Aggressive driving which is a traffic offense typically involves speeding, tailgating, changing lanes abruptly, flashing lights, honking the horn, and making angry verbal comments, or gestures. Recent news stories demonstrate that aggressive driving can escalate unpredictably into violent episodes of road rage with tragic results including physical assault, severe auto accidents, and even murder.
Road rage is a criminal offense which has been defined by The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) as an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator of one motor vehicle on the operator or passengers of another vehicle. These episodes of uncontrolled anger are usually provoked when the assaultive driver believes another driver has violated his personal space and/or threatened his self esteem.
According to a 2013 survey conducted by the American Automobile Association, 10,000 road rage incidents recorded over a period of seven years resulted in 12,610 injuries and 218 murders. The most common factors reportedly associated with these incidents included racing to a destination and driving in congested traffic.
“Road raggers” demonstrate several common features including threat sensitivity, poor impulse control, and a sense of entitlement. They range from individuals with immature and narcissistic personality traits to antisocial personalities with impaired empathy. Characteristics which further magnify the risk of road rage include alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, and the presence of firearms or other weapons.
Victims of road rage have no way of knowing if the aggressive driver they encounter is simply a frustrated individual or a violent offender. Therefore, the only safe strategy involves prevention. Remaining rational is important and involves rehearsing the fact that you cannot control the other driver but you can control your own behavior. Calming your body by relaxed breathing helps to control emotional arousal.
Here are a number of suggestions to prevent road rage:
- Allow adequate time when planning to travel by car.
- Drive defensively
- Be attentive to potential threats.
- Give driving your full attention, no texting, phone calls, etc.
- Be courteous to all drivers, maintain assured distance, signal appropriately, and follow speed limits.
- Do not offend or antagonize aggressive drivers by being inconsiderate, making obvious eye contact, gesturing, slowing down, following too close or failing to signal.
Remember these emergency measures if you find yourself caught in a road rage incident.
- Avoid or yield to the offender’s car to de-escalate the incident.
- Do not retaliate.
- Call 911 and seek help immediately if in danger.
- Travel or stop in a populated public area to summon help.
- Do not exit your vehicle or open windows.
- Sound horn or panic button alarm until help arrives.
Encounters with aggressive drivers can escalate into dangerous episodes of road rage resulting in injury or even death. Preventive measures are suggested to avoid or minimize violent encounters. Personal safety strategies are recommended for emergency situations.