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Don’t Be a Victim of Road Rage or Aggressive Driving

Awareness Can Help You Prevent or Avoid Road Rage

What is Road Rage?

Road rage is aggressive or angry behavior by a driver of an automobile or other motor vehicle. This can include rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner, or making threats. Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults, and collisions which result in injuries and even deaths. It can be thought of as an extreme case of aggressive driving.

The Dangers of Road Rage

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that road rage "involves a criminal act of violence, whereas aggressive driving can include tailgating, speeding and running red lights." The number of deaths related to road rage is difficult to track, but NHTSA estimates that aggressive driving accounts for about one-third of all crashes and about two-thirds of the resulting fatalities.

The Cause of Road Rage

Societal pressures coupled with increasingly congested roadways are a growing source of driver frustration, but studies suggest that the real root of aggressive driving lies within each of us. Drivers can cope by taking an honest look at their driving behavior and attempting to reduce their stress level behind the wheel.

As early as 1997, therapists in the United States were working to certify road rage as a medical condition. It is already an official mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The behaviors typically associated with road rage are the result of a condition called intermittent explosive disorder. This conclusion was drawn from surveys of some 9,200 adults in the United States between 2001 and 2003 and was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The cause of intermittent explosive disorder has not been described to date. There are differing views on whether or not "road rage" is a mental issue.

Legislation and Prosecution

A few states have enacted special aggressive driving laws. Road rage cases may be prosecuted as assault and battery (with or without a vehicle), or "vehicular homicide" (if someone is killed). Also, in some jurisdictions there may be a legal difference between "road rage" and "aggressive driving."

Signs of Road Rage

The following are common manifestations of road rage:

  • Generally aggressive driving, including sudden acceleration, braking, and close tailgating.
  • Cutting others off in a lane, or deliberately preventing someone from merging.
  • Chasing other motorists
  • Flashing lights excessively.
  • Yelling or exhibiting disruptive behavior at roadside establishments.
  • Driving at high speeds in the median of a highway to terrify drivers in both lanes.
  • Rude gestures (such as "the finger").
  • Shouting verbal abuses or threats.
  • Intentionally causing a collision between vehicles.
  • Hitting other vehicles.
  • Assaulting other motorists, their passengers, cyclists or pedestrians
  • Exiting the car to attempt to start confrontations, including striking other vehicles with an object.
  • Threatening to use or using a firearm or other deadly weapon.
  • Throwing projectiles from a moving vehicle with the intent of damaging other vehicles.

What You Can Do

The suggestions can help you avoid or prevent road rage in your own driving behavior and others.

  1. Get adequate sleep before driving. Sleepiness is a contributing factor to road rage, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Lack of sleep can lead to feelings of annoyance, resentment and even anger.
  2. Plan ahead and leave yourself enough time. Running late and trying to make up time while on the road can lead to speeding, tailgating and anger at other (slower, “in the way” drivers). Planning ahead and leaving enough travel time leads to calmer driving habits.
  3. Don’t “acting out” with you vehicle. Avoid using your vehicle "as an extension of self" to vent anger, frustration, or other strong emotions. Driving should never be a way to “blow off steam”. Similarly, should not be a competition where you are using your vehicle to “prove yourself”.
  4. Think about what you are listening to. Music can be strongly emotive. Knowing the types of music that may “amp you up”, verses calm you down, should not be ignored. If you find yourself in a tense driving situation, think about the choice of music you may be listen to, and if another choice may be better for you under the circumstances.
  5. Pause and take a deep breath. If you find yourself in a tense driving situation, take a couple of deep breaths (literally) to help relax your muscles. Even consider rolling down the window for a moment of fresh air. If you notice you’re clenching the steering wheel in a death grip, try flexing your fingers and loosening your hold. If your right foot is cramped, set the cruise control if traffic allows. If you're on a prolonged road trip, try not to exceed three hours of travel time without a break. Addressing physical stress/discomfort can reduce mental stress.
  6. Remember that it’s not about you. Has a driver cut you off or braked erratically in front of you? It’s not unusual for some drives to take such actions personally (the other driver “did that to me”). Before you jump to that assumption, realize that you’re not the target of their behavior. The driver may have made a mistake, or is simple a poor driver. Don’t take it personally.
  7. Recognize that your anger and hostility hurts yourself. People most prone to anger are almost three times more likely to have a heart attack than those with low anger, according to the American Psychological Association. Other health risks seen in those who display hostility include obesity, depression and stroke. Not only will giving into anger not resolve an irritating situation, it can increase the risk of retaliation. Protect your safety –you’re your health – while driving by channeling negative emotions into something constructive or positive.
  8. Behave as you would in other social situations. Avoid the feeling of protected isolation while driving that may lead to acting aggressively in ways that you would not normally act in other social or public situations. While it's upsetting when a stranger is rude or cuts in line in a restaurant or store, most people would not lose their cool and become abusive as a result. Recognize that driving a car makes people feel more isolated and protected, allowing them to act in ways they would normally find embarrassing.
  9. Avoid the obvious. Drive safely and avoid antagonizing other drivers. Use common sense. Avoid speeding, tailgating, unnecessary and/or unsafe lane changes, and any other unsafe driving practices. And avoid staring at other drivers, mouthing off, or gesturing.
  10. Do the obvious. Be courteous, use your signals, keep your distance, avoid blinding with your high beams, ignore agitated drivers, and don’t hesitate to say you’re sorry.
  11. Practice kindness. Remembering simple courtesies, like allowing someone to merge or apologizing when we make a mistake, can go a long way in making the driving experience positive for ourselves and others. Treat fellow drivers how you would like to be treated. Don’t invite trouble from other drivers.

If You Are Confronted By another Driver

  • The best course of action is to get out of their way
  • Keep your distance
  • Say you’re sorry
  • Ignore the situation
  • Don’t make eye contact
  • Don’t make any movements or gestures
  • Never stop and get out of your vehicle. If you do, your safety is in jeopardy and you may be the aggressor!