The Rules of Road Rage

KTLA, a Los Angeles television station, struggled with terminology to describe a phenomenon occurring regularly on their local freeways 1987-1988. Having to report a rash of shootings and physical confrontations on “the 10,” “the 110” and “the 405” resulted in the coining of a term we all now use and understand, “road rage.”

Road rage according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is “The operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.”

Road rage is often spawned in aggressive driving and the behaviors are separated by a very narrow line. Aggressive driving might involve tailgating, speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting off other cars, honking, cursing other drivers and using certain hand gestures to communicate anger and frustration.

Road rage may manifest as hitting someone with a vehicle, running someone off the road, getting out of the car to confront someone physically, or using a weapon. It’s a sad fact that guns come out in 37% of aggressive driving and road rage incidents.

It’s worth noting the distinction that aggressive driving is a traffic violation, and road rage is a criminal offense. The auto organization AAA says it’s reported to police more than 1,200 times a year.

There are two skills needed to succeed at avoiding road rage:

  1. Deal with others practicing road rage
  2. Avoid practicing road rage when you drive

Protect yourself from road rage

Several practices can reduce the incidence and severity of road rage occurrences.

Don’t use your phone while driving or allow yourself to be distracted in any way. Be a courteous driver, signal when appropriate, check your blind spots, mind your high beams when meeting traffic. Use your horn sparingly. If you find yourself driving a challenging road and traffic is building up behind you, pull over and let others pass.

If you find that another driver is upset with your driving, diffuse the situation as quickly as possible. Avoid retaliating to offensive maneuvers by other drivers. Find a way to show remorse if you’ve made a driving mistake by waving or mouthing “sorry.” Allow plenty of room and avoid staring and making hand gestures.

Be aware that you don’t know what’s going on in the lives of others, what emotional crisis they may be in. Over half of drivers admit to responding to the aggression of other drivers with aggressive behaviors themselves. Some are carrying a weapon and just waiting for a chance to use it.

Don’t fall for another’s invitation to retaliate. Never decide you need to teach another driver a lesson, he won’t learn it anyway.

One place to practice calm driving skills is in merge situations. Let people in graciously during a merges. There always seems to be someone who swings to the right and passes everyone in line to merge so he can be up front. Don’t let that offend you, let it go. Simply take the high road in reacting to the driving of others.

One in 50 drivers have admitted trying to run someone off the road. Being aggressive in your driving can induce rage in fellow drivers. Many are driving “under the influence,” not necessarily drugs or alcohol, but the influence of anger and rage. Aggressive driving can “let the genie out of the bottle,” activating rage in others. Dangerous situations are easily created.

Don’t practice road rage

Don’t get in your car angry.

To avoid stress and anxiety, precursors to road rage, give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination and plan your route before traveling.

Keeping plenty of distance from other drivers is also a good practice. Being forgiving of others helps too. We all occasionally pull out before we should or turn without giving adequate warning. Even the best of drivers. Since we occasionally need forgiveness for our driving mistakes we should be ready to offer it quickly to others.

If we can put ourselves in the shoes of other drivers, we are more capable of understanding their behavior and staying calm. If we can’t appreciate their situation, then we are more likely to get offended, angry and even rageful if their driving bothers us. — Dr. Robert Nemerovski

History has taught us that other drivers make mistakes. It’ll happen again, it isn’t the end of the world or a personal attack on you. Learn the beauty of accepting that others will fall short. A good mantra is: They’re doing the best they can, even if that isn’t very good today.

When preparing to drive, get your head into the game. Remind yourself that the road is for sharing, not your private domain. Taking a deep breath or two to establish personal calm and playing soothing music is a better strategy than listening to talk radio that might incite your own anger.

Be aware of the danger signals of rising rage in yourself. Flashing your lights, honking, tailgating, trying to catch a driver that has offended you are all signs of rising road rage. Sometimes it’s best to pull over and take a breather to calm yourself. My brother calms himself by pretending his daughter is with him: “I’m a much different driver when she’s in the car.”

Some good people have bad days and end up in situations they normally never would, simply due to powerful emotions like anger, frustration and stress taking over. — Richard Senshido

Road rage is a reality of our times. Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured in road rage incidents over the last few years. The prudent course that will keep us all safe is learning to defuse the rage of others as well as the rage in ourselves.


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