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Road Rage

What is road rage?

The term "road rage" began to seep into the popular culture in the 1990's. Today, it has become ubiquitous, and used to define a whole range of bad behavior behind the wheel. Road rage encompasses an entire spectrum of uncivilized behavior, starting with screaming, yelling, cursing and flipping off other drivers, and ending in violent assault or murder. Road raging drivers often drive aggressively, engaging in dangerous behaviors such as tailgating, speeding, and cutting other drivers off. What is it that distinguishes real road rage from normal frustration or poor driving habits? Driving in heavy traffic can grate on anyone's nerves, but when your anger and frustration is focused on another driver and you decide that you need to confront the other driver, you have crossed over into road rage territory. Likewise, poor driving is usually unintentional, caused by the driver being distracted, careless, selfish or simply not knowing any better. Aggressive drivers who are fueled by road rage, on other hand, use their car as a means of intimidation, or even as a weapon. At the most extreme end of the road rage spectrum, there are some drivers who are angry enough to assault or even kill other drivers in retaliation for a minor traffic offense.

Incidents Increasing

According to the Illinois Secretary of State's website, "aggressive driving tactics and road rage are serious problems that often result in unnecessary traffic accidents and vehicle-related fatalities." How big of a problem is Illinois road rage? Road rage gained increasing publicity in the 1990's, when AAA published the results of a study that showed an increase in aggressive driving and even assaults. Road rage covers so many different types of behavior that there are no published statistics on road rage incidents for Illinois. However, anecdotally, most people in Illinois will tell you that they've recently witnessed aggressive driving or other road rage-related behaviors. One of the most notable features of modern American life is how busy everyone seems to be. When busy, stressed out drivers get thrown into the pressure cooker known as "rush hour traffic," it is perhaps unsurprising that tempers tend to flare.

Even Hollywood celebrities are not immune to road rage. For example, in 1994 Jack Nicholson used a golf club to beat in the windshield of another car in Beverly Hills. What was the other driver's crime? According to Nicholson, he snapped because the other vehicle had cut him off in traffic. In an interview with Golf Digest that was published in December 2007, the famous star looks back on the incident and remembers being under extreme stress from working on a film and having a close friend pass away. He tells the reporter interviewing him, “I was out of my mind.”

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, approximately 1,500 people are victims of road rage each year. That number is based on a review of accident reports and insurance company reports, so it does not include milder forms of road rage such as obscene words or gestures, or even aggressive driving incidents that don't cause accidents and are not reported to police.

How to avoid confrontation

How can you avoid being a victim of road rage? The best way to avoid confrontation is simply not to provoke it. Although there's never any justification for flying off the handle at another driver, most road-ragers don't choose drivers or vehicles at random, either. There is a known set of behaviors that are likely to push someone who already has anger management issues over the edge and send them in your direction. Most of these behaviors are behaviors you should avoid anyway if you want to drive defensively. To avoid pushing other driver's buttons, try to abstain from the following:

  • Tailgating.
  • Going too slow in the passing lane. Yes, you may technically be in the right because you are going the speed limit, but the far left lane is for people to pass. If you are going more slowly than the person behind you and you are in the left lane, you need to move over. Remember, it's their speeding ticket, not yours.
  • Talking on your cell phone while driving.
  • Cutting other drivers off.
  • Blocking the street to talk to someone. If you need to chat, pull over somewhere out of the way.
  • Excessive horn use.


Of course, sometimes being a courteous driver simply isn't enough. Everyone makes mistakes, and one characteristic of drivers who are prone to road rage is that they take other drivers' mistakes as personal attacks and respond in kind. What should you do if an angry driver has you in his sights? First of all, don't try to fight fire with fire. You'll only escalate the situation. Do not make any obscene gestures. In fact, it's best to not even look directly at the other driver. You may have heard that wild animals sometimes interpret direct eye contact as a challenge. The same is true of aggressive drivers. Try to hang back and let the other driver go on ahead. If he or she seems intent on following you, do not drive home. Drive to a populated area or to your local police station. If you have a cell phone, use it to call the police.

Cooler heads prevail

"Don't drive angry. Do not drive angry."- Sage advice from Bill Murray's character in the movie "Groundhog Day," to the groundhog he is allowing to drive his car.

Before you place your key in the ignition, the Illinois Secretary of State's office advises you to "set aside your stress, anger and worries, and make safe driving your priority." That's good advice. Drivers who are able to keep their cool are much more likely to make it safely to their destinations. Of course, we all know that driving can be inherently stressful. If you have a tendency to turn into the Incredible Hulk when you get behind the wheel, here are some tips to help you relax.

  • Listen to some soothing music while you drive. If “soothing” isn’t your style, at least listen to something that make you feel happy, not angry. Music affects different people in different ways. If death metal makes you happy, great. If it makes you want to smash things, save it for when you get home.
  • Once you sit down in the driver's seat, take a deep breath and let it out slowly, before you even start the car. Do some light stretching, and try to relax.
  • Don't take other drivers actions personally. Sometimes, other drivers are going to make mistakes. That doesn't mean that they are out to get you.
  • Give yourself extra time to get where you are going. Don't try to bend the space/time continuum and make a 30 minute drive in 20 minutes. You will only set yourself up for failure-and more stress! 
  • Tape a picture of your loved ones to the dashboard. Whenever you feel your blood pressure start to rise, look at the picture and think about how your family would be affected if you did something stupid.
  • Try positive self-talk: When something happens on the road that makes you angry, talk yourself down.  When you find yourself thinking “That *@$#*&! I can’t believe he just did that! Well, he just messed with the wrong person…,”take a deep breath and turn off your angry interior monologue. Instead, say something like this to yourself: "It's okay. That other driver is probably a perfectly nice person and did not mean to do that. Even if they did do it on purpose, it would be silly to let a stranger ruin my day."
  • If you still can't get a handle on your emotions when you're behind the wheel, you may want to consider some professional help. A study conducted in 2000 at Colorado State University indicated that both relaxation and cognitive relaxation therapy can help reduce aggressive driving patterns.

Next time you feel your temper rise to fever pitch behind the wheel, try one of these techniques and see if you can cool off. You'll be a lot happier if you don't let yourself get worked up over driving. Also, since stress negatively affects your health, you just might give yourself a few extra years on Earth if you deal with your road rage now.

How it begins and ends

Illinois road rage usually begins with one driver doing something that infuriates another driver. This behavior might be intentional, or it might be accidental. Either way, the other driver becomes enraged. Instead of letting the perceived insult slide, he or she decides that revenge is the only option. A common sentiment among road raging drivers is the need to "teach the other driver a lesson."

From there, Illinois road rage can take many different forms. Some drivers get involved in high-speed chases, or scream obscenities through open windows. Others tailgate the driver that has offended them, trying to intimidate them as punishment for their error. Obviously, the potential for an automobile accident is high when drivers engage in high-speed "Car Wars." Some drivers even ram other cars on purpose. The worst-case scenario is a physical altercation between the two drivers. Fistfights between two opposing motorists can quickly turn deadly, especially when one or both of the drivers have access to a weapon.

Road rage is not always directed at other drivers, either. It can be aimed at bicyclists or even pedestrians.

Reporting Illinois road rage

The best thing to do if you witness an act of road rage is to report it. By reporting road rage, you can help keep it from escalating into a situation like the scenarios described above. To report road rage, call your local police department with a description of the vehicle involved and the license plate number. If you have a cell phone, you can dial *999 to reach the state police department from your cell.


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