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There are two truisms that everybody behind the wheel of a moving vehicle believes without hesitation. One, I am the safest, smartest, and most patient driver on the road. And two, everybody else, in every other car, truck, motorcycle, or object with spinning wheels, is a complete asshole.
In the Expedia 2015 Road Rage Report, a yearly analysis of driving etiquette in the U.S., nearly everybody surveyed (97 percent) described themselves as “careful” drivers. Only 29 percent would use that word to describe their fellow drivers.
The message is clear: The problem isn’t us. It’s never us. If that other guy would learn how to drive, we’d be fine.
Interestingly, only 17 percent admitted to giving a rude gesture—like flipping the bird—to another driver, but 53 percent said they’d been on the receiving end of a middle finger.
See? Not only are we careful drivers, but those uncouth maniacs who don’t know the rules of the road are acting like it’s our fault. As if!
Of course, if you ponder these poll results for even a few seconds, you realize the math doesn’t add up. If the majority of people think they’re careful drivers, and yet half of them are getting flipped off, well, somebody is not being entirely honest.
Scott Woodruff, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow and therapist at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City, says this is a good example of what psychologists call the “fundamental attribution error.”
“We tend to consider context for ourselves,” he says. “The guy speeding past us is a maniac who does this all the time.” But when we do this same behaviour, he says, “We think, ‘I’m not an unsafe driver, I just happened to be running late for an important meeting.’”
In other words, our bad driving comes with a backstory. But those other drivers? We know nothing about their lives, or where they’re going, or why they’re making errors on the road that we consider egregious.
We only see the behaviour, and that behaviour has made our lives more difficult for a few seconds. So obviously, they must be monsters.
With this in mind, we issue this challenge. For the next 30 days, be the kind of driver that you think you are.
Be the guy who doesn’t take everything that happens on the road personally. Don’t flip anyone off, even if they deserve it. Don’t tailgate that jackass who’s driving too slow on the passing lane. Don’t speed up so they’re not able to merge onto the highway, because dammit, it’s not their turn.
For 30 days, take a deep breath and resist your natural instincts towards righteous indignation. We’re not asking you to do this forever. Just one month, to see how it feels.
It might help to plan ahead. You know something’s going to happen on your next commute that fills you with unmitigated rage. Woodruff suggests preparing for that inevitability with a game plan. “Think of what calms you down,” he says. “Maybe it’s taking a deep breath. Maybe it’s putting on mellow music.”
Most importantly, for 30 days you’re going to put the focus on yourself. Forget the other driver—sure, maybe they were in the wrong. Maybe it was all their fault. Maybe they are an asshole and a menace to society. But your challenge is to forget about them for an entire month. It’s not what they did, but how you’re reacting.
What do you say? Are you up to the challenge? Can you survive not reacting to asshole drivers for 30 whole days?
What’s in it for you? Probably a safer drive, but almost assuredly less stress and aggravation in your day, every day. Isn’t that motivation enough?