Aggressive Driving Kills 2
In the August 8, 2001, issue of the Tampa Tribune, Stephen Thompson reported a fatal accident. Two people died after a white Jeep Grand Cherokee cut a Pontiac Grand Am off, and its driver gave chase, winding through a neighborhood at high speeds, before losing control of the car, slamming sideways into an oak tree. 

We encourage you to use this page to learn how to be a calm driver and how to avoid encounters with angry drivers.
Carlos P. Zalaquett, PhD., Heather Thornton, M.A., and Dustin Thornton.







 What is it?

    When Dr. Zalaquett asked if I was familiar with the term “road rage”, I thought he was referring to a rare phenomenon. However, as he began to quiz me about experiencing various driving scenarios, I soon realized that I was all too familiar with “road rage”. “You mean like the time that idiot cut me off in traffic; that made me so mad that I honked my horn and used a certain reflexive hand gesture?” “And then there was the time that…” He continued to wait patiently as my stories of traffic skirmishes unfolded. Like most people who experience first-hand the chaos of rushing around in traffic and dealing with aggressive drivers, a question like Dr. Zalaquett’s can trigger a pretty impassioned response.

    Road rage, or aggressive driving. When I think of aggressive driving, I think of simple risk-taking, such as speeding, driving too slowly, tailgating, weaving recklessly through traffic, ignoring stop signs and red lights, and cutting off other drivers. However, these minor signs of aggression can progress to great extremes. For instance, in Salt Lake City an unfriendly gesture turned to violence when a honk from 41-year-old Larry Remm Jr. caused 75-year-old J.C. King, who was blocking traffic, to follow Remm until he pulled off of the road, throw his bottle of prescription medication at him, and smash his knees with his ’92 Mercury.
    Those who research aggressive driving described it as any unfriendly or threatening actions, including forcing another driver from the road, cursing another driver, or, in more extreme instances, shooting at the car of another driver. In most of the literature Road rage, or aggressive driving, usually refers to an angry or impatient motorist who attempts to kill or injure another driver because of a traffic dispute.

    Road rage is more pervasive than one can imagine. According to one survey, about 89 percent of 1,020 drivers said they saw first-hand examples of road rage within the last month, and 42 percent admitted to driving aggressively themselves during this time period.


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   What are the statistics?



Statistics show that 250,000 people have died in traffic since 1990. It is believed that two-thirds of these deaths are at least partially caused by aggressive driving, although only 218 were found to be a direct cause of angry drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 66 percent of all annual traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving actions, such as passing on the right, running red lights and tailgating.
    In addition to fatalities, there have been an estimated 20 million injuries; 12,610 caused by aggressive driving. These numbers show that there has been a 51 percent increase in aggressive driving incidents since 1990. Of these incidents, 37 percent involved the use of a firearm, 28 percent involved other weapons, and 35 percent involved the use of a car as a weapon. Related to this increase in aggressive driving incidents may be the fact that the number of drivers on the road is increasing; as of 1990, 91 percent of people drove to work.


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  Who is the typical aggressive driver?

    Dr. John A. Larson, author of Steering Clear of Highway Madness, groups aggressive drivers into five categories: Speeders, passive aggressors, narcissists, vigilantes, and competitors. Several characteristics are related to the most typical aggressive driver: being under 35, single, no education and a mid-level income. Furthermore, although women are more likely to confess to angry driving, men are more likely to participate in true “road rage”, in which an angry driver intentionally harms another driver. Whether or not an aggressive driver takes physical action depends on the degree of anger he or she feels. “If someone pulls out in front of you or cuts you off, you may be justified at four or five on a scale of 10…if you’re up to seven to 10, though, that’s an exaggerated response,” says Larson.
    Redford Williams, M.D., at Duke University, points to a hostile personality type as an indicator of someone who is more likely to get angry quicker. “They are also four to seven times more likely to die of other health problems by age 50 than are even-tempered people,” said Williams. For example, people with long drives to work are found to have higher blood pressure than people who take shorter routes to work. One frustrated commuter states, “it feels unnatural to forget about the jerk riding my tail or ducking in front of me to save half a second and some drivers—not me, of course – respond to overaggressive road behavior as if piloting a car were a contest. They drive to ‘win’ rather than simply to get to their destination.”


