Road rage is a serious concern for American drivers. In one study of just 10,000 U.S. road rage incidents committed over seven years, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recorded at least 218 murders and another 12,610 injury cases.
Many of us have encountered situations where reckless or inconsiderate drivers make their way into our driving lane. On any given day, we may encounter unavoidable instances where aggressive drivers turn without signaling, slam on their brakes suddenly, and change lanes abruptly. But it’s up to you to make sure those unavoidable experiences don’t lead to violent and explosive encounters with other drivers.
You can help keep drivers, passengers and pedestrians safe on the roads by following these steps to help keep your cool behind the wheel:
1. Allow yourself enough time to travel. Many incidents of road rage occur when drivers have more miles to cover than minutes to spare. Allowing more than enough time to arrive at your destination will save you from the stress and potential road rage that can surface when trying to drive in a hurry. Planning ahead not only keeps you stress-free, but also allows time for detours, road work, accidents or delays that can lengthen the time it takes to arrive at your destination.
2. Get your rest. Driving while tired is one of the many pitfalls that can lead to road rage. When we are feeling fatigued, we are often less patient than normal which can trigger aggressive behaviors that can put passengers, pedestrians, other drivers and yourself in danger. Try to catch a ride with a family member or friend, or use public transportation, if you feel too tired to drive.
3. Make sure you are fit to drive. Many incidents involving road rage start with a driver who is not fit to drive—physically, emotionally or mentally. If you are experiencing emotions like anger and sadness, or are dealing with other issues that could turn into aggressive or reckless driving, put the keys away. Allow yourself time to process emotional news before hitting the road.
While it can be a challenge to stay focused on and engaged in your own driving, some drivers make the mistake of provoking others to engage in road rage. This can create dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations. These conditions include making offensive gestures, driving distracted and yelling profanities. Provoking a driver will not only endanger you and your passengers, but other drivers on the road.
These tips can help you avoid interaction or confrontation with aggressive drivers who may be sharing the road with you:
1. Avoid offensive behaviors. Your chances of being a victim of road rage increase substantially when your actions offend other drivers’ sense of safety, fairness and control. Following the rules will go a long way toward keeping you out of other drivers’ crosshairs. Driving slowly in the left lane, cutting people off and tailgating (driving too closely) are just a few offensive behaviors that can ignite emotions in other drivers—and in some states, may even score you a traffic ticket. To avoid committing these offenses, use the left lane only for passing, check your blind spots and use turn signals when merging or changing lanes, and use a three-second following distance.
2. Limit distractions. As drivers, we can avoid provoking other drivers by staying aware of what is going on around us. Distractions like texting or talking on cellphones, reading the newspaper, eating or applying make-up are unsafe practices and must be avoided when driving. These distractions take our focus off the road and may cause us to commit driving errors—like missing a green light—that incite road rage in others.
3. Don’t respond to road rage. Never respond to another driver’s road rage by yelling, gesturing or following someone who may have cut you off or acted indecently while on the road. Being patient and keeping a safe distance from reckless drivers can help keep the roads safe for all drivers. If you notice a road rage incident in the making, you have the right to call 911 to report the driver. Before you make the call, pull over in a safe place or in a parking lot before dialing on your mobile phone. When you keep your cool, you are demonstrating to other drivers how to resist road rage.
For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driver improvement course, such as the AARP Driver Safety course, available in a classroom or online setting, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for a multi-year insurance discount upon completion of the course.*
More information, AARP Driver Safety or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).
*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.
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Julie E. Lee is Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety in the Education and Outreach group of AARP. She directs the largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.