Road Rage

Road rage is exactly what it sounds like: occasions when drivers get angry at others on the road and react by yelling obscenities, driving with intent to intimidate or harass another driver, or–not typically, but in the absolute worst cases–acting out with actual, physical violence. Road rage involves reckless driving motivated by overreactions of anger and aggression toward other drivers on the road. It is very common, with more than 50 percent of drivers confessing that they have experienced road rage.

The term “road rage” was created in the late 1980s by anchors at Los Angeles, CA television station KTLA. They established the term in response to a series of shootings on several freeways/interstates throughout the city. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines road rage and aggressive driving as follows: when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.”

Examples of Road Rage

Road rage can manifest in numerous ways, but some common examples of the kind of reckless driving that accompanies road rage include the following:

  • Running red lights or attempting to “beat” red lights
  • Changing lanes and passing dangerously and/or without signaling; this may involve a lot of swerving
  • Tailgating another car–driving dangerously close to the vehicle in front of your own in order to intimidate the driver
  • Driving at a speed much higher than the speed limit
  • Flashing your headlights/brights at the driver in front of your car when you feel that they are driving too slowly
  • Honking your horn often, especially to express anger or impatience with others’ driving behaviors, rather than as a reasonable warning to another driver
  • Screaming and yelling at other drivers, using obscene gestures, or expressing overt anger toward other drivers on a frequent basis
  • In the worst cases, road rage can involve physical violence (e.g. shooting at other drivers, as in the Los Angeles cases mentioned above)

Comparing Road Rage and Aggressive Driving

According to the NHTSA, road rage is legally distinct from aggressive driving, although the two often go hand in hand. While road rage is a criminal charge, aggressive driving is considered to be a traffic offense and can be ticketed as such. Aggressive driving is any kind of reckless driving, such as speeding, which often isn’t directed against other drivers. Road rage is more problematic than aggressive driving because it entails anger and intentionally aggressive or even violent behavior toward other drivers, such as purposely running other cars off the road.

What Causes Road Rage?

General life stress, often unrelated to driving, can be a major contributor to road rage. We’ve all experienced this–being under stress can make your tolerance for irritating experiences a lot lower, causing you to react to even small inconveniences with disproportionate aggression.

Those who most commonly experience road rage also tend toward a certain kind of personality. They’re those who are already prone to being selfish, angry, and power-seeking. They have trouble managing their anger. Some of them might even be violent off the road as well as on.

Another aspect of driving that tends to contribute to aggression is the fact that we can’t really see other drivers most of the time. All we see is the other car, and our cognitive limitations mean that we have trouble recognizing the other cars as being driven by other people. This causes us to react more aggressively and experience less compassion for other drivers than we might if we were walking past one another on the street. That’s why road rage is such a major issue.

In addition, one factor that’s been making road rage worse over time is the simple reality that there are more drivers out there on the road than there ever were in the past. Drivers are forced together into smaller and smaller areas, and there is more traffic (which we can all agree is one of the most infuriating aspects of driving). Unsurprisingly, this means more instances of road rage and violent interactions between drivers.

In the long run, some experts believe that an important large-scale solution to this problem would be to build more roads so that there is less congestion. One statistic demonstrates the increasing severity of road rage: in 2006, road rage was linked to just 80 fatal crashes, while in 2015, fatal crashes linked to road rage were up to 467 total. Similarly, in 2014, there were 247 incidents of road rage that involved a gun, but by 2016, incidents of road rage with a firearm reached 620.

Driving Behaviors That Tend to Trigger Road Rage in Others

In addition to the causes described above, inconsiderate driving can contribute to incidences of road rage on the part of other drivers. Here are some examples of the types of driving behavior that might cause other drivers to become angry:

  • Driving without fully focusing on the task at hand (e.g. texting and driving, or just being lost in thought as you’re driving)
  • Using your high-beam headlights at night when there’s another driver approaching you in the opposite direction
  • Cutting other drivers off because you do not check behind you before you switch lanes
  • Failing to use your turn signal when making turns or switching lanes

Drivers should not respond to these behaviors with road rage, but realistically, they sometimes do. You can lower your risk of being affected by other drivers’ road rage by avoiding the above behaviors. It’s always a good idea to be a careful and considerate driver–this added benefit is just another reason to do so.

