Road rage is a phenomenon that has been in the public consciousness for nearly three decades. The term first came into common use in 1987 and 1988 after being coined by KTLA news reporters in Los Angeles who used it in reference to a string of freeway and interstate shootings in the area. Since that time, the concept has received greater attention throughout the United States, and in other places around the world. Road rage is a dangerous phenomenon that can result in accidents, injuries, and death. However, with the right understanding of how and why road rage occurs, you can help to prevent this dangerous threat to public safety.
What is Road Rage?
Road rage is defined by extremely aggressive, rude, and angry behavior exhibited by anyone operating a motor vehicle on any road surface. It can range from shouted insults and hostile gestures to deliberately reckless driving and threats. If you’ve ever been so emotional behind the wheel that you have flashed your lights at other drivers, made rude hand gestures, honked your horn aggressively, or intentionally cut them off in traffic or chased their vehicles, then you have probably experienced road rage firsthand.
Why Road Rage Is Dangerous
If only a few people were on the road at any given time, road rage probably would not be a serious cause for concern. The problem is, though, that Americans practically live behind the wheel:
- 90% of surveyed adults report that they drive motor vehicles to get where they want or need to be.
- The average driver reportedly spends 87 minutes of his or her day driving.
- 47% of those drivers believe that traffic is a problem in their area. 62% admit that they get frustrated while driving and 43% acknowledge that they sometimes get angry when they are behind the wheel.
The real threat posed by road rage should be obvious. Because road rage involves anger and frustration that often leads to risky driving behaviors, drivers who engage in this behavior pose a direct risk to not only their own safety but that of everyone else in their vicinity. According to some estimates, aggressive drivers are responsible for up to four times as many car crash fatalities as people who drive drunk. Other statistics indicate that roughly 200 murders were attributed to road rage over a seven-year period.
An Epidemic of Road Rage
So, how prevalent is road rage? According to various research efforts, it is frighteningly common. Psychology professor Leon James, the author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare, examined the various studies and has tested driver attitudes toward the behavior. He found that 85% of those people claimed to see aggressive driving occurring on the road. Strikingly, though, only 30% of those people acknowledged that they were ever the aggressors. That suggests not only an extremely high rate of road rage but a remarkably low level of self-awareness on the part of America’s drivers.
Studies indicate 1,200 instances of road rage across the nation – and those are just the cases that get documented. Worse, more than 300 accidents resulting in severe injury or fatality can be attributed to road rage each and every year. Experts suggest that these numbers are on the increase as well, so the problem is only getting worse.
Road Rage Triggers
There have been studies conducted in an attempt to better understand why road rage occurs. The major causes of frustration included things like being in a hurry to reach a destination, running behind schedule, and speeding. Yes, that’s right: many drivers get angry when they are speeding and other drivers are perceived as slowing them down! Of course, there are also many things that other drivers do that can contribute to this rage:
- 57% of respondents say that they are angered when they see other drivers speeding.
- 50% are frustrated each day by tailgating drivers.
- 98% get stressed when they see other drivers talking on cell phones.
- 54% get angry when they see drivers braking suddenly.
These drivers respond in a variety of ways. 40% resort to honking their horns, while another 32% hurl vulgar insults at the offender. 8% admit to using rude gestures. Another 5% actually take the time to report those offensive drivers to the authorities. One percent of respondents claimed that they have even rammed their cars into other vehicles!
The Texas Approach to Road Rage
Road rage is not an actual term used in Texas law. Instead, it is a concept that law enforcement views as encompassing a variety of reckless, dangerous, and aggressive driving behaviors. There are different penalties assessed based on the nature and severity of any given offense. Reckless driving, for instance, is treated as a misdemeanor that can carry a $200 fine or jail time of up to 30 days. In addition, many types of aggressive acts behind the wheel can be treated as moving violations of one sort or another and fined accordingly. Road rage that involves actual physical aggression – regardless of whether the driver uses the car in the act or resorts to other actions – is typically treated as assault and battery during prosecution.
Can You Prevent Road Rage?
Obviously, no single person can prevent all instances of road rage. What you can do, however, is help that portion of the world you do control. You have to start by governing your own behavior. Here are some simple steps that you can take to do your part:
- Drive safely and follow the rules of the road at all times.
- Pay attention, and avoid distractions like cell phones, squabbling children in the back seat, and similar things that can prevent you from adhering to safe driving practices.
- Expect that other drivers will do things that might make you frustrated or angry. Accept that these incidents will occur, and commit to ignoring such behaviors instead of losing your temper.
- When incidents occur, avoid making eye contact with the offending driver. If you do lock eyes, smile, nod, and deliver a friendly wave of understanding. Keep it all lighthearted.
- Never honk your horn unless another driver is about to collide with you. Never use obscene gestures, hurl insults, or otherwise vent frustrations. You’ll just make yourself even angrier than you already are.
Above all else, remember that lives are at stake – not only your own but those of your passengers and others on the road too. Everyone endures stress while driving, so try to keep things in perspective. That momentary flash of anger might seem vitally important in that instant, but chances are you won’t even remember it next week – much less five years from now. Be smart, keep calm, and drive safely!