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Three Bad Habits that Trigger Road Rage

road rage, aggressive driving, car safety, traveler health

Road rage is defined as an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger of one motor vehicle to the operator or passenger of another caused by an incident that occurred on a roadway. Researchers have defined the bad driving habits that tend to lead most to road rage and aggressive driving incidents in an attempt to understand and potentially prevent such behaviors.

Preventable individual driving behaviors and decisions made by aggressive drivers can lead to loss of life and life-threatening injuries to our friends, family, and children. Driver aggression is a major safety concern, leading to nearly half of all motor vehicle collisions.

Researchers with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have recently published a study that attempts to explain why road rage incidents happen. The data is gleaned from more than 5000 entries posted on the real-world website RoadRagers.com between 1999 and 2007. The team sorted complaints into various categories which included speeding/racing, erratic/improper braking and blocking.

Dr. Christine Wickens, a post-doctoral fellow with CAMH’s Social and Epidemiological Research Department, notes that the most complaints (54%) from drivers are those who weave in and out of traffic and cut off other drivers. Speeding (29%) and hostile displays (25%) round out the top three of bad driving habits that lead to road rage incidents.

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The research team also discussed how slighted drivers might feel compelled to retaliate or 'teach other drivers a lesson.' In some extreme cases, one reckless action can escalate into a hostile situation between multiple drivers.

With this in mind, Dr. Wickens advises drivers to work hard at keeping cool behind the wheel. "Remind yourself to take a deep breath, stay calm, and do whatever it takes to bring your anger down," she said. Dr. Wickens also suggested that educating drivers during their training on the most common complaints might help them realize the impact of their actions and avoid these types of behaviors. The training could also teach drivers to be aware of their own responses associated with behaviors they encounter on the road.

Symptoms of aggressive driving and road rage are:

  • Mentally condemning or thought of violence toward other drivers.
  • Verbally expressing condemnation of other drivers to passengers in your vehicle.
  • Not obeying traffic safety rules because you don't agree with them.
  • Engage in aggressive and risky driving:
  • Following too close.
  • Speeding.
  • Weaving in and out of traffic.
  • Speeding up to beat a traffic light.
  • Cutting between vehicles to change lanes.
  • Using the horn excessively.
  • Flashing headlights excessively at oncoming traffic.
  • Braking to get others to back off your bumper.
  • Passing another driver, and then slowing to teach them a lesson.

The Washington State Patrol offers these safety tips for drivers:

  • Allow plenty of time for the trip, listen to soothing music, improve the comfort in your vehicle, and understand that you cannot control the traffic, only your reaction to it. In the end, we may very well discover that personal frustration, anger, and impatience may be the most dangerous "drugs" on the highway.
  • Be polite and courteous, even if the other driver is not. Avoid all conflict if possible. If another driver challenges you, take a deep breath and move out of the way. Never underestimate the other driver's capacity for mayhem.
  • When entering traffic or changing lanes, make sure that you have enough room.
  • Make sure you have established a safe following distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
  • Don't make aggressive hand gestures to the other drivers when they offend you with their driving.
  • Signal when turning or changing lanes.
  • Control your anger; remember it takes two to start a fight.
  • Avoid prolonged eye contact with the bad or angry driver.
  • Get help. Call police on your cell phone or go to a public telephone or place. Don't pull to the side of the road.
  • Forget about winning. No one wins in a highway crash.
  • Put yourself in the other driver's shoes. They may be driving that way because of an actual emergency!

Journal Reference:
Christine M. Wickens, David L. Wiesenthal, Ashley Hall, James E.W. Roseborough. Driver anger on the information superhighway: A content analysis of online complaints of offensive driver behaviour.Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2013; 51: 84 DOI:10.1016/j.aap.2012.10.007

Additional Resources:
Washington State Patrol
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration