Speeding drivers, people tailgating and motorists weaving in and out of traffic – you don’t have to drive very far to realize that courtesy on the roadways is in short supply. From interstate highways to rural two-lane roads, it seems like our roads are filled with angry drivers.
Better known as aggressive driving, these rude driving habits can lead to trouble on the road, including road rage and accidents. Unfortunately, you don’t have to engage in aggressive driving tactics to get caught in the crossfire. Read on to learn what you can do to avoid aggressive driving or how to defuse a tense situation.
Defining the problem
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as “The operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.1” Acts of aggressive driving can include:
- Running stop signs or stoplights
- Weaving in and out of traffic
- Failing to yield the right of way
Aggressive driving can quickly escalate to road rage and may include rude gesturing; shouting at another driver; confrontation; physical assault; and, in extreme cases, murder. Aside from gesturing and yelling, NHTSA characterizes road rage as a criminal act of violence1.
Aggressive driving and road rage go hand-in-hand, with acts of aggressive driving contributing to road rage. There is little doubt that our fast-paced society plays a large role in the increase of aggressive driving and road rage episodes. NHTSA has identified six factors that contribute to the uptick in aggressive driving1:
Traffic jams – Traffic delays or traffic congestion is frustrating for drivers, causing some to speed or engage in other risky behavior.
Running late – Running behind schedule for work or an appointment is a frequent excuse offered to officers when pulling drivers over for a traffic violation.
Anonymity – Being insulated in a vehicle can give a driver the feeling of anonymity, causing them to act in ways they wouldn’t if others knew their identity.
Disregard for the law – Respect for authority and rules have diminished, contributing to a feeling of entitlement to break traffic laws.
Disregard for others – How many times have you lamented the decline of civility in society? A blatant disregard for others can lead some to perform dangerous moves while behind the wheel.
Habitual behavior – Most drivers avoid aggressive driving, however there are some that frequently or chronically employ aggressive maneuvers.
Inside the numbers
The stats on aggressive driving and road rage show the extent of the problem. A 2016 study by AAA found that nearly 80% of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage while driving at least once in the past year2. Even more shocking was findings that suggest about 8 million drivers participated in extreme acts of road rage like exiting their vehicle to confront another driver or ramming their car into another vehicle on purpose2.
What you can do
A problem this big isn’t going to go away on its own. It’s up to each of us, as responsible drivers, to do our part to combat this issue that can have dire consequences. Use the following tips to reduce aggressive driving and road rage.
- Make amends – If you accidentally cut someone off or pull in front of another driver, say “I’m sorry” with an acknowledging wave to break the tension.
- Move over – If someone is tailgating you, move over if possible. This will get you out of a potentially dangerous situation.
- Plan it out - Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going. Adding some cushion to your schedule will help you from feeling stressed if you run into traffic congestion.
- Don’t respond – If another driver tries bully you or engage in other risky behavior, don’t make eye contact or make hand gestures.
- Lay off – Avoid using your horn, it can agitate other drivers.
- Give plenty of room – Allow plenty of room between yourself and other cars. Remember, you don’t like to be tailgated and neither do other drivers.
- Take a step back – Try to see the situation from the other driver’s perspective. A little understanding can help a situation from escalating.
- Sing it out – Listen to your favorite tunes to help relieve any stress or tension that builds up as you drive.
- Call for help – If you’re feeling uneasy about the driving of another motorist, pull over and let them pass. If the situation begins to escalate, call 911.
- Look inward – Examine your own driving habits and look for triggers that could turn you into an angry driver and use some of the above tips to avoid a troublesome situation.
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