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Road Rage

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 way:

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 murder.

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.

Incidents increasing

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 fender bender.

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 ahead.
  • 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 gestures.
  • 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 fashion.
  • 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. Click 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.

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