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Driving Is Hazardous to Your Health

Road Worriers

Age of Rage

Commuting can certainly hurt you physically, but how does it affect your mental and psychological health? Leon James, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and his team have people carry tape recorders and tape their every thought while in the car. He says people are not aware of the negative emotions that surge through them while driving. "Driving," he points out, "is an activity in which you are surrounded by hundreds of people having negative emotions, and the whole system is based on whether it's cooperative or antagonistic." James is the co-author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare.

OK, your commute tonight is an episode of road rage waiting to happen. What can you do? James recommends a three-step way to change your driving mentality.

  1. Be aware -- work on changing one aspect of your driving at a time. One day, use proper signaling; the next, let people in front of you.
  2. Witness your behavior. If you get angry, see why and how long you stay angry. Did you make any gestures or aggressive movements?
  3. Modify your actions. Arrange some sentences in advance that you can tell yourself. Say "It's not their fault, another driver was crowding them." "Maybe they didn't see me." "They may be on the way to the hospital."

His wife, he says, will sometimes say to him, "Fix your face." He will look in the mirror and see that he is scowling. "I look all mean," he admits.

Sarkar also recommends putting pictures of your spouse and family on the dashboard or playing soothing music.

Bad or Foolish Drivers

With fewer and fewer high schools offering drivers' education, are people worse drivers than, say, 20 years ago? James says people in general have always been pretty poor drivers, but the congestion of today's roadways (along with all those distractions) has led to more interactions.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs has always been a misguided practice, accounting for a majority of fatalities. Sarkar also says driving while sleep deprived can be dangerous. "Your body needs a nap and will take it whether you are driving or not," she says. She recommends pulling over for 10 minutes and sleeping.

Glare can also cause accidents. Poor manners in adjusting your brights or even the despicable habit of turning them on in retaliation can kill people, you included.

What about trucks and truck drivers? According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, car drivers cause most truck-car accidents. "Trucks take longer to stop or turn. You must keep a wider separation." Sarkar says.

Realize the importance of trucks on the road, James says. "Trucks bring food. Trucks bring conveniences to us. We need to think about that and be grateful."

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