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July 2, 2022

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Amid a seeming increase in aggressive driving, here’s how to stay calm on Washington roads

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With traffic in Seattle down an estimated 59% between 2020 and 2021, Washington drivers may have forgotten just how challenging it can be to try to get somewhere in a hurry.

But the memories — and aggravation — are coming back, along with the steadily increasing traffic, freeway-blocking collisions and skyrocketing gas prices.

Trooper Rick Johnson, a spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol, said the return to pre-pandemic traffic and all the accompanying frustrations may be among the factors behind a seeming increase in aggressive driving.

“When everybody was staying home, traffic was beautiful for those commuting,” Johnson said. “But now that we’re transitioning back to a normal commute and traffic is getting heavier and heavier and the weather is getting warmer, tempers are also getting warmer.”

Frustration is an understandable response to the region’s terrible traffic, said Tacoma-based psychologist Ana Maria Sierra. She drives to Seattle regularly for appointments.

“It’s been awful. There have been two or three accidents most days I’ve gone,” she said. There are drivers out there who let their frustration turn to rage and seem to be “using their vehicles like a weapon,” she said.

And according to a recent WalletHub comparison of the best and worst states to drive in, aggressive driving isn’t the only issue on Washington’s roads. WalletHub looked at 31 metrics of positive driving experiences including congestion, commute lengths, the number of rainy days and the increase in freeway traffic, and found Washington is the nation’s sixth worst state for drivers.

Washington placed 35th among the 50 states in rush-hour congestion, 42nd in auto maintenance costs, 43rd in auto theft rates, 44th in road quality and 47th in average gas prices, the analysis found.

With all the frustration that comes with driving on Washington roads, we can adjust our own internal thermometers and stay cool while driving with some commonsense strategies, such as leaving early, keeping snacks in the car and having good music or audiobooks to listen to, said Sierra.

But we can’t change other people or their moods, she said, so it’s best to steer clear of angry drivers.

“We get calls about aggressive drivers all day every day, and if someone reacts to aggressive driving, that can end up as road rage,” said Trooper Johnson.

Johnson tells people that courteous driving is the best defense.

“Drive in a way that’s not going to get somebody with an anger issue thinking you’re not using your signal and they need to take care of it,” he said. And if someone does get aggressive, get out of the way, slow down, pull over or take the next exit.

“Don’t get mad and start driving more aggressively,” he said. “Remove yourself. Get their plate and make and model and let them do their thing.”

Below are more tips for preventing anger on the roadways from Nancy Goldov, public education coordinator for the Washington State Psychological Association, and Stress Free Car Rental.

  • Leave early: Get in the car and relax for a few minutes before driving. Give yourself plenty of time on the road.
  • Avoid rush hour: Easier said than done sometimes, but wait for the roads to clear when you can.
  • Be intentionally calm: Relax your grip on the steering wheel, unclench your jaw and listen to something you enjoy.
  • Don’t engage: Avoid eye contact with angry drivers and give them space.
  • Practice polite driving: Lay off the horn and ignore obscene gestures.
  • Don’t take it personally: It’s not you, it’s them. Don’t take an angry driver’s aggression personally.
  • Stay focused: Be attentive to your journey and the road in front of you. It’s not your job to educate or punish other drivers.
  • Don’t go home: If an aggressive driver follows you, drive to the nearest police station.

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