Until recently, I had a bouncing Buddha on my dashboard. His chubby, grinning face atop a sumo-esque body took on a jovial jiggle whenever the needle went over 100 km/h.
But his zen-ness didn't prevent my temper from getting the best of me. Occasionally, I'd let expletives fly when I'd been done wrong on the road.
I'm not alone. A 2012 Leger Marketing poll found 80 per cent of Canadians have been guilty of some form of road rage. For women, it's usually when they are running late; for men the trigger is getting cut off.
After one of my hot-headed gestures, I'd look at my bouncing buddy and think, "What would Buddha do?" Absent any detectable advice, I ditched him.
After 30-plus years of driving, you'd think we'd learn that anger begets anger in other drivers. Like most people, I forget the good moments on the road – like those times when I have slowed down to let a driver merge or given a friendly wave to the driver who's done the same for me. At those times, the karma metre surges and all seems right with the world.
What a concept, and as it happens that's what they're trying to do in Singapore. The simple gesture of affixing a checkered bow tie on the front grille of your car signals to your fellow commuters you want to be a more courteous driver.
The burgeoning Gentlemen Movement campaign is catching on among people who are tired of rudeness on the roads. But to me, it seems just a little too laid back to get any traction.
There are other fronts in the war on road rage. In Europe, a facial-emotion detector uses an infrared camera mounted behind the steering wheel to detect a driver's state of mind, reading the muscles in the face. Are you exuding joy, sadness, anxiety, fatigue to extreme anger or disgust? It's unclear just yet how the gadget would react.
Meanwhile, my new karmic driving model is Mohammed Mughal, a Checker Cab taxi driver in Calgary. He has driven a cab five to six days week for 8-to-12 hours a day for the past 15 years, often in extreme conditions. He also trains new cab drivers. Here are some of his recommendations for staying calm behind the wheel:
- Don’t take the bait. Mughal was recently chased by a driver for three or four blocks, even after politely signalling and gesturing to be let into a lane. The road rager went out of his way to continue the intimidation, giving him the finger and making angry faces. Mughal says just ignore such people. “They are not your aunt, your mother, your sister or brother. You will never see them again.”
- Keep calm and drive on. Never stop to get into it with a fellow driver. You never know what they’re capable of.
- Leave plenty of time to get to your destination. The stress of running late can put a driver on edge.
- Never make sudden moves. If you realize you’re in the wrong lane and it’s too late to do anything about it – don’t make any rash moves. Go out of your way, or around the block if you have to, to avoid peeving your fellow drivers – or perhaps causing a fender bender.
- If you do a lot of driving for business, be sure to take a long break from the road. “Have a coffee, call your wife or a friend to clear your head of stress.”
- Always acknowledge a fellow driver’s good deed, like letting you merge, with a wave. “Ninety-nine point nine per cent of the time, they’ll wave back.”
- My favourite tidbit from Mughal? Kill them with silliness. When someone gives Mughal the finger, “I show them my teeth and smile like a monkey.”
Thanks to Mughal, the Buddha can stay in the glove box. I'm just going to replace it with a goofy grin when a fellow motorist takes the low road.
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