Although many people feel that an exact definition of “road rage” is difficult, most agree that we all know it when we see it. Broadly, road rage refers to the use of a motor vehicle aggressively, or even a later, separate act of violence that grows out of an earlier incident of aggressive driving.
According to a 1996 study commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, aggressive driving in the U.S. causes on average a minimum of 1,500 injuries and deaths annually. Aggressive driving behavior includes close tailgating, rude gesturing, flashing headlights, blocking other vehicles, verbal abuse and even assault.
The bottom line is that dangerous aggressive driving can cause car accidents, injury and even death. It is in every driver’s best interest to learn how to protect him- or herself from aggressive drivers, and to proactively manage his or her own stress and anger on the road. The news is replete with stories of drivers who “snap” into aggressive driving in response to relatively minor road incidents.
Among the more common theories and findings about why people drive aggressively:
- People who are stressed out have more difficulty reacting to heavy traffic calmly and appropriately, and road congestion is increasing with the population. A driver who is already anxious or frustrated is more likely to snap during a difficult, crowded drive and take it out on others.
- Drivers on already short fuses may have a hard time controlling anger triggered by road incidents.
- Persons with mental illness, particularly certain personality disorders related to antisocial behavior, may be less able to control their tempers or put minor mishaps into perspective on the road.
- People of all descriptions have carried out acts of road rage, but more have been young and male with relatively little education, criminal records and issues with alcohol or drugs, according to the AAA study.
Anyone who drives should also take care to keep his or her own stress in check on the road. Awareness that congestion and unexpected driving behavior can and will occur and mental preparation to handle these situations with calmness and restraint can make all the difference.
Avoid driving when tired; try to avoid busy roads and times; play calming music. At all costs, do not yell, blow your horn or make rude gestures to other drivers, even when they are at fault or try to antagonize you. Instead avoid eye contact and try to fall away from them into traffic.
Do not stop your car to discuss the incident with an aggressor; taking the disagreement outside the vehicle can result in a physical assault, or even a fatal attack with a weapon.
California even makes road rage a crime for which the defendant can have his or her license suspended. Such a conviction requires the perpetrator to take a court-approved course on anger management or road rage.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an aggressive driver in an incident that culminated in a motor vehicle accident or an act of violence, discuss the situation with an experienced personal injury attorney to understand your legal options and rights.