drivers or traffic backups is a big part of why they're a step above the rest.

You're doing a lot of harm to yourself and taking a lot of risks by getting emotional on the highway. Keeping your cool and preventing yourself from experiencing road rage can be challenging, but doable. It's important for obvious reasons, but also reasons you might not expect. Let's dive in.

The Risks Of Getting Emotional On The Highway

I cuss them out like crazy and they have no idea, they can't hear me because my windows are closed. lol. Makes me feel better.

This was said in a half-joking way by a driver in our trucker's forum, but only half joking. The truth is, this is what most of us do from time to time. To understand why it's so important to remain calm and unaffected by the stress you have to understand what happens if you don't.

  • Getting angry is distracting. You're taking your eyes off the highway, you're losing focus on the vehicles around you, you're not on top of your game.

  • Getting angry is exhausting. As a truck driver you have a lot of very long days. Getting emotional is going to wear you out mentally. You're going to be less aware of your surroundings and you're going to be driving tired for longer periods of time which is obviously very dangerous.

  • Stress is very unhealthy both physically and mentally. If you want to remain physically healthy and maintain your sanity it's important to learn how to keep your cool.

  • Getting angry means you're not relaxing and enjoying your time behind the wheel. That's a shame because you're going to be putting in that time whether you enjoy it or not. Don't make life miserable for yourself. Come on, man!

Lessons From Truck Driving School

One thing I remember from truck driving school (back in 1993!) was an instructor telling us about how calm many of the best truck drivers are. He talked about how they always seem so relaxed going down the road, and they always take it slow and easy even when they're in a busy truck stop backing into a tight spot. They just never seem to get agitated. They're always cool and relaxed.

He obviously admired that quality in veteran truck drivers and it's easy to see why. They're cool. They're above all of that nonsense. It was a trait I wanted to develop in myself.

Remain Unaffected By The Problems On The Highway

The phrase I've always tried to remind myself of is to "remain unaffected" by the stress and chaos around you. You're going to experience bad weather, aggressive drivers, breakdowns, and miserable people. There's no avoiding it. But you can remain unaffected by it.

One interesting approach you can take is to view life as if you're watching a movie. Try to keep yourself outside of it. Act as if you're watching the world around you from an objective observer's point of view. You don't have to become part of it. You don't have to care about it. You can simply learn to observe it, take note of what it is, and not react to it at all.

Yeah, easier said than done I know!

We're all human. We've all screamed through the windshield at someone a time or two. We've all gotten caught up in things we should have simply ignored. The interesting part of this is that you can improve with practice. Being patient, staying positive, and keeping your cool when you're surrounded by negativity and chaos is a learned skill that we can all develop with practice.

Practice remaining unaffected. Make it a game. Challenge yourself to remain above it all.

The Delays Are Not Costing You Money

Even though one minute might represent 43¢ of your paycheck, is it really worth getting all "road ragey" about?

People should keep in mind that you're not being paid by the mile per minute. You're being paid by the mile. Even if you lose 10 minutes in a day waiting on traffic, you're still going to make the same amount of money in the end.

So you're not losing money when you're being delayed. You're losing time.

I know your thinking, "time is money!" but for most of us in OTR trucking that's not true. In trucking, miles are money and in the end you're still going to turn the same number of miles. So relax. If it takes a few minutes longer to get the job done today, so be it. The best thing you can do for yourself is to make sure you're enjoying that time.

If you've ever seen whitewater rafting, the rafters never get mad at the rocks - they are just part of the river. And once you get past those pesky rocks, they aren't in your life anymore anyway.

Very well said by Errol, one of the moderators in our forum. Whitewater rafters remain unaffected by the rocks. At least by the ones they pass safely. They focus on doing whatever needs to be done to negotiate the river safely. You need to do the same on the highway.

Ways To Avoid Stressing Yourself Out On The Highway

PackRat, a member of our forum, said:

Try to go three mph slower than the flow of the traffic when it's really heavy

This is an excellent idea. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Going just a tiny bit slower than the traffic around you will keep a large following distance in front of you and keep the stress lower. You won't be overtaking other vehicles, tailgating, or getting the feeling that you're being held up. Back it down a few mph and chill out.

Jeremy suggests how to handle the tough traffic conditions and aggressive drivers:

I go with good tunes and a patience I never knew I had. I'm also a Northeast driver and I expect it daily somewhere

Suggestions From The CDL Manual

The CDL Manual suggests the following for remaining patient in tough circumstances:

  • How you feel before you even start your vehicle has a lot to do with how stress will affect you while driving.

  • Reduce your stress before and while you drive.

  • Listen to “easy listening” music.

  • Give the drive your full attention. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by talking on your cell phone, eating, etc.

  • Be realistic about your travel time. Expect delays because of traffic, construction, or bad weather and make allowances. If you’re going to be later than you expected – deal with it.

  • Take a deep breath and accept the delay.

  • Give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Try to imagine why he or she is driving that way. Whatever their reason, it has nothing to do with you.

  • Slow down and keep your following distance reasonable.

  • Don’t drive slowly in the left lane of traffic.

  • Avoid gestures. Keep your hands on the wheel. Avoid making any gestures that might anger another driver, even seemingly harmless expressions of irritation like shaking your head.

  • Be a cautious and courteous driver. If another driver seems eager to get in front of you, say, “Be my guest.” This response will soon become a habit and you won’t be as offended by other drivers’ actions.

Wrapping It Up

Listen, we're all human. I get it. But keeping your cool and avoiding road rage is critical to your health and safety on the highway. As a commercial driver you have a massive responsibility. You're surrounded by innocent families. That beautiful big rig can become an 80,000 pound killing machine with one moment of inattention or one slow reaction. You want to be at your best out there, a Top Tier Professional, and you want to enjoy yourself at the same time. Learn to kick back, relax, and go with the flow. You'll be a better driver and you'll have a whole lot more fun doing it.

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