Bellingham is a small town in many ways. When I run errands, I often come across friends and neighbors, business associates and many others I’ve come to know in the many years I’ve lived here. This means that we’re all on the roads going to and from these places together. So if that former client or opposing counsel is tailgating me? That’s reason enough to resist tapping my brakes if someone is riding my bumper. 

There are a lot of reasons that brake checking is dangerous. In fact, it’s listed in the state of Washington as one of the types of aggressive driving behaviors. That means  you could get ticketed for reckless driving. If you cause an accident because someone rear-ends you after you tapped your brakes, you may be at fault. That can mean that your insurance policy won’t cover damages at all, or not to the extent that it might have had you not had been at least somewhat to blame for the accident. 

Instead of punishing the guy behind you for riding your bumper, and thus becoming the aggressor yourself, here are some things to do to help yourself deal with the stress of other drivers’ bad behavior: 

1. Listen to classical music

Got a long commute? Even a short jaunt to the store? Enjoy the ride with some music. However, the type of music you choose has a big effect on your mood. The so-called “Mozart Effect” could actually make you more mellow. According to a Populus survey of 2,000 drivers, classical and pop music fans are more relaxed drivers, whereas those who listen to rock and metal are more prone to road rage.

Many studies have shown that relaxing music helps decrease anxiety. It’s been shown to help pre-operative patients go into surgery with lower anxiety levels. Also, one study on teenagers showed that listening to soothing music like classical music decreased anxiety and boosted states of calms even after exposure to a stressor. If you find yourself getting annoyed with other drivers, you might want to think about changing your playlist. 

5. A car can be just as relaxing as a yoga studio

Of course it can! It’s all in your mind. It’s easy to get caught in a negative emotion loop when you’re behind the wheel, but why not instead see it as an opportunity to go inwards. Certainly there are lots of opportunities to get impatient – waiting for a light to change, behind a slow driver, just being cut off by someone on their phone. But those same experiences can be times to just breathe, focus on naming the emotions you’re feeling, the thoughts you’re having, and letting them go. Not only can this help your drive time but your life outside the car when you reach your destination. 

Think about it this way, from the mindfulness experts at Headspace, the mindfulness app: “Being mindful of your environment and the tendency to resist it; being mindful of the emotions as they rise and fall, come and go … mindful of wanting to be somewhere else, of wishing time away; and mindful of wanting to scream out loud or put your foot down in the car.”

6. Unplug.

Several years ago, a study found that 90% of Americans own some kind of technological device such as a smart phone, computer, MP3 player, game console, e-book reader or tablet computer. These devices can up our stress levels, which negatively affects our health. Spending some time tech-free can benefit our mental and physical health, and it might make your drive more pleasant.

Take this opportunity to disconnect. Instead of talking on your phone, take advantage of this opportunity to rest and recharge. Once it becomes a habit, you may actually come to look forward to this tech-free time to read, meditate, reflect, or just be mindful. And need I mention that it is illegal and dangerous to drive while distracted?

For more on dangerous driving behaviors:

How to handle a tailgater

Dangerous driving puts us all at risk



Recent Article