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  How can I tell if I’m an aggressive driver?

    There are several checklists and tests developed to help you determine if you are an aggressive driver. One method, suggested by Dr. Larson was to tape-record yourself while driving and play back your enraged comments. This will allow you to see how you are really acting and thinking while behind the wheel. Dr. Zalaquett suggests asking other people, such as your friends, spouse, other relatives, colleagues or coworkers. They may have something to tell you about your driving.
    There are several other sources available for determining whether or not you are among the ranks of aggressive drivers.
    Dr. Driving's Test Yourself Toolkit


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Put the Brakes on Aggressive Driving

  Okay, I know that I’m an aggressive driver –  how can I learn to shift gears?

Helpful hints for leaving your anger in the dust:

1.) Before you get behind the wheel.
     Prepare yourself for the road ahead.

  • Create an environment with music, etc. that is relaxing before you get on the road. Remind yourself that you can’t change other drivers, but you can control yourself. Prepare yourself for “conscious driving”. Think positively and try to identify with the people you are driving beside. Tell yourself, “I am going to keep control of my anger while driving and enjoy the rest of the day.”
2.) While you are driving.
     See the big picture – what part do you play?
  • Remind yourself that driving is a social activity. Don’t hide behind the anonymity of your car and remember that you are dealing with humans, not machines. Everything you do has an immediate effect on the drivers around you. “When you move your toes an inch or two and apply the brakes, the driver behind you has to move his or her toes, and the driver behind, and behind…” Your actions create a domino effect.
  • Respect others in your “moving community”
  • Consider the value of cooperation, community, compassion, support, tolerance, and rationality. Try to compare the highway to a moving community where the drivers around you are your neighbors, rather than your enemies, so that your actions are civil exchanges – just like standing in line at the bank or post office.
  • Monitor  and critique your thoughts
  • Observe WHEN you mentally criticize other drivers, and WHAT you are thinking about. After recognizing your negative thinking, attempt to think more positively and try to put yourself in the place of drivers around you. Think :“this guy might be having a bad day,” rather than, “this guy is trying to run me off of the road”. Recognize that nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Learn to tell the difference between mistakes and insults. Interpret other drivers’ actions as simple human errors, rather than intentional attempts to insult you. This is usually much harder to do than allowing yourself the more satisfying option of being angry, but in 99.9 % of the cases, human errors were responsible for the behaviors of other drivers – not calculated insults.
3.) When you get angry - put the brakes on
     Create a distraction
  • Count to 20. Turn on the radio. Calm down by talking yourself through the situation. If others are riding with you, begin a conversation, tell jokes, etc.
  • Breathe
  • Use breathing tricks to relax and regain control. Breathe slowly and deeply, count to 10, sing, make funny animal sounds. Your breathing will influence your thoughts, while your thoughts influence your emotion. Soon your anger will pass and your breathing will return to normal.
  • Relax
  • Listen to soothing music rather than heated radio talk shows. Create a pleasant, relaxing environment in your car.
  • Give yourself a pep talk
  • Tell yourself how much better it is to stay calm and rational, how you prefer being this way, how you wish to be more tolerant and supportive, and how you don’t want any hassles, etc. Congratulate yourself on overcoming your anger.

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  How can I avoid being a victim when  someone else is the aggressor?

