Travel isn't always a peaceful experience - whether on a bus, train, plane or automobile. We've heard the terms Road Rage, Air Rage and Line Rage - whatever you call it, when people travel, our patience is tested, conflicts arise, and keeping the peace within a traveling community can be a challenge. This time on Peace Talks, a discussion on Tempering Travel Rage.

According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics for 2001, Americans traveled over 500 million air miles and over 4 billion highway miles. But how many of those miles were peaceful? On this edition of Peace Talks, we explore the causes of travel rage and specific ways to prevent or at least control it. Our two guests help us learn to stay calm as we co-create traveling communities with fellow voyagers. We talk with Diana Fairechild, an aviation health & safety author and expert witness who was an international flight attendant for 21 years and Dr. Leon James, expert and author on Road Rage who is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii.

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Dr. Leon James, you suggest that today's road rage and aggressive driving problems are the "natural evolution of a cultural norm." What do you mean, when did all this start?

Dr. Leon James: Actually, the back seat of the car is the road rage nursery because that's when children begin to absorb how drivers are acting or are supposed to act. Also they're getting a feel for how the car goes - whether fast or slow or abruptly around turns - these are physiological effects that we have early as children. And so when we begin to drive, we seek that kind of feeling or sensation again because that's what feels normal. Besides the parents, you have other adults and the media, which are very influential.

How do the media influence us?

James: Children are exposed to many scenes in the course of an evening that portray "drivers behaving badly." Once children are exposed to this, (when they become) adults, it's something familiar and natural that we fall into.

You say that a lot of the 42,000 traffic fatalities that take place in the U.S. are the result of driver error that can be traced back to a lack of emotional intelligence. What do you mean by emotional intelligence?

James: Emotional intelligence refers specifically to a driver's ability to talk themselves out of doing something that is risky or unadvisable. If someone does something risky in front of me, an example is that you could say "They're so stupid!" or "They make me so angry when they do this!" Both are very common responses. (However) the more emotionally intelligent model would be "I get so upset when they do this." This focuses on the self, so now I have a choice to do something about it. I can ask myself, "Does being upset help me deal with the situation?" And that kind of thing leads you to more emotionally intelligent alternatives.

How do I make that choice between "They're so stupid" and "I get so upset..."?

James: You have to be committed. In our Road Rage book we have a three step program that really works for everybody. It's AWM - "Acknowledge," "Witness," and "Modify." The first step is difficult - acknowledge - it means you have to face it and admit that "Yes, I have Road Rage," even if I don't have a ticket and I haven't gotten into any fights with anybody. "I still have Road Rage and I'm aggressive." The second step is that you have to be a witness to yourself when you drive. You sort of split your mind into two so you can observe the "you" that is driving. Then you begin to discover that you're not as good a driver as you think and you also begin to observe when you start to get hot under the collar, so you can anticipate in advance and have more of a chance to do something about it. And the last step is to modify. So on any trip, you pick one thing to focus on - whether it's emotional or outward behavioral - whether it's following too close, or getting mad when someone tries to get in, or "closing the gap" when someone wants to get in ahead of me. So you begin to work with each of these and become more rational.

Dr. Leon James

Road Rage and Agressive Driving by Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Kahl

James: One of the things that I recommend when you suddenly feel like you're going to explode is to make funny noises. It could be animal noises or just strange noises - anything at all that requires a lot of energy - some people say you can just start breathing in a certain way. In the first ten seconds, just before you're going to explode, you need to control that in any way that you can and breathing is important. And also you need to watch your hands, whether they tighten around the wheel, so you try to relax the hands. By the time that first ten seconds has gone by, that adrenaline is much less intense and then you are able to give yourself a pep talk. Then you have to be prepared with your new philosophy of driving (less aggressively).

Talk about how a car is really like an enclosed capsule that makes us feel separate and somewhat invincible when we're in traffic.

James: Driver annonymity and driver alienation go together because when you're enclosed in your capsule all by yourself, you also have an opportunity to become alienated so that you begin to think negatively about all the drivers around you. Therefore, we no longer have a highway community but we have a warfare going on. That's one of the reasons I don't like dark tinited windows because you can't see the other driver, you have no idea what's going on. What is that other driver doing? Are they looking at me? Are they not? Are they looking ahead? .. That's not a good feeling because driving is a cooperative process. So rather than feel more isolated, I think what we need to do is bring drivers more into coordination with each other and awareness of each other.

Can we address any of this with driver education?

James: Yes, in our book we actually recommend a program that we call life-long driver education. You start when we are first exposed to driving attitudes and that's during infancy as we're being driven around by adults. So we have an affective component for the early education years. Then we have a cognitive component for the middle years, then finally a sensory-motor component for the high school years. And then, after they get the license, we have what we call quality driving circles which is a life-long participation in driver self-improvement programs.


Diana Fairechild, you were a flight attendent for many years. What are some examples of "Air Rage"?

Diana Fairechild: Examples of air rage are most always directed at flight attendants. Flight attendants have been slapped, struck with wine bottles, punched, pinched, burned with cigarettes, thrown across the plane, bitten and attempted strangulation. (I have a) theory that air rage is triggered by oxygen deprivation on the airplane. The inadequate oxygen to the brain fuels passengers' temper tantrums which have been ignited by prior abbrasive incidents at the airport or on board or at home. So it's almost like feeling like you're suffocating, so you become very agitated. When I am in an environment where there's not a lot of fresh air, I'm not my most peaceful self.

And what are the other conditions that increase our grumpiness when we travel?

Fairechild: The sardine seating, people are seated so close together and people are exhaling into each other's biospace. And then there's alcohol that is a real problem that causes people to lose their inhibitions - and the effects of alcohol at high altitude are more apparent. It's a synergy of all these conditions that cause air rage.


Diana Fairechild

Jet Smarter
by Diana Fairechild


You're making a case that the airlines hold a lot of the blame for having small seats and low air pressure, but don't passengers bear some responsibility in terms of controlling their own behavior?

Fairechild: That's a really good point. I believe that if we all carried peace in our hearts, things wouldn't ignite so easily. We have to realize that the airplane is a microcosm of humanity. There are business flyers next to screaming babies, there are high-techies next to hikers. We have to all realize that the plane is there for our transportation and that we all have to be more adaptable and adjustable. Tolerance and kindness goes a long way to preventing air rage in airplane cabins.

How can we do that? How can we be more tolerant?

Fairechild: How we take care of ourselves and treat ourselves in our daily lives is just preparation for when we get in a stressful situation. So if we've taken care of ourselves - if we've had a good night's sleep, if we haven't raced through the airport, if we didn't bristle at security, if we dressed for the airport security area, you know, not wearing metal (any of this can help). Also it just helps to be aware that it IS very stressful to be flying.

Fairechild: I find that seeing the outcome - seeing yourself arriving safe and looking great - helps alot. Then everything that takes place from here to there gets to be more in the background. The thing is, if we want peace within ourselves, we want it no matter what's going on out there. You know, the price that we pay for getting upset, with heart disease and stress, is just not worth it.



BOOK: Road Rage and Aggressive Driving by Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Kahl


BOOK: Jet Smater by Diana Fairechild