The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines road rage as “criminal act[s] of violence,” a product of aggressive driving, like tailgating, speeding, and running red lights. NHTSA credits aggressive driving with 2/3 of all driving-related fatalities. The rate of road rage incidents has risen by 51 percent since 1990, increasing by 7% every year. 37 percent of offenders used firearms against other drivers. 35 percent used their cars.
Road rage is widespread throughout the United States and common in other countries as well. Half of all traffic accidents in Australia are related to road rage. 21% of drivers in company cars in the UK have been run off the road. 18% have been attacked by another driver. Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia consider road rage a bigger concern than drunk driving. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have police units that focus on identifying driver rage on the road. As USC’s Media and Injury Prevention Program reports, “Aggressive driving is now the most common way of driving. It’s not just a few crazies–it’s a subculture of driving.”
So what can you do to avoid aggressive drivers, and to keep yourself calm behind the wheel?
• Get some sleep, and play calming music in the car. Every car ride should not be a distracted, worried, stressed out journey.
• Breathe. If you find yourself gripping the steering wheel too hard, make a conscious effort to relax. Let it go.
• Plan ahead! Don’t let time constraints contribute to your frustration behind the wheel.
Remember, the road is not about you.
• Navigating the road is a cooperative activity. If you’re aggressive, aggressiveness is what you’ll get back.
• Other drivers are people, too. The driver speeding next to you could be your neighbor. The car in front of you could have a baby in its backseat. The road all too frequently becomes impersonal, and rage that much more justified.
And, if you find yourself in a situation where your fellow driver is reacting excessively:
• Avoid eye contact. The same goes for hand gestures and verbal insults (especially if your window is open). Don’t let the situation escalate.
• Don’t tailgate. It’s not worth it. The two extra minutes gained carries with it the risk of weeks in the hospital, if not worse.
• The horn is not your best friend. A polite tap can be interpreted by drivers in front of you as an obnoxious bullhorn.
• Don’t block the passing lane, or the right turn lane, and be wary of changing lines too aggressively. Always signal.
• It is not your job to teach others how to drive. Whether too fast or too slow, the habits of other drivers will not change when confronted with your flashing headlights or aggressive hand signals.
• It is your job, however, to report aggressive (and other dangerous forms of) driving. Call 911 if the driver in front of you is yelling into the car in the next lane. He may not be trying to sideswipe you, but you could save another life with a three-second phone call.
This is not about defensive driving. It’s about supportive driving, and that distinction could make all the difference.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyturner/2931478/
Rivka Fogel writes about safety for the road sign retailer SmartSign.com. One of its sister sites, MyParkingSign.com, hosts a campaign to decrease texting and driving. You can learn more about their safety efforts, on the road and off, at the SmartSign blog and its accompanying web blog, ParkingSigns.net.