How to avoid driving stress

Stress while driving

It can be easy to get stressed when driving. We’ve put together lots of top ideas to help you manage the anxiety – so adjust your seat and enjoy the trip.

Do you feel worried every time you drive? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Over one in 20 people* are confused about how to overcome driving anxiety. 

And with most of us driving less because of the pandemic, we might be more worried about driving than usual.

Of the people we asked, one in 10 said they don't feel as confident driving on the road compared to 12 months ago. 

And according to a recent study by Dr Lisa Dorn, anxiety levels in the general population were around three times higher during the pandemic compared to before.

Driving requires full concentration and a level of calm, so combating stress levels on the road is important for your safety, and the safety of other road users. Here’s what you need to know. 

 

What does driving anxiety look like?

According to Dr Dorn:

“Driving anxiety can range from apprehension of specific driving situations like heavy traffic, or of general driving situations all the way to a driving phobia.

“Typical bodily reactions during experiences of driving anxiety include heart palpitations, increased sweating and feeling short of breath as the anxiety state takes hold.

" [This could happen] either behind the wheel or just when thinking about driving.”

 

How to reduce stress when driving?

Before you get in the car, check your mood. If you’re irritated of impatient it could affect the journey. So, here’s five ideas to address this:

Brush up on your skills

If you're feeling rusty, you could get an approved driving instructor to give you a refresher on the skills needed to drive. This could enhance your confidence in your abilities.

 

Switch off your phone

Use those sensible every-two-hour breaks to turn on your phone and check your emails or messages.

It’s not always possible or practical but for a distraction-free drive it’s worth keeping it switched off.

Take control of the road

That sometimes means giving way or letting someone in. If you lead by example and show extra regard for other road users, you also control the road. 

Give yourself time

If a regular trip takes two hours when the traffic is ‘good’ and nearer three hours when ‘bad’, plan for the latter.

That means it becomes the ‘new normal’ and those toxic feelings of frustration could be much reduced. 

Enjoy a good read or podcast

E-books a good addition for longer journeys, keeping you entertained on the road. The same goes for podcasts.

If you’re heading for the airport, why not take the story with you? Just don’t put on anything too exciting or sleep-inducing.

Give other drivers room

We refer to psychological room here, not just physical room. The driver who just cut you up might have been trying to get to hospital.

Or they’ve had a life-changing phone call. We’re not likely to find out, so it's best to let it go.

What causes stress while driving?

One of the most common stressful conditions is dense traffic, making us feel claustrophobic and anxious. But there’s a range of other stress factors.

Passengers

Our passengers can sometimes be pretty stressful companions. Family rows are easy to ignite when everyone’s tightly packed in the same confined space.

 

Weather

Snow, ice and intense rain are demanding conditions to experience when behind the wheel, as is driving in unfamiliar places.

 

Too many bells and whistles on the car

While cars are increasingly safer, they’re increasingly complicated.

Many dashboards are digital and it’s a fiddle sometimes to find basic controls like fan speed or radio volume quickly – especially when you’re in motion.

 

How we're feeling before we drive

Our own physical condition can make us feel stressful. How drowsy or tired do you feel?

Stress can sometimes be cumulative and our bodies aren’t that good at separating work and private life pressures.

 

Lack of planning

Our own planning – or lack of it - could also have an impact.

Making a conscious effort to think about how we can make our car journey less stressful could make a decisive difference to the trip.

 

Are you causing other drivers stress? 

If you’re feeling stressed then it could impact your driving. Your passengers or family members might quickly pick up on your mood too. 

When we’re trapped in rapidly moving metal boxes it’s easy to depersonalise the people inside. 

They become less ‘real’ because they’re removed from immediate contact. They might appear more anonymous to us – and they might feel the same towards us. 

This means we might feel less accountable to their safety or wellbeing.

But small acts of consideration go a long way. So, stay calm.

What should I do if an aggressive driver confronts me?

Here are six steps we think could help you and your passengers in any aggressive or stressful situation. 

But the most important one is keeping yourself safe. 

Stay focused

Never over-react. If you’re the victim of a confrontation when you’re driving, your safety and the safety of other road users is the priority.

So, pull over if you can, putting a safe distance between you and the aggressive driver. If you feel threatened, drive away safely.

Never inflame the situation

This means not engaging – even if the other person is screaming or shouting.

Keep your head down, minimise eye contact and any temptation to reason with them. 

Take notes

You don’t need too much information but could be helpful to get the basics if the situation gets out of control.

This means getting the number plate, make and model of their car. 

