Earlier this month, Cincinnati Bengals H-back Orson Charles was arrested over a traffic incident in Madison County, Kentucky. It began when Charles cut off another driver on a freeway. The motorist responded by making an obscene gesture at Charles, who then brandished a weapon at the motorist.
This incident is a prime example of aggressive driving escalating into possible road rage, and it can happen all too easily if we don't take steps to prevent it. First, though, it's helpful to understand the distinction.
Any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety, can constitute aggressive driving. Examples might include speeding, tailgating, red-light running, cutting off other drivers, etc. In fact, a Foundation study of this issue found that aggressive driving plays a role in up to 56% of fatal crashes. In extreme cases, aggressive driving can lead to road rage, a deliberate, criminal act with the intention to cause physical harm to other drivers. Think back to the situation between Orson Charles and the other motorist: Reacting in anger can escalate the situation, leading to a dangerous moment of road rage.
Our national surveys find that aggressive drivers represent a major concern of American motorists: 89% of the drivers surveyed for our 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index, for example, believe that people driving aggressively pose a somewhat or very serious threat to safety. The survey also found that over two-thirds of all Americans believe aggressive drivers are a somewhat or much bigger problem today compared with three years ago.
Though a serious safety concern, many drivers are guilty of actions which can be considered aggressive. The same 2013 survey found, for example, that while 84% of drivers report that they are somewhat or much more careful than other drivers, 42% admit to speeding up to 15 mph over the limit on freeways, 45% speed 10 mph over the limit in residential neighborhoods, and 1 in 3 admit to running red lights!
So what is the best way to limit aggressive driving and prevent road rage incidents? Remember these three rules:
- Don’t Offend: Avoid actions which could enrage other drivers, such as cutting them off, driving slowly in the passing lane, tailgating, or making gestures which could be viewed as obscene or threatening.
- Don’t Engage: As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango,” and it takes both drivers to escalate a situation into road rage. If you notice a hostile driver, steer clear by avoiding eye contact, increasing your distance, and going for help if needed.
- Adjust Your Attitude: Leave as much time as possible to get to your destination, and remind yourself that you're not in a race. Also, remember that other drivers' actions have nothing to do with you and shouldn't be construed as personal. Most importantly, if you think you have a problem with anger on the road, ask for help!