Anger And Driving: How To Keep Your Cool On The Road

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to the AAA Foundation, nearly 80% of drivers expressed significant anger behind the wheel in the previous 30 days. Statistics like this are concerning because driving can be a necessary and convenient part of everyday life, allowing you to commute to work, run errands, or get away for vacations. In addition to its utility, driving may cause particularly frustrating situations, including sitting in traffic, navigating road work, distracted drivers, or getting lost. 

Certain dangers in driving may be avoided by remaining calm and focused, including car accidents, road rage incidents, or mental health concerns. There may be risks to driving while angry or emotionally upset. Learning the risks of “anger driving” can be the first step to avoiding it.

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Managing your anger in a healthy way is possible

What is road rage?

Road rage is a term that may refer to people exhibiting symptoms of anger while driving. This anger and subsequent aggressive driving could manifest in many ways, depending on the person and the situation. Road rage can cause people to drive faster, change lanes quickly, make riskier moves, or behave aggressively toward other drivers. 

Drivers who experience high levels of anger on the road drive 10 to 20 miles per hour over the speed limit on average. Road rage may lead to severe accidents, injury, or mental health challenges. However, managing road rage is often possible. 

How to manage anger while driving

Driving can be a safe and enjoyable experience with a healthy approach. The following tips might help you avoid aggressive driving and unhealthy expressions of anger on the road.

Give yourself enough time

A potential cause of anger while driving is feeling rushed due to traffic, construction, or other drivers. If you're short on time while driving to your destination, you may feel frustrated if you come across a situation that slows you down, which might cause you to drive in a more hurried, risky way.

Traffic is not always predictable, even if you're using an app. To adhere to traffic safety standards and avoid rushing, give yourself a buffer. Look up the route you'll take ahead of time so that you know how long the drive will be, then try to give yourself up to 40 minutes extra to arrive. You may have to plan your at-home schedule around this extra time. For example, try to shower earlier or put your clothes out for the day before you sleep at night. 

Be understanding 

While you can't change another driver’s anger, you may manage your response to their behavior.

At times, people make mistakes on the road. Your fellow drivers may be living with stress or could have experienced a temporary lapse. They may be a new driver or may be having a bad day. 

Understanding that mistakes can happen may help you avoid feeling tense or angry when someone drives in a way that inconveniences you or puts you in danger. Try to think about driving as a community activity. You and your fellow motorists are trying to get to your destination, and you might help each other by being courteous and understanding on the road.

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Avoid engaging with angry drivers

You might encounter a reckless, angry, or aggressive driver. Perhaps a motorist will drive aggressively near you or direct their displaced anger at you because of how you drove near them. When high-anger drivers do this, try not to engage. Responding to reckless driving, shouting, or gesturing with similar expressions of anger may escalate the situation and make it more hazardous.

If you're worried about aggressive drivers, you can avoid more risks by keeping plenty of distance between your car and theirs. You can slow down or safely exit to give yourself space. If necessary, alert the authorities that someone is driving recklessly, which may help keep others safe. 

If someone leaves their car, threatens you with physical harm, makes you feel your life is at risk, or engages in any other dangerous behavior, contact the authorities by calling 911. Try not to leave your vehicle and lock your car doors. Escape the situation by driving away if possible. 

Avoid driving while already angry

If you're in a heightened state before getting behind the wheel, road rage could exacerbate your emotions and cause you to engage in riskier driving. Research shows that driving while angry may drastically increase the likelihood of an accident

If you're upset, give yourself time to control your emotions, even if it means being late. Try using anger management techniques to relax before leaving and start driving once you feel calmer.

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Managing your anger in a healthy way is possible

Utilize relaxation methods in the car

Specific proven techniques for preventing unhealthy expressions of anger can be practiced in the car. For example, listening to calming music has been shown to improve the mood of those who experience anger while driving. Additionally, studies show that mindfulness practices can be done on the go.

Physical discomfort may translate to tension, so adjust your seat, mirrors, and steering wheel in a way that feels comfortable. You can also practice deep breathing and other techniques for overall anger management while you're driving.

Anger management techniques for everyday life

Many people who experience road rage or angry driving habits have trouble expressing their anger healthily in other parts of their lives. Developing anger management skills can not only help you drive safely, but it may also help with your relationships, career, and overall mental health. 

Deep breathing

Focusing on your breath can help you quiet your mind, slow your heart rate, and relax. To practice deep breathing, sit or lie in a comfortable position, take a slow breath through your nose, and then release it slowly through your mouth. Deep breathing may be helpful because you can practice it in almost any setting.  

Try to take deep breaths whenever you're stopped at a stoplight or behind another car. Doing so may help you manage your nervous system between bursts of driving. 

Exercise

Physical activity can provide an avenue for you to release tension and mediate feelings of anger. Creating an exercise routine, joining a sports league, or going for a walk could reduce potentially anger-inducing stress.

Journaling

Putting your thoughts down on paper is a healthy way of communicating your emotions. You can express disbelief, frustrations, and stressful thoughts in a safe, productive environment. Journaling may allow you to process your feelings and avoid manifesting them in problematic ways, such as road rage or excess anger in other situations. 

Writing could also allow you to go back and identify potential triggers that may evoke future problematic anger.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is often about focusing on the present moment by remaining aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Mindfulness may help you slow down and recognize how your aggressive thinking affects you. 

By drawing attention to the psychological factors, emotions, and environmental factors that may lead to unhealthy manifestations of anger, you can often learn to manage it better. 

Managing anger through counseling 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely accepted treatment that may help individuals identify and replace negative thought patterns that can lead to certain emotions and behaviors, such as unhealthy expressions of anger. 

Online CBT may be beneficial if you're looking for a form of therapy that is easy to complete before or after work, or something you can take with you to multiple locations. Research shows that online therapy can benefit those who want to learn about and manage their anger. In a study of the effects of internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy on problematic anger, researchers found that even brief treatment can significantly decrease anger levels

If you'd like help managing your anger levels or addressing related mental health concerns, consider contacting a therapist online. An online therapy platform like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed mental health professional remotely through video and voice calling or in-app messaging. You won't have to worry about driving to and from an office, dealing with traffic, or sitting in a waiting room. 

Counselor review

Steve Garufi, LPC
Steve is amazing and does a good job at making this seem like less of a counseling session and more of a conversation between friends. He helped me talk through my anger issues and road rage and gave me lots of problem-solving tools. I highly recommend him!”

Takeaway

Anger is a common emotion that you may experience while driving. It might create dangerous situations when it is expressed in an unhealthy way. If you're looking for help managing anger on the go, try the above tips and consider reaching out to a qualified mental health professional, like a counselor.

Learn to separate anger from behavior

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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