Your Driving Attitude
Road Rage Among Drivers

Road Rage & Aggressive Driving: Prevention, Avoidance and Management

Updated Dec. 16, 2020

“Road rage” describes an extremely aggressive state of mind resulting in inconsiderate, dangerous and often violent driving behavior. Despite the idea of road rage only coming into existence around 30 years ago, it is now a widely studied phenomenon and is understood to be incredibly destructive. A motorist who is suffering from road rage may completely disregard traffic laws, defensive driving protocols, their own safety and the safety of those around them.

Aggressive driving is the precursor to road rage. It is a state of heightened anger and frustration which can cause drivers to speed, tailgate, disregard another driver’s space on the roadway, merge dangerously and commit other similar moving traffic violations. Whereas driving aggressively is considered a traffic violation in most states, road rage qualifies as a criminal offense. When road rage strikes, a driver will go as far as seeking to harm other road users, often with little concern for their own safety. There is no person more dangerous than one bent on destruction, who does not care about getting hurt themselves.

Road rage incidents begin with aggression and can rapidly spiral out of control, particularly when based on an altercation between two drivers in a frustrating roadway environment. One driver may gesture angrily at another to express disapproval, which prompts the second driver to gesture and shout insults in return. If neither driver can calm themselves, this relatively minor incident could result in a high-speed chase, a fistfight or a deliberate hit and run.

A growing threat to our safety

Road rage is a growing problem that claims thousands of lives around the United States every year. A survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that nearly 80% of respondents reported feeling road rage at some point in the past 12 months. In the same survey, two-thirds of drivers stated that they believe road rage to be a growing problem and 90% felt that aggressive drivers pose a considerable threat to their physical safety.

Despite federal and state governments launching anti-road rage campaigns and driver’s education programs putting greater emphasis on the dangers of driver aggression, we are nowhere close to fixing the problem. It seems our efforts to control road rage are paling in comparison to the system that creates angry drivers in the first place.

Anger, aggression and rage are all states of mind that can easily occur in a highly stressed individual. Driving is inherently stressful, particularly now, as there are more and more motorists competing for space on our roads every year. Plus, our tolerance for roadway stresses is lower than ever before. The motorists of this country are already full to the brim with stress, worry and fatigue from their demanding day-to-day lives before getting into the driver’s seat. The only way to tackle road rage is to arm individual drivers with the tools to spot aggressive behavior developing and stop it in its tracks before it can do any harm.

Why is road rage dangerous?

We can answer this by looking at the types of driving behavior that road rage leads to. Analyzing the incidences of road rage-induced dangerous driving that were reported during the country-wide survey, the AAA was able to list common road rage behaviors in order of prevalence. Here is a break-down of their findings:

  • 51% - deliberate tailgating
  • 47% - yelling at other drivers
  • 45% - sounding the horn aggressively
  • 33% - making angry gestures
  • 24% - deliberately blocking another driver who is trying to change lanes
  • 12% - deliberately cutting off another vehicle
  • 4% - exiting the vehicle to personally confront another driver
  • 3% - using the vehicle as a weapon to ram or bump another vehicle

Every item on this list stands in direct opposition to the safe driving, risk-avoidance tactics you learn as a trainee driver.

Thankfully, the least common behaviors recorded are also the most severe. Purposeful blocking or cutting off vehicles, physically confronting other motorists and using a vehicle as a weapon are the road rage actions most likely to result in serious injury or death. We should not be too comforted by the fact that these are the least common behaviors, as these are national statistics that include millions of drivers. Let’s look at the actual numbers:

  • Blocking another vehicle: 49 million drivers
  • Cutting off another vehicle: 24 million drivers
  • Confronting another driver: 8 million drivers
  • Bumping or ramming on purpose: 6 million drivers

More frightening still is the fact that these are the drivers who admitted to engaging in this kind of extreme behavior in the past. Imagine how many more lied or were not included in the survey!

Who is most at risk?

