Road Rage — the New Dangerous Normal?

iStock_000017099921XSmallTwenty years ago, we barely knew the phrase “road rage.” American drivers once were generally courteous and the normal thing to do when someone was changing lanes, getting into a parking space or passing, was to give that driver time and space. Many of us remember when basic driving “normal” did not include struggling to make simple moves on the road. The new normal includes the worry that someone might cut us off, tailgate or become enraged for our slightest move on the road. The new normal also turns out to be that more of us are becoming upset and angry behind the wheel — perhaps for good reason, as other drivers are less and less courteous. What we are noticing is actually happening. A new study tells us just how out of control Americans have become.

The study was completed by a source that knows a bit about American driving. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety issued this study last week and it is stunning. Only 20 percent of drivers say they did not become angry or upset behind the wheel this past year. We are tired, frustrated and impatient with congestion. In other words, 80 percent of us did experience some level of anger or aggression on the road. This behavior is bound to cause accident or injury … and it is increasing. Extreme road rage is less common, but it is also a reality. Ramming another vehicle or exiting a vehicle to confront the “offending” driver are considered to fall into the extreme category. As Americans work long hours, confront road congestion and deal with other stresses, we are more and more impatient. Other drivers behaving badly get us more and more angry and even the calmest of us, can react to it.

The study makes it clear that a great percentage of drivers are engaging in road rage at some point in the course of a year. These behaviors include tailgating and driving too closely on purpose, screaming or yelling at other drivers, honking, gesturing in anger and either blocking or cutting off another driver. The number of drivers engaging in these behaviors and worse, may not be fully accounted for, as self-reporting is a bit of a social embarrassment. It turns out that male drivers and those under age 39 are more likely to engage in the more aggressive behaviors on the road. Some parts of the country have greater incidence of angry driving than others. Northeastern drivers are more likely to engage in these behaviors.

There are steps we all can take to avoid getting angry ourselves and to avoid another driver getting angry with us on the road. The Georgia Department of Driver Services notes that drivers should not make any gestures to other drivers. Even a benign gesture can be misinterpreted. Avoid driving slowly in the left lanes of a highway. Thinking of the phrase “be my guest” is a good way to allow other drivers to make the moves they need to and for us to keep calm. They suggest that doing this regularly will help keep us from getting upset with the lack of courtesy of other drivers.

AAA recommends that we avoid making any maneuvers that cause another driver to brake or turn. Although this sounds difficult, it really isn’t. It just requires defensively, sensibly and paying close attention. Some of the worst situations occur when we assume drivers are driving badly on purpose. For example, a driver could be driving slowly or swerving if that driver is having a medical emergency. The report suggests that we should assume the best in other drivers and not the worst. Avoiding engagement with other drivers is recommended. If someone is getting aggressive on the road, it is best not to make eye contact with them. Drivers should never exit their vehicle to confront another driver. If we fear that another driver is not calming down and is behaving aggressively with their vehicle, calling 911 is the next step.

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