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Section 7
Driver's Strategy

Question 7 | Test | Table of Contents | Anger Management
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we examined the steps necessary to replace the Anger Management clients' predetermined rules of the road with less stress-inducing rules:  discussion; attitude change cards; debate; and relaxation exercise.

I have found that many times, altercations between drivers would not have happened if one driver had not seen the other make a visible show of aggression and hostility.  Often, my Anger Management clients say that they were already hyper-vigilant and when another driver displayed any anger, they went on the defensive. 

On this track, I will include techniques to help Anger Management clients who respond negatively to other drivers:  These three are:  "General Principles"; "Jekyll and Hyde Visualization"; and "Giving Warning".

3 Techniques to Avoid Responding Negatively to Other Drivers

Technique #1 - General Principles of the Road
The first technique I use is to outline general principles of the road. I find that clients do not prepare themselves to meet any hostile drivers. When taken off their guard by unexpected hostility from another driver, the Anger Management client reacts impulsively. Terry was a 24 year old Anger Management client of mine, who stated, "I saw someone give me the finger the other day, and I got so angry. Mainly because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. So I reacted, without even thinking. I tailgated the other guy until he got off the road."

To help Terry prepare for the next time he meets a belligerent driver, I gave him a list of "9 General Principles" so he would be less taken off guard:

  1. Accept the fact that you’re bound to meet a vigilante someday.  That way, you will be less affronted when it happens.
  2. Don’t take it personally.  Although it feels personal, it’s not you the angry driver is mad at.  It could be anybody this driver thinks is obstructing what he or she wants to do.
  3. Play it down.  Stay cool.  Don’t make it a big deal.
  4. Remember, in most cases the angry driver is not truly dangerous and will not physically harm you, especially if you don’t escalate and retaliate.
  5. There may be a good reason he or she is driving this way.  Maybe he or she is in an emergency situation.
  6. Remember that the other person may not be "playing with a full deck" and that their response may be as impulsive as yours would have been.
  7. View this driver as desperate and anxious, not as a challenger.  Give him or her wide berth.  The highway is not a place for petty squabbles.
  8. Avoiding eye contact will keep things impersonal.
  9. If he or she escalates, get out of there.  This driver may be dangerous.  Go for help or find a police officer.

Technique #2 - "Jekyll and Hyde Visualization" 
Next, I will present techniques in situations in which another driver is tailgating the Anger Management client.  Tailgating is an especially stressful aggressive driving technique because not only is there a feeling of imminent danger, but also the other driver’s emotions are made apparent. 

Emily was a 32 year old Anger Management client who reported tailgating as one of her stressors.  Emily stated, "You can tell what another driver is feeling when they tailgate.  Some are just simply asking to pass while others, when they flash their lights and honk their horns, demand to pass.  That’s when I get angry, scared, confused, and then everything kind of takes off without my permission."  To help Emily deal with her fear and anxiety about tailgating drivers, I asked her to try the "Jekyll and Hyde Visualization." 

I asked Emily to envision the other driver as a good person, a Jekyll, but by being on the road had turned into a Mr. Hyde.  The highway and its various aggressive attitudes acted as an elixir which had turned the mild mannered citizen into a raving monster.  A few weeks later Emily related this story to me, "I was on the highway, going at a reasonable speed.  I see another driver coming up fast behind me, flashing their lights, honking their horn, the works.  I did like you said, and told myself, ‘They’re not trying to hurt me, they’ve just been turned into something they’re not.’ 

I had a chance to pull into the middle lane and I did so they could pass. Once that car passed, another one was right on its tail, and then another and another. Five cars I saw tailgating each other with not more than two feet between them. A few minutes later, there was a traffic jam.  About a mile up the five cars had smashed into one another when the first driver braked. That could have been me if I had refused to let them pass." 

As you can see, by visualizing the other driver as a good person out-of-control, Emily avoided responding negatively to the situation and thus avoided an accident. Think of your Emily. Could he or she benefit from the "Jekyll and Hyde Visualization"?

Technique #3 - Giving Warning
In Emily’s situation, she could easily avoid a collision by moving over into the center lane.  However, on many roads, this is not a possibility.  In addition to "General Principles" and the "Jekyll and Hyde Visualization", the third technique is "Giving Warning". 

Emily stated, "On the highway, I actually feel safer because there are more opportunities for me to move over and just avoid a crazed driver. But when I’m on normal streets and someone’s tailgating me, I have nowhere to go.  I get even worse if I have to turn or slow down because I’m afraid the other driver won’t have enough space to stop themselves.  I’ve often passed my turn so I don’t have to deal with being hit." 

To help Emily, I gave her the following List of 7 Techniques that will remind the other driver that she is a human being:

  1. Put your indicator on far in advance of where you intend to turn.  That gives plenty of time for the message to register.
  2. Slow down far in advance of where you want to make the turn.  You want to overcome potential insensitivity, so start early and avoid surprises.
  3. Adjust your rearview mirror if the driver behind you continues to be too close.  This will be enough to case 50 percent of inadvertent tailgaters to slow down.  The tailgater will read you mood from the way you adjust your mirror.
  4. Avoid eye contact; don’t speed up.  Make yourself concentrate on your driving.
  5. Continue to depress your brake pedal just enough to light up your tail lights, so you can control your slowing without coming to a crawl as you approach your turn.
  6. If the driver continues to be close, roll down your window and use an arm signal (not a finger signal).
  7. Concentrate on making the best turn you can.  Vigilantes may roar around you at the last minute, and some may blow their horns, but that’s their problem, not yours.  Most drivers will be courteous if you follow these steps.

By using these guidelines, Emily reduced her anxiety about tailgaters and thus reduced her potential for unsafe driving.  Think of your Emily. Could he or she benefit from "Giving Warning"?

On this track, we discussed techniques to help Anger Management clients who respond negatively to other drivers:  "General Principles"; "Jekyll and Hyde Visualization"; and "Giving Warning."

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Janssen, C. P., Iqbal, S. T., & Ju, Y.-C. (2014). Sharing a driver’s context with a caller via continuous audio cues to increase awareness about driver state. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(3), 270–284. 

Kaß, C., Schmidt, G. J., & Kunde, W. (2019). Towards an assistance strategy that reduces unnecessary collision alarms: An examination of the driver’s perceived need for assistance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 25(2), 291–302. 

Wickens, C. M., Wiesenthal, D. L., Flora, D. B., & Flett, G. L. (2011). Understanding driver anger and aggression: Attributional theory in the driving environment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 17(4), 354–370.

What are three techniques to help Anger Management clients who respond negatively to hostile drivers? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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