Road Rage – How to Avoid it, How to Protect Yourself
Aggressive driving is a major concern of the American public and a real threat to the safety of all road users. In a survey conducted by the AAA Foundation, nearly 9 in 10 respondents said they believed aggressive drivers were a “somewhat” or “very serious” threat to their personal safety. This same survey found that a substantial number of drivers admitted to engaging in potentially aggressive behaviors, such as traveling more than 15 mph above the speed limit, or running a red light.
Any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety, can constitute aggressive driving. In fact, a Foundation study found that potentially aggressive actions – such as tailgating, erratic lane changing, or illegal passing – are a factor in up to 56% of fatal crashes. In extreme cases, this may escalate to road rage, which is a violent criminal act involving an intention to cause physical harm. In a 2016 AAA Foundation study, many drivers admitted having let their anger and frustration get the best of them at least once in the past year, engaging in behaviors such as yelling, honking, gesturing at, or purposefully tailgating another driver. However, you never know how another driver might respond; the same study found that nearly 8 million drivers had gotten out of their car to confront another driver or even bumped or rammed another car on purpose.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, avoid these behaviors that can snap another driver into road rage:
Cutting off another driver – When you merge, make sure you have plenty of room. Use your turn signal to show your intentions before making a move. If you make a mistake and accidentally cut someone off, try to apologize to the other driver with an appropriate gesture. If someone cuts you off, slow down and give them room to merge into your lane.
Driving slowly in the left lane – If you are in the left lane and someone wants to pass, move over and let them by. You may be “in the right” because you are traveling at the speed limit — but you may also be putting yourself in danger by making drivers behind you angry. In many states and provinces the law requires you to travel in the right lane and use the far left lane only for passing. Besides, it’s simple courtesy to move over and let other drivers by.
Tailgating – Drivers get angry when they are followed too closely. Allow at least a two-second space between your car and the car ahead. [When you see the car pass a fixed point, you should be able to count at least “one-thousand, two-thousand” before you pass that point.] If you think another car is driving too slowly and you are unable to pass, pull back and allow more space, not less. That way if the car does something unexpected you will have time to get out of the way. You should be able to see the headlights of the car behind you in your rear-view mirror. If you feel you are being followed too closely, signal and pull over to allow the other driver to go by.
Obscene or inappropriate gestures or honking – Almost nothing makes another driver angrier than an obscene gesture. Keep your hands on the wheel. Avoid making any gestures that might anger another driver, even “harmless” expressions of irritation like shaking your head. Be a cautious and courteous driver. Signal every time you merge or change lanes, and whenever you turn. Use your horn rarely, if ever. If you and another driver see a parking space at the same time, let that person have it. And if another driver seems eager to get in front of you, say “Be my guest.” When you respond this way, after a while “be my guest” becomes your automatic response and you won’t be as offended by other drivers’ rudeness.
To protect yourself against angry drivers, don’t engage them.
Get away – Give angry drivers lots of room. A driver you may have offended can “snap” and become truly dangerous. If the other driver tries to pick a fight, put as much distance as possible between your vehicle and the other car, and then get away as quickly as possible. Do not under any circumstances pull off to the side of the road and try to settle things “man to man.”
Avoid eye contact – If another driver is acting angry with you, don’t make eye contact. Looking or staring at another driver can turn an impersonal encounter between two vehicles into a personal duel. And once things get personal, the situation can get out of hand fast.
Get help – If you believe the other driver is following you or is trying to start a fight, get help. If you have a cell phone, use it to call the police. Otherwise, drive to a place where there are people around, such as a police station, convenience store, shopping center, or even a hospital. Use your horn to get someone’s attention. This will usually discourage an aggressor. Do not get out of your car. Do not go home.