November 7, 2019

Road Rage

Is Driver Aggression on the Increase?

No one would deny that the pace of living gets ever faster. We’re rushed, stressed, harried and constantly pushed by our busy lives to do better, faster. This state of affairs impacts on all the areas of our day, from work to home-life and everywhere in between, potentially resulting in exhaustion, frayed tempers and rocketing frustration levels. So, it’s hardly surprising to read in the RAC motoring association’s latest report that road rage is at an all-time high.

What is road rage?

Wikipedia sums up the definition of road rage very nicely:

Road rage is aggressive or angry behaviour exhibited by a driver of a road vehicle. These behaviours include rude and offensive gestures, verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods targeted toward another driver or a pedestrian in an effort to intimidate or release frustration.’

Apparently then, virtually any road user could experience road rage, either as the aggressor or the recipient.

Scarily, according to the RAC report, one of the top four major motoring concerns for drivers is aggression on the roads.  At 30% of drivers who expressed that concern, that runs only 6% lower than the worries over the dangers of drivers using mobile phones while driving. That’s a doubling of the previous year’s road rage worry quotient, from 4% to 8%.

That 30% of surveyed motorists said they’d personally seen or experienced some form of physical abuse tied to a driving incident in the past year. The equivalent of about 20 million motorists claim to have witnessed verbal abuse aimed at other motorists in the same time frame.

That’s a lot of motoring aggression.

What triggers road rage?

A motoring rage trigger could start as simply as the lingering effects of a row with your partner or a bad night’s sleep. If you’re feeling cranky and short-tempered before you get in the car, it’s possibly not going to take much to make you react badly to an annoying driving situation.

On a rather deeper level, a long-serving probation officer we spoke to said that a high proportion of aggressive incidents on the roads can be a reflection of the anger the aggressor faces in the rest of their lives, maybe at home or work, which is then translated into their driving attitude. That creates a powder keg which can explode at the smallest thing.

Add to these underlying circumstances, that driver who sits close on your tail for miles, apparently pushing you to go ever faster; the one who just has to shoot out in front of you at a junction or on a roundabout, causing you to brake hard and doubling your heart-rate; the driver in front who insists on sticking to a speed 15 miles an hour under the speed limit and then brakes to nothing for every bend.

You’re in a hurry to pick up the kids, or get to a meeting, or just to get home after an exhausting day. You’re stressed already and then you come across the driver from hell.

It’s not a huge leap of imagination to see how any of those scenarios could overflow into shouting, gesticulating or even, at the worst extreme, physical violence or dangerous and menacing driving.

It’s a safe bet that every one of us has been guilty of at least muttering at that driver who’s just done something silly or irritating. Worryingly, some motorists have taken their frustrations much further by driving close and dangerously behind their perceived transgressor or even, in standing traffic, have jumped out of their vehicle and dragged the erring driver from theirs to give them a punch.

driver experiencing road rage

Coping with road rage from both sides

If you’re the victim

  • All of us have at some time made a mistake on the roads, whether it’s simply stalling just as the lights go green, or something potentially a bit more serious. If you know you’ve inconvenienced the driver behind, it doesn’t hurt to just acknowledge it with an apologetic wave. That might very well defuse any potential annoyance the other driver may feel. It probably won’t stop them muttering to themselves, but that doesn’t harm anyone.
  • If you find yourself in a situation where things have escalated to a state that you’re getting worried for your safety – maybe the driver behind is tailgating you, flashing and hooting, gesticulating through the windscreen at you or driving in other aggressive ways – don’t panic and don’t get angry yourself. Find a safe place to pull over and let them pass. It’s very unlikely that they want to do anything other than get in front of you, so allow them to do so. Take a minute, get yourself calm and drive on. Better to lose a few minutes on your journey than have an accident and lose a lot more.
  • If you think you’re being subjected to road rage on a regular basis, have an honest look at the way you drive.
    • Are you too pushy yourself? Perhaps you tend to scoot out at junctions when you really should wait that extra couple of seconds for the road to clear?
    • Maybe you’re only comfortable driving at much lower speeds than the road limit and conditions allow for? That could be due to a lack of confidence you’re feeling in your driving skills.
    • Or could you have some other bad driving habits which others find really annoying?

Richard Gladman from the Institute of Advanced Motorists suggests that, in these circumstances, taking a refresher course in driving might well be the answer.

If you’re the aggressor

  • Plan your journey before you start. Allow time for unexpected eventualities so you’re less stressed if they happen. At worst, you’ll reach your destination a little earlier; at best, you’ll get there on time and much less wound up.
  • Remember they’re not out to get you. That other driver who is being so irritating and seems oblivious to your needs isn’t doing it to get at you personally. They don’t have a plan to disrupt your day or make your life difficult. They might habitually just be a bit thoughtless and unheeding of others, or they might be in the midst of some awful personal crisis which is making them less than aware. Whatever the cause, just know that their behaviour isn’t aimed at you, so don’t take it personally.
  • If you’ve never, ever made a mistake while driving then maybe you’ve got grounds to feel aggrieved at the errors of others. However, if you’re honest, you’ll admit that you’ve done the odd daft thing too from time to time, so be forgiving, chalk that irritating other driver’s actions up to experience, tut at them if you must, and move on from it.
  • If none of these suggestions reduce the regular and huge frustration you feel at the actions of other drivers, you might want to consider having a chat with someone who can help you with anger management. Better that than letting your anger involve you in a serious incident with another driver, or even a car accident, as a result of your road rage.