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.
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:
- 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.
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
- 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
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
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.