Curb that road rage!

Angry driverLast week, another person was killed in a road rage incident in New Mexico, shot in cold blood. This sad event is notable mainly because the victim was a sweet, innocent four-year old child. According to statistics, at least 218 people have been murdered in road rage incidents over the last 7 years; another 12 thousand plus have suffered injuries. Two-thirds of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving.

Aggression is often matched by aggression, resulting in escalating tensions: Half of drivers who are on the receiving end of an aggressive behavior, such as horn honking, a rude gesture, or tailgating admit to responding with aggressive behavior themselves. Think twice next time you are tempted to retaliate or escalate because 37% of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm.

Jayleen R. Heft of talks about these and other stats in her article, Scary drivers! What you need to know about road rage. In the article, she draws the distinction between aggressive driving and road rage – although the lines often blur:

“Although defining road rage is complicated and varies by jurisdiction, generally, the difference between aggressive driving and road rage is that aggressive driving is a traffic offense while road rage is a criminal offense. Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.”

On the other hand, road rage is generally defined as “an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by a vehicle’s operators or passenger(s) upon another person, when the assault was precipitated by an incident, which occurred on a roadway. Road rage requires willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others.”

If you have a road rage incident on your record, it is “a serious red flag” that will, at minimum, result in higher insurance rates. Not only will it be more difficult and more expensive to obtain coverage, if you have any accidents that result from your road rage, you may have difficulty with any associated claims because road rage is often listed as an exclusion in many auto policies.

Heft’s article offers a laundry list of driving behaviors that would be considered aggressive, such as tailgating, making hand gestures at other drivers, using emergency lanes or shoulders to pass, and unnecessary use of high beams.

Protecting yourself from road rage incidents

Driving experts say that it in addition to safe, courteous driving, it is very important not to escalate a situation or to retaliate in any way. You have no idea who the other driver is, whether they have a weapon, and how far they will take a situation. You can’t control them or their behavior — but you can control your own temper and your own behavior. For some, it may take practice. Heft’s article offers some excellent tips to help you avoid road rage encounters. We’re reprinting an abbreviated version here:

  • Don’t assume other drivers are evil. Sometimes, people make mistakes, or they might be driving more slowly for a reason.
  • Don’t honk your horn insistently. It’s really annoying and increases everyone’s stress level.
  • If someone is tailgating you, don’t aggravate yourself and the other driver by playing cat and mouse with your speed. Move out of the way and let the other driver pass you.
  • Crank some tunes, not the engine. Try listening to music as it can help keep you calm.
  • Leave space to pull around the car in front of you. Leaving some wiggle room can reduce vulnerability if the driver in front of you gets aggressive.
  • Try not to run late. When you’re in a hurry, your patience is short, and you’re much more likely to become aggravated.
  • Avoid cutting other drivers off in traffic.
  • Signal several hundred feet before you change lanes or make a turn.
  • Avoid making any gestures or eye contact with another driver.
  • Be courteous in the use of high-beam headlights.
  • Obey speed limits.
  • Drive in the right or middle lane; pass on the left.
  • Stop at stop signs and red lights; don’t run yellow lights.
  • Don’t block intersections.
  • Report any aggressive driving incidents to the police immediately. also offers Top 10 Tips To Prevent Road Rage. Here are a few that we found particularly noteworthy:

Your car is not a therapist. Many of us love and identify with our cars (part of why launched CarSpace), but sometimes you can take the “car as extension of self” idea too seriously. If your boss or your spouse left you steaming, take care not to use driving as a way to blow off steam. Competitive types (you know who you are) shouldn’t try to prove themselves on heavily traveled thoroughfares — save that enthusiasm for weekend romps on your favorite back roads. No matter how much power you’ve got under the hood, your vehicle is first and foremost a mode of transportation, not a weapon.

Practice kindness. Dr. Leon James, a.k.a. “Dr. Driving” and author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, says that remembering simple courtesies, like allowing someone to merge or apologizing when we make a mistake, can go a long way in making the driving experience positive for ourselves and others. His basic motto is the old “do unto others” rule: Treat fellow drivers how you would like to be treated. As additional incentive, reducing your aggressiveness on the road can also keep you out of serious trouble: Several states have created special law enforcement teams to seek out and cite aggressive drivers. Depending on the frequency of offenses, violators may be fined, lose their license temporarily or even face jail time. Often, they are required to take a behavior-modification class as well.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also offers great tips: Road Rage: How to Avoid Aggressive Driving (pdf). One tip we think bears repeating:

Adjust your attitude – – The most important actions you can take to avoid aggressive driving take place inside your head. By changing your approach to driving, you can make every trip more pleasant. Try these ideas for a pleasant change:

Forget winning. For too many motorists, driving becomes a contest. Do you allow the shortest possible time for a trip and then race the clock? If something happens to slow you
down do you get angry? The solution: Allow more time for your trip. You’ll be amazed at how much more relaxed you feel when you have a few extra minutes. So instead of trying to “make good time,” try to “make time good.” Listen to soothing music or a book on tape. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing. You’ll arrive much calmer, fresher, and in a less stressed-out frame of mind.
Put yourself in the other driver’s shoes. Instead of judging the other driver, try to imagine why he or she is driving that way. Someone speeding and constantly changing lanes may be a volunteer fireman, or a physician rushing to a hospital. Someone who jerks from one lane to another may have a bee in the car or a crying baby. Whatever their reason, it has nothing to do with you. Stay cool and don’t take other drivers’ actions personally.