We all feel frustrated or annoyed behind the wheel from time to time—whether we’ve been cut off by a speeding driver, someone is tailgating us or won’t let us merge, or we’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. That’s totally reasonable. But when those feelings intensify into road rage, things become dangerous.
According to SafeMotorist, 12,610 injuries and 218 murders in the United States were attributed to road rage over a recent seven-year span. What’s more, 66 percent of traffic fatalities can be attributed to aggressive driving.
Keep reading to learn how to keep your cool while driving to avoid road rage and its potentially deadly consequences. Most of these tips are broadly applicable as good defensive driving habits as well. So even if you’re always cool, calm, and collected behind the wheel, keep these driving practices in mind as you share the road with other drivers.
Here’s a hypothetical example illustrating how even mundane situations can escalate into road rage:
A driver named Mark gets cut off by another driver on his morning commute. Not only is Mark annoyed to be cut off, but it also causes him to jerk his steering wheel and spill his coffee all over his suit. Now Mark is infuriated. He starts tailing the other driver to “get back at them.” In his anger and distraction, he runs a red light, T-boning another driver and severely injuring them.
As you can see, road rage can set off a domino effect of related consequences:
Accidents can injure—or kill—other drivers and damage their vehicles and property.
Road rage-related stress can contribute to health problems, like high blood pressure.
You could face tickets, fines, and even jail time if you break the law in a road rage incident. At best, your insurance rates may increase, especially if you’re required to get an SR-22 (or an FR-44 in Virginia and Florida). Depending on the infraction, you could also be dropped by your insurance provider and even lose your license.
What causes road rage?
Several factors can lead to an episode of road rage. Some typical triggers include:
Traffic delays: Heavy traffic, sitting at a stoplight for longer than usual, stoplights continually turning red as you approach, and not being able to find parking can all cause a driver’s anger levels to skyrocket.
Being late: Drivers who are late on their way to work, to pick up the kids, or for an appointment can become impatient and angry.
Disregard for the law: Some drivers seem to think they don’t have to follow the law—with no regard to how that could impact others. Not only are these motorists dangerous, their unexpected maneuvers can surprise and frustrate other drivers.
Distracted driving: Watching someone text while driving and then swerve and cut you off can be infuriating. But remember, it’s much more effective—and safe—to pull over and report the driver to the authorities than to confront them yourself.
5 ways to avoid aggressive drivers
Identifying and staying away from aggressive drivers can help you avoid situations that can escalate to road rage. Keep these five tips in mind:
1. Watch for road rage warning signs
Signs a driver may have road rage include:
Threatening, aggressive, or explicit hand gestures
Cutting off other vehicles
Showing a weapon through the window
Preventing other cars from passing or switching lanes
Attempting to force other cars off the road
Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be a complete list. Use your intuition and situational awareness as you drive—you’ll know aggressive driving when you see it.
2. Give aggressive drivers space
You can avoid situations leading to road rage by giving space to drivers who are acting aggressive. Here are some ways to put some distance between you and aggressive drivers:
Slow down and let other drivers pass you
On multi-lane highways or freeways, move a lane or two away from the driver
Exit the highway via an off-ramp or pull into a rest area, then rejoin the highway after giving the aggressive driver some time to gain distance
3. Ignore aggressive drivers
If you give the aggressive driver attention or incite more aggression from them—even unintentionally—things can escalate quickly. Instead, pretend not to notice, and focus on the road ahead. More often than not, they’ll eventually leave you alone.
4. Acknowledge your mistakes
If someone honks at you because you cut them off or did something improper, accept that you were in the wrong and move on. You can offer them a friendly wave or mouth “sorry” if you’re close enough for them to understand.
5. Report road rage
If you feel unsafe due to an angry driver’s actions—or if you feel they’re putting your fellow motorists at risk—pull over and call 911 or your local police department. If you believe a driver experiencing road rage is following you, pull into the nearest police station.
5 ways to avoid contributing to road rage
You can’t control other drivers. By the same token, you’re the only one responsible for your own actions behind the wheel. Here are five tips you can follow to help avoid succumbing to road rage:
1. Practice safe driving habits
Avoid aggravating other drivers by practicing safe driving habits. For example, always use your blinker, don’t tailgate other cars, don’t text and drive, and keep up with the flow of traffic—without speeding, of course—to respectfully share the road with other drivers.
2. Leave early so you aren’t in a hurry
Don’t put yourself in situations that may cause you to get stressed out or become anxious and angry. Giving yourself ample time to get to your destination can mean the difference between calmly waiting for a train versus impatiently banging on your steering wheel and spiraling into a full-blown meltdown.
When driving in the rain or other bad weather, try to give yourself even more time to get to your destination, since you’ll likely need to reduce your speed.
3. Don’t drive when you’re upset
When you’re upset and experiencing extreme emotions, you’re more likely to lose focus on the road, which means you could:
Miss a red light or stoplight
Speed up without realizing it
Accidentally drift into another lane
Hit a pedestrian or a parked car
Switch lanes without checking your blind spot or using your turn signal
If you need to get somewhere and you can’t catch a ride or use public transportation, take a few deep breaths to try to clear your mind and bring your heart rate down before starting your car.
4. Accept that all drivers make mistakes
Just because another driver is getting on your nerves, that doesn’t give you permission to lose your cool. Maybe they’re having a bad day or they’re unfamiliar with the area. Show a little bit of grace and keep it moving—after all, other drivers have certainly shown you grace in the past when you’ve made mistakes behind the wheel, even if you didn’t realize it.
5. Don’t pick fights with other drivers
Avoid using aggressive hand gestures, yelling, or honking at other drivers. Don’t use your horn unless absolutely necessary. Honking out of frustration certainly won’t solve any problems, but it can increase tensions.
Finally, to be clear, never get out of your car when dealing with an aggressive driver.
How does road rage impact my car insurance?
Road rage can land you in a lot of hot water—both with the law and your insurance company—especially if you cause an accident and/or receive a ticket. If you rack up multiple road rage offenses or you’re at-fault in a severe accident, you may need to purchase an SR-22 or nonstandard auto insurance.
Save money with safe driving discounts
The good news is you can save money on your insurance policy—and help protect yourself from aggressive drivers—by completing a defensive driving course. Depending on your state, you may be able to earn a car insurance discount from your insurance provider once you complete the course.
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