The results of the AAA study show that younger male drivers are the most prone to aggressive driving and road rage, with men between the ages of 19 and 39 being the most likely to offend. While road rage is a serious country-wide threat, it was also found that drivers in Northeastern states engage in aggressive behavior more frequently than those in other parts of the US.

Interestingly, another study has shown that drivers who decorate their vehicles with bumper stickers, territory markers and placards are more susceptible to road rage. The content of the stickers bore no relation to the likelihood that a driver would behave aggressively, though the chances increased in line with the number of adornments on the vehicle. This lends credence to the idea that egotism, self-righteousness and a sense of “owning the road” are key contributing factors in road rage incidents.

This national data gives us an idea of the most at-risk groups in terms of who is most likely to suffer from driver aggression and become enraged behind the wheel, though it is important to realize that road rage can happen to anybody. Furthermore, road rage is a destructive mental state which endangers every driver on the road, not just those who become enraged themselves. In short, we are ALL at risk. In the following section of your driver's education course, you will learn:

  • How to stay safe when there are aggressive motorists nearby.
  • How to avoid angering other drivers.
  • How to avoid driving aggressively yourself.

Let’s begin with a summary of the upcoming topics.

It starts with your attitude

The fight against aggressive driving and road rage begins and ends in the mind of the individual motorist. Road rage incidents are the result of drivers' personal choices. Nobody is there holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to drive dangerously. Most drivers believe that they would never disregard their own safety or threaten the personal safety of another road user, but they forget that the choices they make in life differ depending on their circumstances and are largely affected by their state of mind.

If you are in a good, relaxed mood it is incredibly unlikely that you would choose to behave aggressively, even when faced with an aggravating situation. On the other hand, if you are feeling negative, tightly wound and angry at the world in general, there is a good chance you will lose your temper and overreact to minor or imagined grievances. Take a moment to think about it; you can probably identify past occasions in your life when this has happened.

Developing an all-around positive attitude towards driving, learning to respect other people and controlling your own emotions are the only fool-proof ways to keep the threat of road rage at bay. This important idea is explored in greater detail in our first module, following this introduction.

The danger of emotional driving

As mentioned above, the way you react and the choices you make are largely determined by how you are feeling. We can all reason that jumping into the driver’s seat when you’re extremely distressed or angry would be a bad idea, but these are not the only emotions you need to worry about. Scanning the roadway, exercising good judgment and controlling your vehicle all require a great deal of mental focus. For this reason, experiencing ANY strong emotion while driving can lead to dangerous errors. Just like fear, frustration or anxiety, extreme happiness, excitement or love can adversely affect your ability to spot hazards and drive safely. Learn more about the relationship between your emotions and your driving ability, in part two of this block.

Managing stress

While stress is not technically an emotion, it is a mental state which can lead to an array of negative emotional responses. In this module, we discuss the evolutionary causes of stress and how it affects us in our modern lives. There are many possible mental and physical reactions to severe stress, none of which you want to be suffering with while driving. You may find that stress leads you to “shut down” and become less attentive to the road; alternatively, it could leave you quick to anger and easily frustrated by minor inconveniences on your journey. There is a strong link between the increasing stress levels among the general public and the growing prevalence of aggressive driving.

Aggressive driving vs road rage

Half-way through this road rage section, we take a closer look at the link between aggressive driving and road rage. This includes a sobering inspection of the known impact of road rage on public safety. A quick scan through the statistics will immediately show you why driver aggression is such a serious problem.

Aggressive driving is a mental state which can develop under the right, undesirable circumstances. For instance:

Being late for school + study stress + hot weather + heavy traffic = aggressive driving behavior (e.g. tailgating impatiently or cutting off another driver to get ahead).

These actions are dangerous and illegal by themselves, but they do not yet qualify as full-blown road rage. Road rage occurs when you have allowed your stress and frustration to continue to build up, until one final adverse event tips you over the edge and you lose your temper. In this state, you will be capable of extreme acts of aggression and will have no regard for the consequences.

