It’s inevitable you’ll encounter an aggressive driver at least once in your motoring life. Road rage is a growing concern on New Zealand roads, with an increasing number of cases leading to violence.

Simple misunderstandings can escalate quickly into a tit for tat series of actions between drivers. For example, one person may fail to indicate, which causes another driver to hoot and gesture. This could cause the non-indicating driver to become offended, who then brake-checks. With adrenaline pumping in both drivers, a series of further actions can cause the initial event to spiral into an out-of-control situation.

The most common time of the day for aggressive behaviour is peak hour, when traffic volumes are high and people are in a hurry to get somewhere fast. Bearing this in mind, here are some steps to help prevent confrontation and hostility when driving.

1. Give other drivers space

Maintaining a safe following distance is a great idea. Firstly, it’s good safety practice and secondly giving other drivers space reduces stress. If another driver feels like they are being tailgated they may become aggravated, even if you’re not doing it on purpose.

2. Plan your journey

Planning your journey and accounting for traffic and other obstacles you may come across will help you alleviate tension and stress. Many people feel anxious when they are late for important meetings, or are running behind schedule. This tension can translate into irrational and poor driving behaviours, which create a domino effect on the road.

3. Be courteous

Use the outside lane for overtaking and don’t travel in it because you’re going at the speed limit, or because it seems faster. If a driver wants to pass you but you don’t give them the room, this may prompt an angry response.

4. Prevention is the best policy

Driving well on the road and being polite will usually help diffuse potential road rage. Conversely, behaviours like tailgating, cutting other drivers off, not indicating, speeding, texting, hooting, or gesturing rudely at others is a sure way to provoke an aggressive response.

You may not mean to be rude, but your actions – even if accidental – can easily be misunderstood. As the saying goes: ‘We judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions.’

If you find yourself in a situation with an aggressive driver, don’t provoke them. Avoid the urge to retaliate; instead, close your windows, don’t engage in conversation and don’t make eye contact. Most situations can be diffused by these actions, or by gesturing and mouthing a quick ‘sorry’, if you were in the wrong. If all else fails, head for the nearest police station, or somewhere where it is safe for you to get help.

Smiles are a universal language that don’t need verbal communication. So, if you’re becoming frustrated at the behaviour of another driver, give them a smile and understand that they may be going through circumstances you don’t know about.

Take a few deep breaths and continue driving, focusing on getting to your destination safely.