Road Rage Reality Check

Every day, cases of road rage make the news all over the nation. A recent segment on ABC News describes the “American epidemic” of road rage, and shows shocking video clips of drivers physically attacking one another after being pushed “one step too far” by another driver’s behavior.

With stories like this constantly in the public eye, it’s no surprise that nearly 90% of drivers drivers rate aggressive driving as a somewhat or very serious threat to their personal safety (AAA Foundation). But these sensationalized road rage incidents mask the real, everyday dangers of aggressive driving.

What Is Aggressive Driving?

Despite the high level of concern drivers express about this issue, most don’t even recognize their own aggressive driving behaviors (AAA Foundation). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines aggressive driving as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property” (Governors Highway Safety Association).

In reality, extreme cases of road rage are unusual, but even driving behaviors that seem commonplace fit the definition of aggressive driving and pose a serious safety risk.

Aggressive driving includes...

  • Speeding, either over the posted limit or too fast for conditions
  • Failure to yield right of way
  • Failure to obey traffic signs or traffic control devices
  • Improper following or tailgating
  • Improper passing
  • Weaving in and out of traffic

In the same survey where 90% of drivers said they considered aggressive driving a serious threat to their safety, the same drivers also admitted to aggressive driving behaviors in the 30 days before they took the survey.

  • 51% reported speeding 15+ MPH over the limit on freeways
  • 25% reported speeding 15+ MPH over the limit on a residential street
  • 37% reported driving through a light that had just turned red when they could have stopped safely

How Dangerous Is It?

Aggressive driving contributes to as many as 56% of fatal crashes (AAA Foundation). Speeding is a factor in almost one third of fatal crashes in the United States, causing an estimated 10,530 deaths in the year 2010 alone (GHSA). According to the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, aggressive drivers kill two to four times more people than drunk drivers.

As a result, 15 states have passed laws defining aggressive driving, or enforce aggressive driving under existing reckless driving laws (GHSA).

“Road rage,” in which drivers assaulted each other with intent to cause physical harm, is less common, with an estimated 10,000 incidents in the past 7 years. Of those incidents, 218 ended in a fatality (AAA Foundation). While aggressive driving is considered a traffic violation, road rage is generally prosecuted as a criminal offense.

What Should I Do?

Assess Your Own Driving

  • Are you an aggressive driver? Many drivers may not realize that their driving behavior is aggressive. Take the AAA Foundation’s Driver Stress Profile Quiz to help you consider your own emotions and behavior behind the wheel.
  • Avoid other common aggressive driving behaviors that can provoke a confrontation, including tailgating, honking, and flashing your lights (National Safety Council).
  • If you’re in the left lane and a driver behind you wants to pass, move over safely and let them (NSC).
  • Avoid cutting other drivers off. Use your turn signal to alert other drivers to your lane change, and make sure you have plenty of room before you merge (AAA Foundation)

Keep Your Cool

  • If you encounter an aggressive driver, give them plenty of room. Don’t attempt to speed up or “hold your own” in the lane. Instead, attempt to safely move out of their way. (The Weather Channel)
  • Avoid eye contact with the aggressive driver, and do not respond to any hand or facial gestures they make to you. (NSC)

Don’t Put Yourself At Risk

If you do feel your safety is threatened by an enraged driver, call the police when it is safe to do so. If the aggressive driver follows you when you pull over or exit the freeway, drive to a police station or other public, well-lit location where you can get help. Don’t get out of your car, and don’t drive home. (AAA Foundation)

Looking for More?

Addressing aggressive driving and road rage is a crucial step towards making our roads safer. For more tips, see the AAA Foundation’s brochure, “Road Rage: How to Avoid Aggressive Driving.”

If you realize you’ve got a problem with aggressive driving, look for courses or self-help books on anger management and stress reduction - these can help you change your attitude and behavior behind the wheel (AAA Foundation).