Dear Dr. Yael:
I am a female driver dealing with challenges of derech eretz while driving in my community. Every time the light is about to turn green, the person behind me seems to immediately honk the horn, yet no one has a problem double-parking, making me feel as if I am driving on an obstacle course.
People honk with great impatience if another driver is following the normal speed limit. Worse yet is that everyone seems to cross against a red light. I often see young mothers pushing their baby carriages across the street, straight into traffic, also against the light. They are certainly putting their children in a dangerous situation.
It is so frightening to drive in my community that I honk lightly, even if I am going through a green light. Drivers often tailgate me and persistently honk at me. When this happens I either turn toward a different direction or pull over and let them pass me. I then end up right in back of that driver at the next light. The person, so embarrassed, quickly turns right or left so that I will not be right behind and see who he or she is. (It’s perplexing that these same people with road rage can be amazing ba’alei chesed.)
There are times when I can’t pull my car out of the driveway, because of a double-parked car. When the driver is a frum man, even if I ask him to move, he does not do so. He will get out and try to direct me out of the driveway, or offer to pull the car out for me. On occasion, when someone has offered to pull out the car for me, I have agreed, and after being told that I have plenty of room and being ridiculed as a female driver, he has someone move his car anyway, because there really isn’t room to pull out. On those occasions I am always pleasant and thank him for helping me.
I try to never express anger or raise my voice, as I work very hard on practicing good middos and showing derech eretz, even when spoken to in a disrespectful tone.
The most daunting situation I experienced was when I offered a ride to a tired-looking, pregnant, frum woman and the driver behind me honked as she got into the car, even though it was clear she was having a hard time. I have even been honked at while dropping off my elderly parents.
Why is it that so many seemingly nice people undergo total personality changes when they get behind the wheel? Why does the mood of a wonderful ba’al middos become completely different? I know people who show so much patience in other situations, but develop road rage behind the wheel. Are there any studies to explain this behavior?
Unfortunately, people become more hostile when behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that aggressive driving causes about a third of all crashes and about two-thirds of automobile fatalities. Studies also reveal that many individuals who become enraged on the road do not have prior arrests; rather, they are your average fellow citizens.
Psychologically, people feel a sense of power when driving and often feel slighted when someone cuts them off, even if done inadvertently. Individuals also feel territorial when driving, and if someone steps into his or her territory, it may be perceived as a breach of personal space. Logically speaking, this does not make sense. But unfortunately, people in these situations are usually reacting irrationally. Furthermore, drivers who display road rage believe that their actions are validated by the way they feel. Only afterward, when reality hits them, do they feel embarrassed because they realize they behaved irrationally.
I would hope that all of our readers, especially after reading your letter, will keep in mind the importance of focusing on their reactions to be sure they are rational. Most people, if asked, would say they would never honk their horns if they saw an elderly person or a pregnant woman getting into a car in front of them. But in the heat of the moment they may react illogically.