How I avoid seeing red up ahead

The ever-worsening road traffic in and around Metro Manila (no thanks to the daily and nightly onslaught of trucks, and a tsunami of new cars purchased, and driven, by a new generation of upwardly mobile Pinoys) has taken the pace of the daily commute down to a crawl. And with the frustration and exasperation brought about by the hours needlessly wasted on the road, tempers often flare. Motorists, pedestrians, drivers and passengers tend to get ticked off by the slightest provocation.

In my 25 years of driving, I have done all I could to check my emotions while on the road, even going to the extent of consulting a feng shui expert, who told me to “tie a blue string around the rear view mirror to attract positive vibes.” Well, I don’t know if that tactic worked (because  I sometimes wanted to tie that blue string around an idiot driver’s neck), but what I do know is that it’ll take more than blue strings to keep yourself together on the maddening roads.

To be honest, I have had my fair share of “nearly violent” road rage episodes—shouting matches, middle finger shoot-outs—with fellow drivers and the occasional pedestrian (and, of course, with the devil-may-care motorcyclist). Such moments are emotionally draining, really, and add unwanted stress to an already traumatic day of being trapped in a sea of cars travelling from naught to 5 kph at 9 a.m., your destination still a good 10 km away, and your appointment supposedly starting an hour ago.

What can I do, aside from playing the most relaxing chill-out music on my car audio? Here are some techniques I have found to be quite effective “mood stabilizers”.

  1. Be well-rested and sober before driving. That means you should not be: a) tired; b) lacking sleep the night before; c) drunk or hung-over; d) hungry or thirsty.
  2. Turn that GPS on inside your head and map out your route before you go. There is always more than one way to your destination, and experience should tell you which roads are less traveled at which times.
  3. Adopt the mindset that you don’t need to be always first in line. Some drivers are always in a hurry. If you’re not driving a taxicab, there’s no reason for you to drive like a paid madman. Being first is reserved only to just one driver, and that driver arrived there a long, long time ago. Nice guys, and gals, don’t have to finish last, too, and they don’t mind falling in line.
  4. Be courteous and predictable by using the turn signals when you’re about to change lanes. Drivers don’t like to be taken by surprise, so use your turn lights (you paid for that along with your car, anyway) to give them a heads-up.
  5. Understand that there could be slowpokes on fast lanes, because speed is relative. So don’t be impatient and tailgate them, bullying them to steer to another lane by high-beaming them. Pass them yourself on safe designated passing lanes, and probably leave them with a honk or two to “wake” them up.
  6. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of highway bullying, stand your ground (only if you’re following correct speed limits. If you’re cruising at 50 kph on an expressway when the legal minimum speed is 60, then you better step on it because you’re a road obstruction), and make them pass you.
  7. Don’t high-beam back oncoming cars with headlights on high beam. That won’t solve anything (and, in fact, can only make matters worse because you’ll be blinding the vehicle that’s coming towards you). Instead, look away from the beam by momentarily fixing your gaze towards the far right side of your windshield, towards the road.

It takes practice to balance your temperament in driving. The goal of a disciplined driver has always been to strike that balance between wakefulness and serenity, between knowing when to be defensive and when to be aggressive. When you’re at that sweet spot, nothing can ruin your day on the road, traffic or no traffic.

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