Road Rage Statistics 2020

We’ve located some statistics that demonstrate the seriousness and severity of road rage:

  • In 2019, 82 percent of U.S. drivers volunteered that they had experienced road rage or driven aggressively one or more times over the previous year.
  • Road rage contributes to tens of thousands of auto accidents annually, and aggressive driving is the cause of 66 percent of traffic fatalities.
  • Aggressive driving is one of the leading causes of mortality in young children.
  • The demographic most likely to show road rage is young men under age 19.
  • In a span of seven years, road rage has contributed to a shocking total of 218 murders and 12,610 injuries.
  • 59 percent of drivers have used honking their horn to demonstrate their annoyance or rage to other drivers.
  • 42 percent of drivers have switched lanes without using their turn signals.
  • 38 percent of drivers have admitted to responding to other drivers with obscene gestures.
  • Roughly 50 percent of drivers state that they have responded to aggressive driving and road rage (e.g. tailgating or having a horn honked at them) with aggressive behavior on their own part.
  • Shockingly, 2 percent of drivers confessed that they have attempted to run other aggressive drivers off the road.
  • One study shows that those who experienced road rage have had outbursts of aggressive driving at least 27 times on average.
  • Although these statistics show that road rage is incredibly common, in 2019, just 10 percent of drivers said that they had actually gone so far as to call the police on other drivers in response to road rage.

Which Actions Make Drivers the Angriest?

Some inconsiderate driving behaviors are more likely than others to induce an aggressive response from other drivers. According to one survey, the top three driving behaviors that are most likely to inspire road rage are tailgating, driving distracted, and cutting off other drivers.

Tips for Responding to Road Rage

If you end up in a situation in which road rage is being directed toward you, it may be scary, but there are steps you can take to minimize the risk. If you believe that you’re on the receiving end of road rage, here are some ways to respond:

  • Do not respond to others’ road rage with road rage of your own. This will only worsen the situation. Instead, do your best to stay calm (see the tips in the section below for some advice on how to do that). For instance, if someone directs a rude gesture at you, refrain from responding with a gesture of your own.
  • Avoid the driver experiencing road rage by driving behind them, where they cannot access your car as easily.
  • When being tailgated, you should switch to the other lane so the driver can go on ahead of you and you can avoid them.
  • Take the next available exit so that you end up going in a different direction from the angry driver, or simply pull off the road to let them pass if that’s an option.

How to Minimize Your Own Road Rage

Meanwhile, if you are experiencing road rage, you do not have to give in to your anger. Instead, you can take steps to calm yourself down and maintain a clear head:

  • Make sure to get enough sleep on a consistent basis, as sleep deprivation can often make emotional regulation more difficult.
  • While driving, play relaxing music that will help you to maintain a calm and clear mental state. In addition to putting you in a good mood, playing music you enjoy also has the added benefit of making your drive more enjoyable in general.
  • Really consider the serious potential consequences of your moments of road rage–this may include injury to or even the death of yourself and others. It can also result in other issues like legal consequences and the exorbitant expense of increased insurance, car repairs, lawyers, and so on.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination, so you’re not rushing to get to appointments at the last minute and getting mad at other drivers for slowing you down.
  • Remember that the other cars on the road are being driven by people, too. When you begin to feel angry, remind yourself of that fact.

If these tips do not suffice, and your road rage is serious, you may need to seek out professional help in the form of counseling by a therapist. Learning about anger management can make a world of difference. Such guidance can assist you in gaining control of your negative emotions while driving, which will help to keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers safe.

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