Turning Down the Aggression: How to Master Defensive Driving

Defensive driving is a trait that is hard to teach to many drivers. Frustration at the behaviors of other drivers or simply wanting to move faster is often an innate aspect of a driver's personality. However, there are simple ways that you can tone down your aggressiveness and learn how to become a safer, more defensive driver.

Assessing Your Driving Aggressiveness

Sometimes, it's hard to know whether or not you're truly an aggressive driver or if you just have a few aggressive driving tendencies. Take the following quiz to assess your aggressiveness. And be honest with each question:

  • Do you yell at other drivers for driving slowly or for passing you?
  • Are rude gestures a regular occurrence when another driver misbehaves?
  • Do you tailgate slow drivers instead of giving them a safe braking distance?
  • When you see a yellow light do you slow down or hit the gas?
  • Do you honk your horn when someone is slow to respond to a green light?
  • Have you ever passed multiple cars in two-lane driving, narrowly missing an accident?
  • Has your behavior ever caused an accident?

If you answered "yes" to even a few of these questions, you are likely an aggressive driver. Now that you understand that, you can work at eliminating these problematic and dangerous behaviors.

Building Focus and Alertness

Many aggressive driving traits occur because someone isn't carefully paying attention to the road. As a result, they are surprised when driving conditions change, get afraid, and fly into a "flight or fight" mode, where everyone is an enemy.

Cultivating a sense of focus and alertness not only eliminates those dangerous "fight" moments, but also gives you time to relax in a safe and defensive manner.

As a result, cutting back on driving distraction is a necessity. Eliminate these behaviors to increase your driving focus and alertness:

  • Talking on the phone
  • Texting
  • Changing CDs or radio stations
  • Reading billboards
  • Doing makeup or adjusting your mirrors
  • Looking at passengers

Don't Consider Other Drivers the "Enemy"

Driving is not a race: you're not competing with anyone, but yourself. Aggressive drivers treat other cars like "the enemy," a problematic behavior that endangers everyone's life. This is particularly true of cyclists: they especially require defensive driving!

Remember: other drivers are just people like you. They are trying to get somewhere safely so they can continue to live their lives. So if someone is passing you (after riding your bumper for 20 miles), just let them go. And if it looks like they're going to try to cut you off, slow down and let them in the lane.

Are those behaviors infuriating? Absolutely! But that person is not your enemy: they're probably someone with little patience who is in a big hurry. They're an aggressive driver, like you.

Don't compete with them. Just drive defensively: this will help balance out those behaviors and make the road safer for everyone.

Never Rely on the Good Behavior of Other Drivers

Aggressive drivers are often aggressive people used to getting their way. But what happens if you run into another aggressive driver that won't let you merge? Or who is willing to run a red light just to get an extra 30 seconds closer to home? What happens then?

Accidents happen. That's why you can never rely on the good (defensive) behaviors of other drivers. However, if you yourself drive defensively, you can at least rely on yourself to prevent accidents.

Does this mean you might get home a little slower? Probably. But it also means you'll get home.

Remember: becoming a defensive driver is not only safe for you, it's safer for everybody on the road. And the only way you can become a defensive driver is by committing to these actions and working towards implementing them every time you drive.