From the Chief’s Corner

The Bully in You — Put It in Park!
By Chief Sam DiGiovanna
Verdugo Fire Academy/Lexipol Consultant

Find yourself shouting at the driver in front of you? Accelerating quickly even though you know you’ll just have to come to a stop at the light ahead? Feeling helpless as you look at the traffic stretched out in front of you?

Whether late for work, rushing to get home after working overtime or being detailed to another station, or driving code 3, we’ve all succumbed to bad driving behavior at one time or another. Worse yet, many of us have responded to vehicle accidents that were the consequences of road rage. But what triggers such behavior?

First, it helps to understand that there are levels of this behavior. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines road rage as a criminal act of violence. The more common behaviors we associate with road rage—tailgating, speeding, running red lights—are defined as aggressive driving.

But that’s not to imply that it’s not dangerous. Aggressive driving can have serious repercussions—not the least of which is making our passengers and other drivers extremely uncomfortable!

Curbing the Impulse
It’s easy to blame your aggressive driving on external conditions like other drivers or traffic, but the truth is that it’s our behavior, and we can control it. Following are just a few tips.
  • Get your sleep. Lack of sleep makes us cranky and quicker to overreact to road conditions that are less than optimal.
  • Plan ahead. If you’re constantly in a rush when you hit the road, worried about being late, you’re not leaving yourself enough time. Extra time means you can react more calmly when you encounter bad traffic or an “uncooperative” driver.
  • Stop trying to impress. Let’s face it, our cars are status symbols, and it can be tempting to want to show off what they can do. But you’re not as impressive as you think, so let it go and focus on what your car was really made for: transporting you safely from one place to another.
  • Listen to relaxing music. It will make you less pumped up for action.
  • Breathe! Clenching the steering wheel in a death grip? Consciously tell yourself to relax. Take a deep, cleansing breath, stretch your jaw muscles and take it down a notch. Roll down the window and get some fresh air.
  • Don’t take it personally. When another driver cuts you off or drives 5 mph under the speed limit in the fast lane, it’s easy to assume they’re doing it to annoy you. Rarely is that the case. When you feel yourself reacting, remind yourself that you’re not the target.
  • Consider your health and safety. People most prone to anger are almost three times more likely to have a heart attack than those with low anger and can face higher rates of obesity, depression and stroke. Further, lashing out at a driver can cause them to retaliate, putting you in physical danger. Ask yourself whether getting through the light or into that lane is really worth endangering your life.
  • Imagine the other person is your mom. You wouldn’t want someone swearing at or tailgating your mother, would you? Just because you’re inside a car doesn’t give you the right to behave in a way that you would normally find embarrassing.
Test Yourself
Take the self-test. Do any of the following statements sound like you?
  • I regularly exceed the speed limit in order to get to work on time.
  • If a driver is going slow in the fast lane, I tailgate to let them know they should move over.
  • I yell, flash my lights and/or honk my horn to let drivers know when they annoy me.
  • I frequently feel that other drivers are bad drivers.
  • I speed up to get through yellow lights.
  • I often prevent other drivers from merging into my lane.
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, your driving may qualify as aggressive. Take the American Institute for Public Safety’s detailed RoadRageous Test, which determines whether your driving habits fall into the “aggressive zone,” “hostile zone” or the “war zone.”

Driving is often stressful, but we shouldn’t blame other drivers or traffic conditions for our aggressive behavior. With some planning and mental reminders to keep things in perspective, we can put aggressive driving in park!

The month of May is National Mental Health Awareness Month — a good time to reflect on or even use this piece as a PSA for your agency!

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.