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Driving Courteously: Confessions of a Former Road Rager

Defensive Driving, Nature Versus Nurture

I admit it. I used to be a very angry driver. I like to blame my dad for this inherited tendency to get easily frustrated behind the wheel. Or perhaps I learned the behavior from the backseat at a young age. Nature versus nurture aside, I’m an adult now and the only one responsible for my choices is me.

About 12 years ago, my driving began to change. What happened during this time, you might ask? What great epiphany transformed my driving habits? Looking back, there wasn’t a single defining moment, but a series of moments that turned this rageaholic into a safer and more courteous driver.

Little Listening Ears

At the age of 28, I gave birth to my first daughter. When she was just a tiny munchkin in her rear-facing car seat, I thought nothing of honking rudely at other drivers or throwing up my hands in frustration. But, as my daughter grew older, I realized that she was watching my behavior and listening to my every word. One day, a tiny stream of baby garbled road rage echoed from the backseat. And so, the transformation began.

A Nasty Accident

About four years later, I was on my way home from work. Normally my three children would have been in the car with me. (Yes, three children in only four years!) Thankfully, they were out of school that particular day, so my oldest was at a friend’s house and my two youngest were with my mom.

I approached an intersection to turn left onto the highway. I was yielding to the oncoming traffic, when the driver of an SUV stopped to wave me through. There was a slight hill and I couldn’t see clearly whether the other oncoming lane was clear, but the driver of the SUV was getting frustrated and waved more emphatically. “Fine! I’ll go!” I hollered at the opposing driver.

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I started to make my quick left turn and saw the Jeep coming over the hill immediately. He was approaching too quickly and I did my best to get out of the way. He collided with my mini-van at approximately 45 miles per hour, sending me spinning across the on-ramp. I was shaken but uninjured. I turned around and saw a sight that will live in my memory forever.

All the windows were blown out of the back of my van. My children’s car seats were covered in shards of broken glass. The roof was buckled and twisted metal protruded into the seating compartment. I burst into tears. What if my babies had been in the car? I put my foot on the gas pedal to make that turn out of impatience and frustration. What if I had hurt someone?

Defensive Driving Class

As part of my diversion agreement for my failure to yield, I took a defensive driving class. Alongside all the other offenders, I learned that it’s not enough to expect the people around you to drive safely. You have to take responsibility for yourself. I learned that it was up to me to protect myself and my family from the dangers of the road. At 32-years old, I was finally becoming a more considerate driver.

A Visual Reminder

Not long after the accident, I went on a mission trip to Russia. One of the children in the orphanage where I worked gave me a small wooden cross on a leather strap. When I returned home from Russia, I hung that cross on my rear-view mirror. I initially put it there to remind me of all the children in Russia who had stolen my heart. But, over time, it took on a new significance.

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I looked at that cross every day and thought about how I wanted to live my life. When I drove down the road, did I want people to see the cross, only to find an angry woman behind it yelling and screaming? The answer was no.

I no longer wanted to be an example in the world of a careless, impatient, frustrated driver. Instead, I wanted to show my children and anyone else paying attention what a courteous driver looks like.

How do I drive today?

These days, I’m the person driving the speed limit (or maybe just a smidge over) who doesn’t mind being tailgated. I no longer honk for anything less than an emergency. I keep my phone in my purse and my hands on the wheel (most of the time). And, the only hand gesture I share is friendly wave.

I had some pretty ugly habits to break when it came to driving courteously. But I couldn’t be happier that I’m nurturing kinder, gentler driving skills in my children. As far as nature’s part of the equation, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!