A woman whose day job involves speeding, tailgating and cutting off other drivers certainly knows something about how to share the road with men.
After all, men get twice as many speeding tickets as women do. They pay higher car insurance rates. They’re involved in rear-end accidents 30 percent more often, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report. And in a study of 10,000 serious road rage incidents, 96 percent of the perpetrators were male.
All of which makes Danica Patrick’s role as the undisputed best female race car driver in the world even more remarkable. Sure, she’s able to conjure up the aggression needed to pilot a NASCAR contender at 180 mph around Daytona or grab the first-ever checkered flag for a woman in an IndyCar race.
But after 500 miles of the most combative traffic jam on the planet, she’s able to turn that fire off for the drive home.
Take your foot off the gas
Patrick sympathizes with men (and women) who want to put the pedal to the metal.
“I have a very big comfort zone on the road because of what I do. And I love to go fast — if I didn’t, I couldn’t chase championships and pole positions. So I understand the thrill of flying down the road,” she says.
But she also understands the need to obey traffic laws.
“I don’t treat time on the open road as a time to speed. That would be ridiculous,” says Patrick.
After all, men pay a steep price for all heavy right foot: They’re 77 percent more likely to die in a car accident than a woman is, according to AAA.
“You need to have patience on the road, especially if someone in front of you is not driving the speed limit, or is going slow in the left lane.”
That kind of calm is key to Patrick’s strategy: Stay sharp, avoid mistakes, and avoid dangerous situations.
While it’s tough to stay focused and avoid distractions like billboards, the radio and in-car conversations during long stints behind the wheel, Patrick says staying hydrated helps her keep a sharp mental edge. So does a healthy diet.
“I drink a lot of water and often mix in a sugar drink to make sure I stay hydrated and have energy,” says Patrick.
She also avoids eating foods that will make her feel sluggish behind the wheel, like turkey (because of the tryptophan).
“I’m usually eating something right before getting into the car to make sure I can maintain physical and mental reserves.”
Patrick says she also tries to stay relaxed in order to focus on the road. “I try to not have a death grip on the wheel so I’m not physically exhausted,” she says.
Learning to de-escalate
Patrick has this advice for women who find themselves a potential passenger in a speed demon’s car: Take away the keys.
Ann Furber agrees: Take yourself out of the danger zone. The director of Knight Driving School in Berwick, Maine, suggests getting out of the way of a bumper-riding bozo rather than trying to keep up with him or teach him a lesson.