Nothing embodies human freedom quite like the open road. Even though cars have only existed for a tiny fraction of human history, it’s hard to imagine the world anymore without streets, highways and automobiles.

The freedom to drive, however, can also have its consequences. In 2013, there were 30,057 deadly car crashes in the United States alone. For 54 percent of deadly collisions, road rage was the principal culprit.

Drivers have real concerns about road rage — 32 percent of drivers chose aggressive driving as the leading threat to their on-road safety. That’s the same amount as those who identified drunk driving as the primary danger.

With so much at stake, it’s important for all drivers to know how to deal with road rage situations. More importantly, you need to know how to avoid road rage in the first place. If it can’t be avoided, you should know how to deal with road rage drivers in the safest way.

The following article addresses these and other concerns, such as how to report road rage drivers. You’ll even get a few pointers on how to deal with road rage on a motorcycle.

Road Rage Facts

What Leads to Road Rage?

Road rage is typically sparked by a loss of control over a driving situation. For some drivers, feelings of power and control are heightened by the added sense of strength and security that come from sitting inside a car.

Whenever someone sets out on the road, they typically have a specific set of plans. When something unexpected occurs, it can affect those plans. That leads to a driver feeling as if they lost control of the situation. In the ugliest of extremes, it results in rage, because they feel disempowered when things don’t go as planned.

Road rage is sometimes triggered by minor problems, such as when a driver falls into the annoying “red light rhythm.” Block after block, the unlucky motorist gets stopped for the full duration of a newly turned red light. In other cases, a minor accident can spiral into rage. After a rear-end accident, the two drivers can get out of their cars and start exchanging heated words.

Aggressive Driving vs. Road Rage

The behaviors that characterize aggressive driving generally stem from an inflated sense of entitlement, an overconfidence in one’s driving skills and overwhelming feelings of urgency. Aggressive driving traits may include any of the following:

  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Gunning yellow lights
  • Changing lanes frequently to pass other automobiles
  • Revving the engine loudly on slow, quiet streets

Road rage, by contrast, is characterized by belligerent, hostile reactions to actions the agitated driver deems offensive. The feelings that lead to road rage can be triggered by anything from facial expressions to driving mistakes, whether benign or dangerous. Road rage can escalate from car-to-car to person-to-person conflicts.

How to Avoid Road Rage

Show Courtesy to All Drivers

Not every driver on the road will operate their vehicle with the same degree of caution as you. Some people are perfectly comfortable with a more aggressive driving style, which is sometimes appropriate in certain settings — as long as they don’t break any traffic laws.

There are other motorists, however, who take a more belligerent approach behind the wheel. This could involve anything from revving loudly on slow and quiet streets to cutting in front of other vehicles.

Whenever your path aligns with a belligerent driver, let them get beyond you as soon as possible. If someone drives in a manner that appears dangerous, the last thing you’d want is proximity to their vehicle.

If a tailgating driver pulls into a parallel lane intent to get ahead of you, slow down slightly to let the driver pass. If a driver is going down the road incredibly fast, allow them to pass, even if they’re breaking the speed limit.

In the event a driver recklessly exceeds the speed limit, and there’s no police on their tail, pull over once they’re out of your way. Then, whip out your phone and report the matter to the local police. You may just end up saving the lives of others.

Don’t Tailgate Other Drivers

Never follow another vehicle too closely along a free and open road. Except in cases of bottleneck traffic, there is no reason to be closer than a car length to the vehicle in front of you. On highways, it’s best to maintain a distance of at least three vehicles whenever possible.

If you’re following too close, and the car ahead makes a sudden stop, you’ll likely end up rear-ending that vehicle. Tailgating can also be perceived by others as an act of harassment. If an accident occurs due to tailgating on your part, you could find yourself slapped with a fine and an insurance hike.

Don’t Stare at Other Motorists

You never really know what might be going on with people behind the wheel. Many of your fellow drivers are likely having good days, but others could be in the midst of bad times. Consequently, some of the drivers in the latter category could be in depressed, irritable moods. Whatever the case, it’s never wise to lock eyes with fellow motorists. In some instances, drivers take stares the wrong way and feel harassed — some even get belligerent.

If you’re stopped at an intersection alongside a neighboring driver in a parallel lane, avoid eye contact with anyone in that vehicle unless there’s a good reason. If you need to inform the other driver of a broken head or tail light, start the conversation with a smile.

At any moment of a given day, there are drivers on the road who are capable of snapping at even the slightest irritations. Regardless of a given driver’s issues, you don’t want to be on their radar any more than you need to be.

Don’t Commit Greedy or Belligerent Driving Acts

In heavily trafficked areas where lights are long, roads are slow, and parking spots are rare, a dog-eat-dog mentality can sometimes take hold. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to this mindset.

For instance, if you see a parking space about to open, but also see someone waiting on the other side, don’t swoop in from your angle hoping to beat the other car into the spot. Not only is that rude, but it could also have many serious consequences. You could get into a fender-bender or a conflict with the other driver once you’ve exited your vehicle.

