Q: My husband is an aggressive driver. He speeds and tailgates, and he loses his temper when I ask him to slow down. We are going on a trip soon and I dread having to ride with him. I prefer not to be the one driving. What can I do?
A: With your safety — and those of others — at issue, this is an extremely serious problem. While there are some tactics you can try to make your husband drive less aggressively, if they don’t work and he refuses to consider your fears, you might have to become more aggressive in your own decision about whether to occupy the passenger seat next to him.
There are gradations of aggressive driving. At its most extreme, it is nothing less than road rage. Enraged drivers are so out-of-control that they endanger the life and health of their passengers, fellow motorists and pedestrians.
This is probably not what you are talking about. Still, less aggressive drivers can also act irrationally and show such poor judgment that they are a danger to others.
First, though, you need to double-check as to where your anxiety is coming from. Your statement that you prefer not to drive makes me wonder whether you have a general fear about being in a car. Do you gasp each time your husband makes a left turn? Or point out every stop sign that comes into view?
This is more common than you may think, and could result in your being overly sensitive to how your husband drives. The simplest way to test this, of course, is to compare how you feel when you are riding with other drivers.
Let’s assume, though, that he really is a lead-footed driver — enough to alarm not just you but also other motorists. (I am also assuming that he is not otherwise aggressive.)
Most aggressive driving involves unresolved and poorly managed anger, which is then directed at anonymous strangers sharing the road. Or he could be angry at you and, consciously or not, be using his driving to put you in your place.
This is not going to be easy to solve, but you may be able to improve his conduct by sitting your husband down — at a time when you are not in the car! — and ask him directly about the roots of this behavior.
Maybe he is merely lacking insight into his aggression. Is he aware of his behavior? What is his usual outlet for anger? Make it clear that you fear both of you could get killed or maimed. Give him every opportunity to show you he will stop speeding, tailgating, honking or whatever else scares you.
Talking about his angry behavior could well provide an outlet for his feelings, rather than having them stuffed up until they explode on the road.
Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, can help this process. So can reframing the anger he feels toward other drivers. Instead of listening to him rant, “I have to pay that driver back for cutting me off,” help him articulate his thoughts in a less personal, less confrontational way: “I should steer clear of that bad driver so his accident does not involve me.” A different description of the same event can lead down a less inflammatory path.
But if your husband gets defensive, scoffs at your fears, or comes up with no better response than “the road is filled with jerks who are terrible drivers,” then you should seriously consider whether you should ride with him.
In the world of preferences, it would be nice if he behaved the way you want, but in the world of compromise this might or might not happen. So, on your upcoming trip, you may need to find an alternative — use public transportation, hire a driver or take the wheel yourself.
Maybe you do prefer not to drive, but that might be a better option if you truly fear for your safety.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Aggressive driving is often caused by unresolved anger. Help your husband figure out why he is angry, or check out transportation alternatives.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.