Freeway Frustrations: How to Cope with Road Rage

Johnna Kaplan

Road rage. It’s a familiar fear for anyone who’s driven a car, and it’s re-enforced by all-too-frequent headlines. Though not always dramatic or violent, it’s often intense.

What driver hasn’t witnessed another motorist driving while distracted, dangerously tailgating, swerving through traffic at high speed, or gesturing rudely at others on the road? For that matter, what driver hasn’t felt a surge of anger after being cut off or having another car slide into the parking space they’d been patiently waiting for? What about when you are stuck in a traffic jam?

Road rage and aggressive driving—the two terms are often used interchangeably, though both exist along a spectrum of bad behavior—are not rare events. A 2016 study by AAA found that almost 80 percent of drivers “expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage … at least once in the past year.”

Those people probably didn’t just sit quietly seething behind their steering wheels—AAA concluded that “approximately eight million U.S. drivers engaged in extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.”

Scary, right?

In such a scary driving environment, what can you do to avoid angry drivers, manage your own traffic-induced frustration, and generally stay safe on the road? Here are some basics on how to identify and deal with aggressive driving.

Distracted Driving Laws Timeline

Defining Road Rage and Aggressive Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” Road rage, according to the NHTSA, emerged as a label to “describe the angry and violent behaviors at the extreme of the aggressive driving continuum.”

Get This: They clarify that “aggressive driving is a traffic violation, while road rage… is a criminal offense”

Identifying Dangerous Driving Behaviors

Behaviors that can be classified as aggressive driving and/or road rage include:

  • Yelling, honking, gesturing at other motorists
  • Blocking other drivers from changing lanes
  • Intentionally tailgating or cutting others off
  • Chasing or challenging other drivers
  • Getting out of the car to accost another person or vehicle
  • Using a vehicle to purposefully ram other cars

If you witness any of these actions, or anything else that sticks out as especially rude, risky or confrontational, stay as far away as possible from the perpetrator on the road.

Distracted Driving Stats

Handling Aggressive Drivers

If another driver is behaving aggressively or erratically, try your best to avoid becoming embroiled in a confrontation. If they insult you, or try to initiate a race or a fight, stay calm. Let the other driver pass, or do whatever is appropriate, legal and safe in the circumstances to put distance between your vehicle and theirs.

What else can you do?

Resist the temptation to punish someone’s bad behavior or to retaliate yourself. If the aggressive driver is threatening others, appears likely to cause an accident or is otherwise acting in a truly frightening manner, call the police and let them handle the situation. But if the aggressive driver is just being a run-of-the-mill brat, try to ignore them and focus on something more positive instead.

Handling Aggressive Drivers

Are You an Aggressive Driver?

Make an effort to observe your feelings and behaviors when you’re behind the wheel. And try speaking with family members who frequently ride with you and have the chance to watch how you act in the driver’s seat. If you or your passengers notice that you often express anger or impatience, or that you seek confrontations with other drivers, that’s a good indication that something is wrong.

Keep in mind: Feeling outraged toward a driver behaving badly (endangering pedestrians, say) is normal. But frequently expressing anger—at other drivers, stop lights or the wait time at the drive-through, for example—and lashing out at or challenging other drivers is an extreme reaction and can have deadly consequences.

Managing Your Own Road Rage

If you have a tendency to drive aggressively or become enraged on the road, try not to get behind the wheel when you’re likely to be provoked. Take public transportation during rush hour, let someone else drive, or simply postpone your trip when you’re in a bad mood.

Try this: While driving, try listening to calming music or interesting audio-books. When you see another driver doing something aggravating, focus on breathing deeply and remind yourself that your safety is more important than getting back at some impolite (and possibly dangerous) stranger.

How to Manage Emotions While Driving

If that doesn’t work: Consider getting help. Aggressive driving is extremely common (Remember that 80 percent statistic?) and there are plenty of resources available to those who need help. Look into anger management classes, and research other steps you can take to reduce anger and stress in all areas of your life. Therapy can help too. For example, cognitive-relaxation techniques have been shown to reduce rage in “high-anger drivers.”

Take the Pledge

Download and print your certificate today and promise to drive distracted free, and yes, that includes keeping your emotions in check. Together we can make the roads a safer place to drive.

Creating a More Peaceful Driving Experience

In addition to avoiding obviously aggressive drivers and working to reduce your own anger, what can you do to improve the experience of your daily commute or your road trip? There are a number of changes, both mental and logistical, that can make any drive go more smoothly.

Here’s the thing: It’s not your fault that some drivers act like the rules don’t apply to them. By improving your own driving skills, though, you can avoid unintentionally angering someone who’s looking for a fight. Know and follow the traffic laws in the jurisdiction where you’re driving. Make sure to use your turn signals appropriately, avoid blocking other drivers or pedestrians, come to a complete stop at stop signs and stay within the speed limit. Always be aware and considerate of others on the road, including parking lots. By following these rules, you can avoid common auto claims due to aggressive driving.

Following Traffic Laws Create a Peaceful Driving Experience

Remember that although you can’t control others, you can control how you react to them. Try to maintain a positive frame of mind. If something angers you, let it go. Don’t waste time obsessing over entitled or inconsiderate motorists. You can also try to view aggressive drivers with pity–maybe they’re just having a really bad day.

Leave yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going, and if that happens to be someplace new, check the GPS beforehand.. Every situation is more stressful when you’re late or lost. Navigation systems are able to lead you away from traffic and congestion, something that can ease the mind of the driver.

If it’s possible and practical, drive at less congested times and take back roads instead of busy highways. This won’t insulate you from rude or reckless drivers, but it can improve your driving experience and cut down on the time you spend stuck in traffic.