Things can be more problematic, however, when a driver does something wrong, but is too full of pride to acknowledge their mistake. A driver who is running late may gun it through yellow lights, narrowly avoiding collisions in the process. If they ultimately slam on the brakes and yield to opposing traffic, they might be too embarrassed or frustrated to show remorse for their actions. This can make drivers who are already angry even more angry. It might set them over the edge when someone drives so recklessly and refuses to acknowledge their mistake with a simple wave.

If you’re in that situation, take it as a sign that you need to slow down. Crashing on the way there will be far worse than arriving late.

How to Control Road Rage

Be Patient With Other Drivers

When someone else does something wrong, it’s natural to react negatively. This is especially true for driving, when some mistakes can have fatal consequences.

Keep in mind that when drivers make mistakes, they are typically just that: mistakes. For the most part, faulty drivers are not bad people — they’re simply drivers who weren’t paying close enough attention. Consider that no one is a perfect driver, including you. Try to treat people as you expect to be treated. When they make a mistake, consider how you would want another driver to handle your mistake.

While it’s understandable to be outraged when another motorist makes a move that leads to a close call, it’s important to keep your cool during the situation. Resist any urge to give into your worst impulses. Part of taking the high ground involves keeping your temper in check.

By extension, this principle applies to all areas of life — but most importantly, in daily activities where attentiveness and sound judgment are matters of life and death, such as when you’re behind the wheel. After all, if you end up losing it over a stupid move by another driver, you could get distracted and do something even more dangerous.

Think of Them as Drivers, Not Cars

Out on the open roads, it’s easy to forget the human component of each passing vehicle. Unless you’re dealing with drivers in direct proximity, you don’t see them, and they don’t see you. Much is lost within the anonymity of cars.

The implications of this can be desensitizing. Driving could start to seem like an activity — at least on a subconscious level — where safety is only important to the extent that it applies to you and your passengers.

When you stop considering other drivers, you’re less likely to feel empathy toward your fellow motorists. In this frame of mind, it’s easier to slip into aggressive driving mode or get irritable toward other drivers who make simple mistakes.

To avoid this pitfall, it’s best to stay in touch with your own humanity and refrain from egotistical thoughts while on the road. One way of staying grounded is to keep a photo of your loved ones taped to the dashboard. After all, those are the people whose well-being in part depends on you, which makes it all the more crucial to stay out of trouble and refrain from feelings or actions that could jeopardize your and their safety.

It’s also helpful to make up scenarios about other drivers. If someone is speeding and cuts you off, you could make up a story that they are on the way to the hospital for their baby’s birth. Not only do these stories get you focused on something else, but they also help you practice compassion. You’ll be less likely to get upset by other drivers.

How to Deal With Road Rage Drivers

Just because another driver loses their cool behind the wheel, it doesn’t make it right for you to follow suit. Hot-headed driving is dangerous, pure and simple. When another motorist shows obvious signs of agitation, refrain from doing anything that could add fuel to the fire, no matter how much this person might have done to offend you.

In the event of an irritable motorist rubbing shoulders with you on the road, ignore any provocation attempts from the driver and let them pass as soon as possible. The farther away they get, the better.

To avoid dangerous run-ins with irritable drivers, you should:

  • Ignore rude gestures or nasty comments from drivers or passengers in other vehicles.
  • Keep as far away as possible from drivers who exhibit road rage.
  • Don’t attempt to reason with belligerent motorists. A hot–headed driver could be armed or otherwise more dangerous on foot.
  • Pull over and dial for help if you feel threatened. Note as much info about his vehicle as possible, including the license number, model, color, etc. If your smartphone has a voice recorder, use it to collect the information.
    Warning: Do not take your eyes off the road for even a second to make a call or an audio note. It only takes a split second for an accident to happen.
  • If a driver tailgates your vehicle, don’t pull over or drive home, because they might be stalking you. Instead, drive to a heavily trafficked area and honk your horn to draw attention to the situation. If that doesn’t lose the driver, call for help or drive to the local police station if there’s one nearby. Stay off back roads.

How to Deal With Road Rage on a Motorcycle

In its 2007 report on traffic safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that 72.34 out of every 100,000 motorcycles are involved in fatal accidents — a figure that dwarfs the 13.10 in 100,000 cars that meet the same fate. Road rage, of course, is a significant contributing factor to these numbers.

Antics that place motorcyclists at risk include speeding, whipping around corners and weaving between lanes to pass car after car. If a high-speed cyclist turns their head for even a second — whether it’s to observe scenery or flip someone off in a fit of rage — the consequences could be deadly.

For obvious reasons, there’s nothing to gain from letting rage take hold while on a motorcycle. If you’re riding a two-wheeler down a busy street or highway, keep to the speed limit. Refrain from passing in front of cars when you don’t really need to and steer clear of aggressive cars, vans and trucks. Keep your eyes on what’s in front of you. If a passing motorist shouts out something rude, ignore that person. Your safety is always more important than the ill-will of others on the open road.

For more safe-driving tips, explore the Dallas Horton & Associates blog.

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