What is road rage?
Starting in the 1990’s, people began using the term “road rage” with
increasing frequency. Over time, several different definitions have
evolved. The New York State Driver’s Handbook defines road rage in this
An emotional state of anger or hostility, which escalates into violent
criminal acts, or threats or attempts of violent acts, that result from
the operation of a motor vehicle. Road rage may include provocative
behavior intended to intimidate or harass others or instill fear in
them.-New York Driver’s Handbook
However, aggressive driving is often included in many people’s
definition of “road rage” because aggressive driving is often the first
step in a road rage confrontation. The New York State Police define
“aggressive driving” as “operating a motor vehicle in a selfish, bold
or pushy manner, without regard for the rights or safety of the other
users of the streets and highways.” Road rage and aggressive driving
are perhaps best understood as part of a continuum: People drive
aggressively, and then other drivers become angry and begin driving
aggressively as well to try to “punish” or intimidate the offending
driver. The situation can escalate from there to turn into something
more serious, such as an auto accident, a fist-fight or even
Basically, road rage is an attempt to teach other drivers on the road a
lesson. Whether the instrument used is a vehicle, fists, or a weapon,
road rage is dangerous and wrong.
Concern about road rage has been on the rise since the 1990’s, when
a study by the AAA Foundation for Auto Safety found that road rage
incidents had increased from 1129 incidents in 1990 to 1708 incidents
in 1995. Media coverage of the problem has made everyone aware that
road rage is a growing danger, but it’s still common for people to
react with aggression or even violence toward other drivers. New York
is especially famous for this type of behavior. For example, on June
22, 2008, Adolfo Gonzalez, a 25 year old resident of the Bronx, was
shot and killed after an altercation in traffic after a very minor
Since road rage can involve behaviors that range from traffic offenses
to assault or even murder, it’s difficult to find comprehensive road
rage statistics. However, New York road rage incidents are a problem.
According to the 2006 New York state accident statistics released by
the New York DMV, there were 1,513 accidents statewide caused by
aggressive driving or road rage. 19 of those accidents were fatal.
These statistics only show instances where road rage caused an
accident, so that’s not counting incidents where there was no
automobile accident. Also, in the 2008 “In The Driver's Seat Road
Rage Survey” sponsored by Auto Vantage, New York City is listed
as the third least courteous city in terms of road rage among 24 cities
surveyed around the country.
Why does New York seem to have such a problem with road rage? Part of
the problem is probably due to traffic congestion. Being stuck in
traffic can be an extremely frustrating and stressful experience. In a
paper entitled “Road Rage” published by The Automobile Association
Group Public Policy Road Safety Unit, British researcher Matthew Joint
compares the frustration that results from being stuck in traffic to
“how rats and various primates can respond aggressively in response to
overcrowding.” Have you ever seen what happens when you put too many
rats together in one cage? Let’s just say it can get bloody….
How to avoid confrontation
Fortunately, we are not rats. We are humans, and we don’t have to
react aggressively in response to overcrowded roads and highways. When
it comes to New York road rage incidents, there are things you can do
to avoid becoming a victim. First of all, try not to drive in such a
way as to provoke road rage. Of course, there’s never any excuse for
endangering the life of another human being, but most people who
experience New York road rage report that it was triggered by the
actions of the other driver. Here are some of the most common New York
road rage triggers:
- Cutting other drivers off: When you are merging or changing lanes,
look before you leap!
- Blocking the passing lane: Sure, you may be going the speed limit.
However, the passing lane is technically for passing. Some people are
going to want to use it to pass everyone. Use the middle lane for
cruising and let those speed demons fly on ahead.
- Tailgating: Nobody likes having another vehicle riding inches from
their bumper. It’s unnerving. Maintain at least a 2 second following
distance from the car in front of you.
- Gestures: Didn’t your momma ever tell you it was rude to point?
Well, it is…particularly if you are not using your index finger!
Flipping the bird is a very anti-social way to communicate with your
fellow drivers, and it’s liable to make someone angry.