Just Say “No” to Distracted Driving

Think about teaching the new driver in your household tips on how to avoid road rage and what to do when they see it from other drivers. If you are worried about your teen’s driving habits, such as speeding, there are ways to monitor this behavior.

Although aggressive driving is a common occurrence, and a serious issue, it’s not an inevitable part of every drive. You can reduce your chances of becoming a victim or increasing your insurance premium. It all starts with your mindset. So the next time someone tells you to “drive safely,” think “drive calmly.”

Aggressive driving is just one type of cognitive distractions. On the other end of the spectrum is drowsy driving. Read more about the dangers of and how to reduce drowsy driving.

We Want to Hear About Your Experiences With Road Rage

Share how you handle and/or avoid road rage in the comments below.  My favorite tip for handling aggressive drivers is mentioned above; “I can’t control others, but I can control how I react to them.”

Safe travels!

12 Responses to "Freeway Frustrations: How to Cope with Road Rage"

  • Carlton S | April 28, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Some 32,000 people in the U.S. are killed every year in collisions, most of which are not really "accidents" in that they are caused by stupid, aggressive drivers who ought to be detected and ticketed, have their licenses revoked for repeat offenses, and do jail time if they continue to drive. This would require much more active enforcement of traffic laws, meaning more police focusing on aggressive driving at times like rush hour rather than isolated roads at 1:00 in the morning. But Americans are so accustomed to this carnage -- and in many cases are such scofflaws themselves -- that they just won't support any meaningful change to the status quo. As a driver who essentially obeys traffic laws (driving perhaps 3 mph over posted limits for example) I get road rage myself when I am harassed for simply doing that (or, heaven forbid, driving a little below the speed limit under certain circumstances, even in the right lane).

  • Don Morrison | April 27, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    One difficult situation our roads have is in merging onto a busy highway. The merging vehicle gets the "yield" sign, but the best practical merge is to match speed with traffic. Why do we have this conflict when yielding to one or two merging vehicles into the highway is existing practice and the safest at any speed? I, personally, make sure I'm the LAST TO STOP at any four-way stop intersection. That body language lets the others know that they go first. Creeping up to the stop while slowing down, then making the full stop lets them know they're first.

  • Rose E. | April 27, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    You can avoid a lot of anger by understanding the concept of zippering into a lane of traffic. If you don’t understand how it’s designed to work, please research it.

  • Karl | April 27, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    When someone is speeding move over let them go, they just might be going to the hospital or heard some bad news. Let it be their problem not yours, and by all means pray for their safety as well as everyone else. Life is shorter than you realize.

  • Kate | April 27, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    I want other drivers to know that my intentions are good, I'm not using my phone, and I want to be helpful and stay out of your way, but sometimes I make mistakes while driving. I regret my mistakes very much. I apologize. I appreciate the patience of other drivers. Please forgive me. Also please understand that changing lanes is not as easy for me as it was when I was younger. In heavy traffic I move into the left lane pretty early when planning to make a left turn, and I drive the speed limit while there. If you pass me on the right, please understand that I am in the left lane because I am going to turn left.

  • Barry Krebs | April 27, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    I live on the border with Canada NY/ON (originally from Toronto but now live in Buffalo). Although Western New York drivers are generally polite on the road, many now have picked up Southern Ontario/Toronto driving habits. We go back to my former hometown of Toronto on a regular basis, and it amazes me what we see. These range from people cutting me off, drivers not using directional signals (401 through Toronto and Queen Elizabeth Way-QEW), cutting into me over a solid line when I'm in the HOV lanes on the QEW. Almost all the time we go up we see lots of fender benders. And the traffic is forever. Not only that but we see lots of anger. It seems that it is ok that when Torontonians get behind the wheel, it gives them the license to be always in a hurry, angry and selfish. Toronto is a very undriveable city.

  • Colin Kelly | April 26, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    I did not have a confrontation with the driver that hit me. I only asked him to move up so I could move as close as possible to the left because because his TRUCK moved my car was moved to the left . He was still yelling. And his passenger was out Of the Truck. He then told me he is going to call the Police. Thank said you. When the Police arrived ,the driver was still yelling. The police asked him to come to his car. I asked for my forms and a way to obtain a copy of the report. The most important thing was not to exchange with the people from the Truck. That was a great experience .

  • Extra Mile Staff | April 26, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Thank you, Deb, for sharing your expertise!

  • Debralee Townsend | April 26, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Hi everyone, I'm Deb Anger Management researcher for over 20 years. This is my one big Aggressive Driver Solution For All: Leave Earlier to reach your destination. Leave so early that when you reach your destination you have time to relax. Leaving early allows you to be: less stressed peaceful content polite Prepare the night before for the next day and don't forget to pray

  • Cowboy Bill | April 25, 2019 at 7:59 pm

    Very simple: -drive in right lane and pass on left lane -ALWAYS USE TURN SIGNALS (even when changing lanes) -do not text and drive -do not break when going through an intersection with a green light (especially when there is a vehicle behind you) By following these driving habits you will not irritate fellow drivers, therefore avoiding road rage situations.

  • Mike | April 25, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    It is sad to see the latest aggressive driving in our area where you are at a light and someone pulls into a designated right turn lane and they use it as their personal passing lane to pull ahead of those who are obaying the rules. Just as frustrating when motor cycles weave between vehicles to get ahead of the pack .

  • Sue Washington | April 5, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    I was confronted by an agressive young man for no reason; he would drive fast and stop suddenly in front of me... I stopped and sat there. This happened several times, he eventually went on his way and I continued home without incident.

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