Some drivers can make you shake your head. They recklessly tailgate, speed, blow through red lights and stop signs, and maybe even cut you off as they bolt across lanes to make an exit. In short, they don’t seem to care that they’re endangering others.
But when does thoughtlessly aggressive driving cross the line into road rage? Some chronic “road ragers” are satisfied to express anger by honking or flipping you off for a perceived or actual (usually accidental) slight. The most dangerous are those who become violent and escalate into criminal behavior. They’re the drivers who may sideswipe, ram, or force other vehicles off the road; use firearms; or force a physical confrontation.
The issue won’t go away soon. Fatal road rage incidents have increased by almost 500% in just 10 years. Who are these drivers, what triggers them, and how can you protect yourself?
How big is the issue?
If you’ve been driving for even a short time, you’ve likely seen aggressive drivers. A recent study of American drivers found that about 80% aren’t shy about indulging in aggressive behavior, including:
- 104 million who admit to deliberately tailgating
- 91 million who use their horn to express displeasure
- 67 million who have made angry, rude, or obscene gestures.
While those behaviors are disturbing enough, millions of drivers have admitted to extreme behaviors that can be classified as willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others, which is criminal behavior in many states. An alarmingly high number have admitted to potentially lethal behavior:
- 49 million have attempted to block other vehicles from changing lanes.
- 24 million deliberately cut off other vehicles.
- 7.6 million left their vehicle to confront the other driver.
- 5.7 million deliberately rammed another vehicle.
Road rager profile
Aggressive events aren’t confined to any one gender or age group, but there are demographics and personalities that display a higher number of incidents.
- Men under age 19 display road rage most frequently.
- Millennials are involved in more than 50% of aggressive driving accidents. About 20% of this group have deliberately driven more slowly to irritate or educate a driver who wants them to move over.
- Research shows that frequent road ragers are chronically angry, impulsive, vindictive people who may habitually exhibit violent behavior; one study found that the typical offender has had more than 27 road rage incidents.
- Road ragers may be individuals who take another’s actions personally and assume they are deliberately disrespectful rather than accidental or simply the result of poor judgment.
Triggers and influences
Many of us juggle work and family obligations while also worrying about money, health, and other major issues. When prolonged or severe stress erode self-control and judgment, normal behavioral inhibitions may be lacking and another driver’s actions may be mis-attributed to personal malice. The top three triggers for road rage are tailgating, displays of distracted driving such as texting, and cutting off another driver. When an already on-edge person misinterprets these behaviors as deliberate disrespect, it can spark retaliatory behavior.
The driving environment also plays a big part. Crowded areas concentrate driving irritants, making already stressed drivers more likely to be on edge. For example, drivers in congested Northeast traffic are almost 30% more likely than those in other regions to use angry gestures at other drivers.
Derail tailgating. If a driver is riding your bumper, change lanes or turn off into a parking lot to allow them to pass.
Ignore rude gestures and shouting. Do not make eye contact or engage in confrontation.
Stay behind drivers you see behaving aggressively. They can do less damage if they are in front of you.
Give yourself room to maneuver. If you are stopped at a traffic signal behind an aggressive driver, leave yourself enough room to pull out.
Never lower your window or get out of the car if an angry person confronts you. Go to a public place such as a police or fire department and sound your horn to let them know you need help.
Look in the mirror
Everyone experiences anger and forgetfulness; they’re part of the human condition. Depending on your state of mind, you could be involved in a road rage incident either as the aggressor or the trigger. A few self-awareness and control tactics will go a long way to helping ensure that simmering anger or abrupt actions don’t turn into a fatal bout of road rage.
Get enough sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation lessens your ability to control your emotions and actions.
Leave early if possible. Knowing you have a few minutes of padding in your schedule reduces stress and associated reactivity.
Be mindful of your own driving. Don’t zone out so that you make last-minute, no-signal lane changes when you abruptly become aware that your exit is approaching.
Be courteous. Many road rage triggers are related to the perception of being disrespected. If drivers signal that they want to pass, be courteous and let them. The same goes for respecting the other driver’s right of way.
Stay off your phone. Many drivers interpret using a phone while driving as an arrogant lack of consideration for others’ safety and they react strongly.
Listen to mellow music. Tunes with a slow tempo and low pitch can affect your mood for the better in stressful situations.
Remember that there is another human involved and you may not know what prompted an irritating behavior. Yes, the other driver may have done something very foolish. But it likely wasn’t aimed at you personally. Don’t become so overwhelmed by anger that you cannot even think of the consequences of a confrontation.
Driving can be the perfect storm that triggers rage reactions. Stay on top of your own emotional state, be courteous to your fellow drivers, be aware of the high potential for violence if you are the target of another’s road rage, and take the necessary actions to keep yourself safe.
Our Risk Coaches™ are licensed insurance professionals who are trained to look at coverage from your perspective. They’re glad to help you navigate the often-perplexing world of insurance coverage. Contact your local Risk Coach professional or call us at 800.342.5342, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.