Helpful tips for bypassing the danger zone

1.) Avoid road hazards: be a courteous driver
Lane blocking
    Stay out of the left lane, which is reserved for faster traffic and yield to the right for any cars that are trying to pass you. Don’t try to prevent other cars from passing you.
    Allow a safe distance between you and the car in front of you. Tailgating has been the cause for dozens of fatal traffic disputes.
    Tapping your brakes to warn other drivers to quit tailgating is another action that motorists find hostile, because you have intentionally jeopardized the safety of the person behind you.
    Do not park in more than one parking space or in a handicapped parking space if you are not handicapped. Be careful not to hit the door of an adjacent car when parallel parking
Signal use
    Always signal before changing lanes and remember to turn off your signal once you have changed lanes. Also be sure not to cut off another driver when changing lanes by allowing plenty of room.
Failure to turn
    Since right-hand turns are usually allowed at a traffic light, try to stay out of the right-hand lane if you are not turning right.
    When traffic allows, move out of the right-hand acceleration lane of a freeway to allow cars to enter from the on-ramps.
Blocking traffic
    Pull over to the shoulder of the road and allow cars to pass if you are pulling a trailer or driving a cumbersome vehicle that backs up traffic. Also, do not block traffic by talking to a pedestrian or someone in another vehicle. This has provoked dozens of shootings from highly irritated drivers.

2.) Confrontation detour
    Never raise a middle finger to another driver. This is a directly confrontational insult and makes the exchange personal. Obscene gestures have led to shootings, beatings, and stabbings in every state.
Eye contact
    If an enraged driver tries to provoke you, do not make eye contact. This can be interpreted as a challenging action and push the other driver over the edge into violent behavior. Instead, get out of the other person’s way without acknowledging he or she. If a motorist tries to follow you do not go to your home. Instead, go to the police, a convenience store, or some other place where witnesses will be present and you can get help.
    It is a good idea to not advertise controversial or potentially offensive sentiments on bumper stickers, decals, or license plates. Also, confederate flags, often seen on pickup trucks can offend some drivers.
Headlight use
    Keep headlights on low beam, except where unlighted conditions call for high beams. When oncoming traffic approaches dim your lights; don’t get even with oncoming traffic by using your high beams. Also, don’t approach another vehicle from the rear with high beams and be sure to dim your lights as soon as a passing car pulls alongside of you.
Horn use
    Only use your horn in emergency or “called for” situations. If it is necessary to get someone’s attention, tap your horn lightly. Be careful of using your horn to say “hello” to a pedestrian; another driver may assume that you are honking at him/her. Also, when stopped at a traffic light, don’t honk your horn at another driver as soon as the light turns green. Honking the horn is another antagonistic behavior that has “set off” other motorists and led to numerous shootings.

3.) Other traffic precautions
Car phones
    Don’t be distracted from your driving by the car phone --- pay attention to the road and don’t look away while talking on the phone. Data reveals that aggressive drivers are especially irritated by fender-benders with drivers who were using the car phone.
    Make sure that you know how to turn off your car alarms. It is best to buy an alarm that turns off quickly

4.) If you experience or witness an aggressive encounter
Report aggressive drivers to the police
    If you have a cell phone, call police right away
    If you witness a crash down the highway that involves an aggressive driver, stop a safe distance away, wait for police and tell them exactly what you saw


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  Coasting to Safer Driving

    To reach the goal of safer, more relaxed driving behavior, people must learn to check their own behavior, rather than constantly blame other drivers. In several surveys, most people tended to overrate their own driving compared to the average driver. To better control your aggression psychologist Redford Williams recommends answering three yes or no questions:
 1.) Is this situation important to me?
 2.) Is my reaction justified by the facts?
 3.) Is there anything I can do to fix the situation?
     If, as is usually the case, you answer “no” to all three questions, you should not follow through on your aggressive impulses. After all, it makes no sense to waste your time and energy on activities that are meaningless, and unproductive.


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  Acknowledgements and References with Links

    The Aggressive Driving and Road Rage (ADRR) page was designed for college students and persons that commute everyday. The ADRR was created by Carlos P. Zalaquett, Lic., MA., PhD. The contents were compiled and summarized by Heather Thornton and Dustin Thornton.
    The pictures were used from "William Rau, Automotive Woodwork and Design" with permission from Mr. William Rau.

References and Interesting Sites:
    Highway Loss Data Institute
    Driving Psychology Issues
    Road Rage - Emotional Intelligence for Drivers
     Road Rage
    Database of Unsafe Driving

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