Road rage. It’s a familiar fear for anyone who’s driven a car, and it’s re-enforced by all-too-frequent headlines like these: Man dies after apparent road-rage shooting; Shocking Las Vegas road rage fight ends in man with crowbar body slamming woman; Impatient driver hits school bus in road rage video.
Although it’s not always this dramatic or violent, it’s often intense. What driver hasn’t witnessed another motorist 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?
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.”
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.
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.” 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.
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.
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.
Are You an Aggressive Driver?
As for assessing your own impulsive behavior, there are numerous online quizzes that can help you evaluate whether your anger or action crosses the line. (Here’s one called “Are you an aggressive driver?” from AAA.)
You can also 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 that 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.
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.
If you can’t moderate your behavior on your own, 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.”
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.
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, 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.
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.
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, of course, but it can improve your driving experience and cut down on the time you spend stuck in traffic.
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, and you can also work to not be part of the problem. It all starts with your mindset. So the next time someone tells you to “drive safely,” think “drive calmly.”
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