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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Driver Courtesy: Forget It and Drive On

A new poll was released earlier in the week that was somewhat saddening but not at all surprising. The poll looked at the top 25 metropolitan centers in the US and judged them from worst to best based on the level of angry and aggressive drivers in those cities. The 2009 "In The Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey," commissioned by AutoVantage and conducted by Affinion Group Media listed New York as having the least courteous drivers in the nation. That is probably good news to Miami which led the nation in that category for the past three years.

What this survey shows is that it is not the quality of the roads or the number of cars but the behavior of individual drivers that make the roads so dangerous. According to the Affinion survey, when asked the major causes of road rage, the most frequent responses were:

• Bad/careless driving, such as cutting others off, speeding, tailgating, talking on cell phones, making obscene gestures and not using proper signals
• People who are angry, stressed, frustrated, tired or had a bad day
• People being in a hurry, impatient or running late
• Traffic problems, accidents, poor road conditions or construction
• Inconsiderate, disrespectful, selfish drivers who think they own the road

Notice that the great majority of the above comments have to do with behavior. Road delays certainly play a part in adding to the frustration level but it is the behavior of drivers that leads to the greatest frustration and often to road rage.

The survey went on to say that behaviors by other drivers that cause stress for commuters and can lead to road rage include:

• Drivers who talk on their cell phones (84 percent see this every day)
• Driving too fast (58 percent)
• Tailgating (53 percent)
• Drivers eating or drinking while driving (48 percent)
• Texting or e-mailing while driving (37 percent)
Drivers responding to the survey admitted that in response to the bad behaviors of others they:
• Honk their horn at the offending driver (43 percent admit doing this every month)
• Curse at the other driver (36 percent)
• Wave their fist or arms (13 percent)
• Make an obscene gesture (10 percent)
• Call the police to report the driver (7 percent)
• Slam into the car in front of them (1 percent)

Most of the other behaviors listed above won't serve to change the other driver's behavior and it may be enough to push him or her over the edge into a road rage situation. In this situation, a couple of old driving school principles come into play here. One is the FIDO principle which means "Forget It and Drive On". You can't change the other driver's behavior; you can only make him angrier. Forgetting about it isn’t easy to do but it is the safest thing to do when confronted with an aggressive driver. The second principle is the QTIP principle. QTIP stands for "Quit Taking It Personally". That aggressive driver probably didn't have you in mind when he hit the road; instead he is probably an equal opportunity aggressive driver who treats everyone the same way. Don't take his actions personally; just stay out of his way.

As cities grow and roads become more crowded, courtesy on the road is becoming more and more important. Being courteous to another driver, even if that courtesy isn't returned, may be just the thing that will keep the other driver from tipping over from an aggressive driver to someone trying to assault you in a road rage incident.

It is interesting to note that drivers in Portland Oregon, the city with the most courteous drivers, witness far less of the aggressive and distracting behaviors that are seen in New York and Atlanta. The cities where drivers pay attention to the road and exercise random acts of kindness encounter fewer angry drivers. There is another thing that traffic engineers know that fewer and fewer drivers seem to realize. Roads where drivers drive the speed limit and obey the traffic signs have the smoothest running traffic.

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