These details might be needed by the police and your insurance company. You can always add the location, weather conditions and time of day later.

An incident might also involve a company vehicle. Does it contain name or telephone details on the side, or at the rear?

Lock your doors

Most cars have central locking that locks all doors instantly, including the boot.

You should hear the locks ‘pop’ closed to confirm that the aggressor can’t just open your door.   

 

Ask passengers for support.

If you’ve got companions, ask them to make mental notes as you might be personally overwhelmed. 

If you don’t have a pen and paper, use your phone to record notes. Try not to wave it about, especially near someone who’s already aggressive. 

 

Expect the unexpected

It’s not always about other drivers. Sometimes a confrontation involves a pedestrian or cyclist. That means there may not be many details to log such as a car’s registration.

So, details about personal appearance, what’s said, time of day and weather conditions could become significant.

What is road rage?

Are you calm behind a slow driver on a B-road? If you’re tailgated on the motorway, how do you generally react?

How do you feel when someone swoops into the space ahead when everyone has queued up?

We all respond to these on-the-road annoyances in different ways.

Road rage is a response to stress. It might be another driver’s sloppy habits – texting at the wheel, say – or reckless speeding.

Or maybe it’s the feeling that the driver in front is a certifiable public nuisance.

When we’re faced with lawless or irresponsible behaviour, feelings of indignation or anger is normal. Especially they’re seen to be getting away with it’ – and in full public view!

This emotional response can be supercharged when we know that the smallest behind-the-wheel mistake can have tragic consequences.

So how we respond to such situations is key. It could have a big impact on our safety and the safety of those around us. 

 

What are the signs of road rage?

Do you ever stamp on your brakes to warn the car behind they’re too close? Do you speed up or down to prevent another car from passing?

Do you often feel anger or panic when on the road?

If this is you then you might be experiencing road rage.

If you’re late for work or feeling stressed from financial pressure or relationship worries then the underlying frustration could well fuel your mood.

But we have the option of controlling how we respond. For most, these situations aren’t personal – even if it feels like it at the time.

Some common signs of road rage include:

  • Aggressive speeding up and braking

  • Slamming the horn

  • Flashing your lights aggressively

  • Shouting, swearing and making aggressive gestures

 

How dangerous is road rage?

Road rage could be dangerous for your physical safety because high stress might increase your risk of high blood pressure. 

According to the British Heart Foundation, stress alone isn’t enough to cause lasting damage.

But it could lead to unhealthy habits, which in turn increase your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.

Road rage could also be dangerous for your wallet. If your car is damaged from an incident caused by road rage, it could increase your car insurance costs.

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How common is road rage in the UK?

Due to the global pandemic it’s not easy to know the levels of UK road rage in 2020/21. There’s much less data about.

A 2019 Auto Trader survey claimed that 53% of UK road users had been or felt intimidated when out and about. But one in 10 of us had actually experienced physical aggression. 

Tailgating, using a mobile phone at the wheel and not using indicators are thought to be among the biggest annoyances. Pulling out without warning is also a road rage no-no.


Is road rage against the law?

We all risk getting angry in certain situations. If this means we respond aggressively to another driver or their passenger, we could be prosecuted. 

There’s no specific ‘road rage’ offence. The bottom line for road rage is that every situation is different – and dependent on evidence that may, or may not, support a prosecution.  

If your car’s deliberately damaged from a road rage incident then it could be criminal damage. If there’s an incident of careless or dangerous driving, then you could report it to the police.

The police can fine you up to £1,000 for rude gestures if the offence is labelled 'disorderly conduct'. 


How can I report an aggressive driver?

Many police forces let us report a road rage or road traffic accident online. If the incident is happening now or someone’s in immediate danger, you should call 999 immediately.

If you’re some distance from home, you can report an incident by contacting the police force responsible for the local area. 

Section 2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 classifies driving as dangerous:

  • The way they drive falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and

  • It would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

Dangerous driving is far more serious than careless driving and is treated seriously by the courts.  


Does my car insurance cover road rage? 

Check your car insurance policy documents to see if they mention road rage.

If you’re involved in any road rage incident, give your insurer a call once you’ve reported it to the police. 

They should be able to quickly identify what protection – medical costs or psychological support, for example – you’re entitled to.

If you’re responsible for a road rage incident, then your insurer could void your policy. 

But prevention is better than cure, so it’s best to avoid a road rage incident wherever you can.

 

*Figures taken from omnibus research carried out by OnePoll on behalf of Confused.com. This was a nationally-representative poll of 2,000 UK adults. The research was conducted between 13 May 2021 and 18 May 2021.