The causes of aggressive driving

When we behave in an unreasonable way, it is very easy to blame our actions on circumstances beyond our control. For instance: “I couldn’t help it, I was uncomfortable and in pain”, or “the other person started it by being rude to me”. In a driving situation, your reasons might be another driver cutting you off, or somebody making angry gestures if you wait for too long at a green light. If you are overcome with road rage in response to these negative incidents, they can be considered contributing factors. It is important to be aware of the negative situations you may be faced with while driving so that you are prepared to deal with them responsibly. The information in this module will help you in this endeavor.

However, these contributing factors should not be thought of as causes. The only thing that makes you drive aggressively or react in anger to other motorists, is you. More specifically, your attitude, state of mind, emotions and whether you choose the keep them in check. We cannot control the weather, traffic conditions or the behavior of other road users but we can control our own actions. Blaming factors outside yourself for any dangerous choices you make is the same as accepting that at some point, you will make those dangerous choices again.

What happens when a driver experiences road rage?

A motorist experiencing road rage will display extreme aggression, will prioritize “getting ahead” and may seek to punish other road users. The right-of-way rules that protect us and keep traffic flowing smoothly mean nothing to a driver in the grips of road rage. They are likely to plow through intersections irrespective of whether any other vehicles or pedestrians are in the way, run red lights, weave across multiple lanes of traffic and drive at excessive speeds. It is also quite commonplace for extremely aggressive drivers to target another motorist for harassment or intimidation. The dangers posed by road rage go far beyond those of inattentiveness, distraction and other bad driving traits. Here, we teach you to identify road rage behaviors and avoid aggressive drivers.

Provoking road rage

While you cannot control the actions of other motorists, you can adjust your own actions to minimize the likelihood that nearby drivers will behave aggressively towards you. How to avoid provoking road rage in others is an important topic, addressed in this section. Essentially, if you drive in a courteous manner, are attentive and follow the rules of the road to the letter, there should be no reason for other drivers to direct aggression your way. Your goal should be to be utterly unnoteworthy in all driving situations. Remember that the best drivers are usually the ones who go unnoticed.

Dealing with road rage

It is inevitable that at some point, you will find yourself sharing the road with an aggressive driver. If you allow yourself to become distracted or drive in an otherwise discourteous manner, it is likely that you will one day end up in an altercation with an aggressive driver who is focusing their anger on you. You must know how to deal with both these situations, to reduce the chances of a collision occurring.

As with all undesirable events and roadway emergencies, your ability to avoid danger when faced with an aggressive driver depends on remaining calm. Do your best not to directly engage with an aggressive driver, as anything you say or do could come across as confrontational to a person in an angered state. If you are followed or harassed by a person suffering from road rage, do not panic or attempt to drive home. Find a safe, busy area where you can seek assistance to stop your vehicle. If possible, drive to a local police station. Knowing how to deal with intimidation, violence or harassment on the road could one day the difference between life and death. Do not skip this module when you’re working through the course.

How not to be an aggressive driver

You cannot ignore your own potential to be an aggressive driver. Every person, no matter how gentle and calm they usually are, has the potential to become aggressive under the right circumstances. If all drivers accepted this fact and took steps to avoid aggressive behavior behind the wheel, our country would suffer far fewer traffic fatalities. The problem is that most motorists do not truly believe they could be pushed to dangerous, reckless behavior until it is too late.

To avoid becoming an aggressive driver, you must manage your emotions, avoid provocation and understand the consequences of your actions. Our final module deals with these issues, along with some invaluable aggression-avoidance techniques which you can use to remain calm and in control while driving.

Taking control

As a licensed driver, you are in control of your own safety. You also have some control over the safety of the road users around you and are legally required to do everything within your power to avoid endangering them. Recognizing the power that you have to influence the outcome of roadway events is the first and biggest step towards avoiding conflict, aggressive encounters, collisions and legal repercussions. Understand that no person is at the mercy of their own emotions. You can choose to manage negative feelings that may lead you to drive aggressively and if this cannot be done, you can choose not to drive at all. Anything is achievable with the right attitude.

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