Road rage

In my recent column on safe driving and psychiatric conditions, I discussed how symptoms of many psychiatric disorders as well as some medications can impair a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle on the road.

Today’s column will deal with another serious road safety concern that also has a psychiatric connection – road rage.

Have you ever accidentally cut someone off only to have them follow you for blocks cursing and tailgating you? Or have you actually been accosted by someone at an intersection? Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents are fairly common even in small cities and can obviously be dangerous for all involved.

Statistics about road rage are hard to find, but according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nearly two thirds of all traffic fatalities are the result of aggressive driving actions such as passing on the right, running red lights and tailgating.

I hear about road rage on a regular basis from patients experiencing a variety of psychiatric conditions. They often talk about feeling completely out of control in situations when they are annoyed on the road.

In my experience, the three most common conditions associated with road rage and this loss of control are substance abuse, the manic phase of bipolar disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). Although these are the most commonly associated with road rage, any condition that reduces impulse control or is associated with increased irritability could be a problem.

Given that the enraged person may already feel out of control or be in an irrational state, it is very important for the individual on the other side of a road rage altercation to not do anything that may make the situation worse. Remember the other person may not respond rationally.

Some tips to consider include avoiding eye contact with an aggressive driver, refraining from using obscene gestures which can cause an incident to escalate, and report aggressive drivers to the police.

If there is an assault, property damage or even uttered threats, report these to the authorities – not only will it potentially get an unsafe driver off the road, but it may be the necessary instigation for a mentally ill individual to get the help he or she needs.

Avoid getting into situations – either as an aggressor or a victim – by following these safe and courteous driving tips.

Give yourself enough time to get to your destination and avoid the temptation to speed, which puts stress on you and the drivers around you; don’t take traffic problems personally; don’t tailgate; use your horn sparingly; don’t block the passing lane or right hand turn lane; create a relaxing and comfortable environment in your car to help you stay calm; and try not to over react to mistakes on the road.

If you do believe another driver is attempting to start a fight, get help immediately. Do not get out of your car or drive home. Proceed immediately to the nearest police station or to a public place.

If road rage is a problem for you, consider speaking to your health care provider about it. There could be an underlying condition causing you to feel out of control. Help is available.

 

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