Road rage and its underlying aggressive driving are leading causes of serious and fatal auto accidents and even full-out violence.

Defuse the Situation; Don’t Engage Aggressive Drivers

Changing highway lanes or backing into a parking spot ahead of a long line of cars are everyday events. But look back and spot the driver behind you. It might be an aggressive driver with an angry face shouting angry words.

Whether your maneuver was right or wrong, you just triggered a dangerous situation for you and your passengers. Road rage and its underlying aggressive driving are leading causes of serious and fatal auto accidents and even full-out violence. But you can reduce the chances it ever gets that far.

Angry Driving Commonplace in America

Aggressive driving, AAA says, involves any unsafe, deliberate driving behavior with malicious intentions and disregard for safety. Some examples are running red lights, speeding in heavy traffic, weaving between lanes, changing lanes without signaling, tailgating, and blocking cars that are attempting to pass or change lanes. Any one of these things can cause a serious or fatal car accident, but aggressive driving is only the start.

Road rage, as it is often called, steps it up a notch as drivers try to punish or retaliate against others. Common tactics are flashing high-beam lights or pulling in front of another car and braking. Raging incidents escalate quickly to cursing fellow drivers, flipping them off, or throwing objects. They become even more physical and dangerous as some drivers ram, sideswipe, or force others off of the road.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly 80 percent of U.S. drivers became significantly angry, aggressive, or fully enraged at other drivers. Earlier research by the foundation discovered that more than half of the fatal crashes in 2003-2007 involved a potentially “aggressive” action by at least one of the drivers.

News stories about violent and even fatal mix-ups continue to grab headlines.

On April 3, 2018, an El Paso County deputy arrested a 51-year-old motorcyclist who, following a traffic interaction, allegedly fired shots into a vehicle with two adults and two children in it, KKTV Channel 11 reported. No one was injured, however, the biker faces four charges of attempted murder, child abuse, and prohibited use of a weapon.

Aggressive Drivers Involved in More Car Accidents

Widely cited anger researcher, Colorado State University’s Prof. Jerry Deffenbacher, wrote that angry drivers share certain characteristics. They think aggressively and are sometimes hostile. They are more judgmental and express “disbelief” about other motorists more than other drivers do.

These drivers, Deffenbacher wrote, think about getting revenge and retaliating against other drivers, sometimes wanting to harm them physically. They get angry faster, take more risks, and speed more often (usually 10-20 mph over the limit) than other drivers. They tailgate, rapidly switch lanes, and frequently enter intersections when the traffic lights turn red. Unsurprisingly, they get into car accidents more often and get more speeding tickets, too.

Aggressive, angry drivers, Deffenbacher found, were angry twice a day on average and typically behaved aggressively twice a day. Low-anger drivers were angry, on average, less than once per day and aggressive about as often.

It may seem surprising, but the researcher found that while the angry drivers get into more accidents than the other group, the two sets have about the same number of accidents involving major injuries. He could only speculate the reason is that the serious accidents were rare occurrences.

In general, these drivers experience more “trait anger”, anxiety, and impulsiveness than other drivers. They are more likely to get behind the wheel while angry, which can stem from stress at work or at home. They tend to show their anger more outwardly and in less-controlled ways than others.

Stay Calm and Avoid Eye Contact

The best thing to do to prevent a driver’s aggressive behavior from turning into road rage is manage your own behavior and limit your responses, AAA says. When motorists are driving in ways that break laws or rules of the road, or are just inconsiderate, they’re probably wrapped in their own rushed, upset, or distracted moods, not thinking about the effects of their actions on you. Be forgiving and tolerant.

Don’t provoke: Be on your best behavior, follow traffic laws and unwritten rules. Notable ones are keeping adequate distances from the cars around you, using your turn signal, allowing others to merge into your lane, using high-beam lights responsibly, and refraining from using the horn. Consider others when parking. Be certain you’re well within your parking lot slot and not verging into or crossing the divider. Prevent your door from hitting the car next to you.

Remain calm and polite while driving to lower your risk of an angry encounter. When you do come across another driver who is losing their cool, then follow these tips:

  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Avoid answering aggression with more aggression.
  • Drive to a public place, such as a police station, hospital, or fire station if you think you’re in danger.
  • Save room to pull out quickly when parked if the aggressor nears your car.
  • Remain locked in your car and use your horn to attract attention if necessary.
  • Stay polite and calm if confronted.
  • Call 911 if the driver threatens you.

National Problem Under Spotlight in Denver

Denver’s road raging was bad enough to attract the attention of ABC’s “20/20” weekly news show, which profiled the problem in June 2017.

Texting at the wheel is today’s No. 1 road-rage provoker, followed by speeding, Colorado State Patrol Capt. Jeff Goodwin told the ABC interviewer. He blamed the state’s overcrowded highways, irresponsible drivers who fail to rise early enough in the morning to get to work without speeding, and distracted drivers, such as those who read and send texts while in traffic.

Even the slight provocation of honking the horn because another driver has waited too long after a traffic light has changed to green can trigger pure rage, Goodwin said. In the wrong circumstances, some road ragers will go from “Doctor Jekyll to Mr. Hyde” in a moment.

Goodwin’s prime rules of defusing a road rage incident are to avoid making contact and never to approach the other driver’s window.

“The minute you engage, who knows how far this will go?” Goodwin said.

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