- Cell phone use: Using your cell phone takes your focus off of the
road. People that are busy talking and texting are will often engage in
other road-rage triggering behaviors simply because they are so
oblivious to the other cars on the road that they don’t realize they
are invading someone else’s personal car space.
- Blasting your horn: Horns are for emergencies only. Do not use
yours to vent your frustration.
All of the above behaviors are behaviors you should avoid in order to
drive defensively anyway. Also, things like cutting people off or
tailgating can often cause “near misses,” frightening the other driver,
pumping them full of adrenaline, and triggering a “fight-or-flight”
response. You don’t want another driver on an adrenaline high deciding
he or she wants to “fight” you instead of “flying!”
Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and road raging drivers are apt to
be unforgiving. If you do end up being the target of an aggressive
driver, here are some tips to help you get home safe:
- Don’t make eye contact-Some people see this as a challenge.
- Don’t make or return any rude gestures- Angry people get even
angrier when they feel like they are being insulted.
- If possible, hang back in traffic and let the other driver go on
- If you are being followed by another driver that you have angered,
do not go home. You don’t want a crazy person to know where you live,
do you? Proceed to a police station or a well-lighted, highly populated
area. Call the police from your cell phone if you have one in the car.
Do not follow the example of William Russell. On July 11, 2008,
Russell, a gentleman from Oswego, New York, was followed home by a road
raging driver. He attempted to settle the dispute himself, using a
samurai sword and threatening to cut off the other driver’s arm.
Russell is now in jail. Always contact the proper authorities if
another driver is harassing you!
Cooler heads prevail
Do you feel like you’re stuck in a pressure cooker whenever traffic
backs up? Are you always screaming at the other idiots you are forced
to share the road with? If so, you need to learn how to keep your cool.
Drivers that “lose it” frequently are much more likely to get in an
accident or to commit an act of road rage than drivers who can stay
calm. Here are some tips to help you calm down:
- Do some deep breathing. You don’t have to chant a mantra or
anything, just breathe in and out, slowly and deeply. Try to relax your
muscles as you let your exhale.
- Give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Everyone makes
mistakes. Forgiveness is a virtue, right?
- Realize that other drivers are not out to “get” you. The person
that just cut you off was probably not trying to ruin your day. He or
she could have been distracted by anything from a crying baby to a
swarm of killer bees inside the car. Likewise, the person going 5 miles
per hour below the speed limit in the fast lane is probably not part of
a conspiracy to make you late for your appointment. They are more
likely to be preoccupied or too elderly to realize how slow they are
going. Picture your grandmother behind the wheel of that vehicle, and
you’ll be less tempted to tailgate, honk, or make obscene
- If you find yourself repeatedly and uncontrollably flying off the
handle, you may wish to seek help. An anger management class can help
you learn how to handle your emotions in a non-destructive
- Take a defensive driving class. It can help you learn strategies
for dealing with other drivers and avoiding those “near-misses” that
send your blood pressure skyrocketing. Driving University offers a
convenient online class that you can take from the comfort of your own
home. Even better, you’ll get a 10% discount on your auto insurance.
here for more details!
How road rage starts and ends
Road rage usually starts with either a real or a perceived offense.
It could be something as serious as a near-collision, or it could be
something as trivial as one car going too slowly to suit the driver of
the car behind it. Either way, the offended driver becomes enraged and
decides to teach the other driver a lesson. From there, road rage can
progress to screaming and rude gestures, aggressive driving, an
unnecessary car accident, or even assault and violence.
Even if road rage never gets beyond the aggressive driving stage, it’s
still extremely dangerous. A vehicle should never be used as an
instrument of intimidation. That’s dangerous! Aggressive driving can
easily backfire on the road raging driver, possibly hurting innocent
bystanders in the process.
Reporting road rage
If you witness an act of aggressive driving or road rage on the
streets of New York, it’s important to report it before the situation
gets ugly. If you have a cell phone on hand, you can report road rage
by calling 911. Although you can let the authorities know that you have
witnessed an aggressive driver behaving dangerously, be aware that the
police cannot issue a ticket unless they witness the act, too. This is
true even if you have a plate number.