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Melissa Slager | streetsmarts@heraldnet.com
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Can't we all just get along on the road?

Last week, we tallied up your many responses to the question of what ticks you off most about other drivers, and boy, there's plenty.

We've had about 140 emails, and many other comments online at www.heraldnet.com/trafficgripes and on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/heraldnet.

There were more than 80 different gripes, ranging from people who don't use their turn signals to people who drive with dogs in their laps. Topping the list was all the various forms of bad merging, with 21 votes via email. Other high vote-getters were left-lane camping, tailgating and people who don't use their lights in bad weather.

This past week, another reader wrote that he's peeved about people breaking all the rules of the road when driving in the snow -- going too fast for the conditions, turning left from the right lane and right from the left lane, not bothering to use the left turn lane and ignoring stop signs were a few of the examples.

Now that we've established what gets us angry under the collar, and have blown off some steam, the question becomes, what do we do next?

It's time to look inward.

In reading many of the pet peeves, many of us undoubtedly were saying, "Yeah, yeah, that's right!" I'll bet also, though, that many of us were saying, "Oops, that's me. I might do that sometimes."

Others of us may have said, "Yes, that's me, and I don't care. I'm in the right!"

The bottom line is, we want to get from point A to point B in one piece. Safety is paramount. Yes, it's nice to do it quickly and efficiently, but that's secondary to doing it safely.

For instance, one of the more common pet peeves, including mine, are the people who drive slowly in the left lane -- "left lane campers." They have no conception of the law that reads "keep right except to pass," and that this law is in place for safety just as much as are the speed limits.

Still, as annoying and potentially dangerous as this is, it's not as treacherous as many other things people do on the roads -- reckless driving, turning in front of people, etc.

And really, from my perspective, it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is my response.

Am I going to get angry and tailgate them, doing something that's a pet peeve for someone else and creating more of a hazard?

We always want to make a point. A way to do it safely -- a middle path -- would simply be to flash my lights at the person and then safely find an opening to go around on the right. He or she might find this irritating, but not as annoying, or as dangerous, as tailgating.

There also are the drivers who clearly are oblivious to what's going on around them, whether from talking on the phone or just not paying attention. I can usually tell who they are.

Yes, I can get annoyed, but if I'm using up energy getting mad at them, then I'm probably not watching as closely as I should be, either. It's a better idea for me to pay attention for the both of us, so if they make a bad maneuver, I'll be ready.

What other drivers do is not meant personally toward us, though it might seem like it sometimes. People do what they do because of them, not because of us. Remembering this alone helps cut the anger.

Yes, it's easier said than done. Still, if you can keep your cool on the roads, you can do it just about anywhere. I've had friends tell me that they do just fine at not getting angry in every other area of their lives, except on the roads.

Many websites offer advice about avoiding road rage. One I found particularly helpful was posted by the police department in Elk Grove, Calif.

The first thing they suggest is, "avoid offending other drivers." In other words, if you know something is a big pet peeve for others, don't do it!

Also, the site suggests managing stress; avoiding driving when angry, if possible; allowing plenty of time to get where you're going and playing soothing music.

Other advice on this site and others:

Avoid looking at driving as a competitive relationship. "In the end, it is a lose-lose situation that can cost you your life," the Elk Grove site says.

If you know you've made a mistake that likely offended someone, a gesture of apology, such as a wave of the hand, helps take the edge off the situation.

If another driver has expressed anger toward you, avoid engaging them. "Put as much distance between you and the other driver as possible and avoid making eye contact," the Elk Grove website says. "Never pull off the roadway to confront another driver."

Don't sweat the small stuff, such as horn honking, someone taking too long to move at a green light or loud music from another vehicle.

"None of these minor annoyances is worth putting you or others at risk," the site says.

Amen.

Email us at stsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your city of residence.

Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog at www.heraldnet.com/streetsmarts.
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