Caution: Aggressive Drivers Ahead

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, at least 1,500 people a year are seriously injured or killed in senseless traffic disputes. Motorists across the country have used their vehicles as a weapon against other drivers to retaliate for such trivialities as rude gestures, "stolen" parking places, and honked horns.

These out-of-control drivers can be anyone...young or old, male or female. You may even lapse into aggressive driving yourself, when fatigue or stress leads you to take the annoying behavior of another driver personally.

An episode of road rage can erupt when a driver feels threatened by motorists who tailgate, flash their headlights, refuse to allow passing, or subject them to obscene gestures or verbal abuse.

Don't Be a Trigger – Or a Target

For safety sake, patience and courtesy should be rules of the road. Avoid the behaviors listed below, and you are less likely to trigger – and become a target of – aggressive drivers.

  • Do not block the passing lane. Yield to the right for any vehicle that wants to overtake you.
  • Maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you. Tailgating is a major trigger for road rage.
  • Signal when you switch lanes, being careful not to cut anyone off. Turn your signal off when your turn or lane change is completed.
  • Don't give into the temptation of making a rude gesture of laying on the horn. The potential risk outweighs the momentary satisfaction.
  • Move out of the right-hand turn lane if you do not intend to turn right. (This applies in areas where right-hand turns are allowed at red lights.)
  • Park centered within the lines of a single parking space. When you exit your car, be careful not to hit the adjacent vehicle with your door.
  • Do not park in a handicapped space if you are not handicapped.
  • When parallel parking, do not tap the other vehicles with your own. Look before backing up.
  • Keep headlights on low beam and dim your lights for oncoming traffic. Never approach a vehicle from the rear with high beams and dim your lights when a vehicle passes.
  • Move out of the right-hand acceleration lane of a freeway to allow vehicles to enter from on-ramps.
  • Do not block traffic to talk to a pedestrian or another motorist.
  • If you pull a trailer or drive an oversize vehicle that impedes traffic behind you, pull over to allow motorists to pass.
  • If you use a car phone, keep your eyes and attention on the road. Aggressive drivers are particularly incensed by fender-benders involving a driver who was talking on the telephone.
  • If your car is equipped with an antitheft alarm, know how to turn it off. Better yet, select an alarm that turns off automatically after a short period of time.
  • Think twice about putting decals, bumper stickers, and vanity plates that might offend others on your vehicle.
  • Do not make eye contact with a hostile motorist. Eye contact may be interpreted as a personal challenge. Get out of the way of the aggressive driver as soon as possible. If a motorist pursues you, drive to a police station, convenience store, or public place where you can get help.

Keep Your Own Stress Under Control

You can't control congestion, detours, bad weather, and the occasional idiocy of other drivers. Consequently, it's a given that not all of your motoring will be a pleasurable experience. However, there are some strategies that may make you less susceptible to the anger and impulse that can cause accidents and incidents.

  • Rethink your schedule. Can you leave a little earlier or later to avoid heavy traffic?
  • Reroute your trip. Can you choose another route to avoid the intersection that always makes you grit your teeth?
  • Can you make your commute more enjoyable? Sitting in traffic is much less frustrating when you are listening to soothing music or a book on tape (or CD). Maybe a pillow or seat cover could also make you cozy and comfy.
  • Service your car and do regular safety checks to avoid breakdowns and car troubles.
  • On longer trips, try to take a break at least every three hours. Stretch your legs and have a light snack. On a very long trip, you are most vulnerable to fatigue on the second day of travel.
  • If you feel frustration rising, loosen your grip on the steering wheel, relax your jaw, take a few slow, deep breaths, and stretch a little.
  • Don't drive when you are very tired, angry, upset or feeling ill.

Want More Information?

  • Your AAA club can provide additional information and educational materials about aggressive driving. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has detailed information available on its Web site (www.aaafoundation.org).