4 Ways to Tell If You’re an Aggressive Driver

Some drivers turn into Mr. Hyde behind the wheel. Find out how to protect yourself against aggressive drivers (and keep from becoming one).

Does it seem like there are more angry drivers on the road these days? It might not be your imagination. In a recent poll by the Washington Post, the number of drivers who confessed to feeling “uncontrollable anger toward another driver” doubled between 2005 and 2013. And those are just the honest answers — people are far more likely to see aggression in other drivers than in themselves.

Whatever the actual number may be, it’s a growing problem … and a potentially deadly one.

Aggressive behavior is thought to be a factor in 2 out of every 3 traffic deaths. (Tweet this.)

What is aggressive driving?

Aggressive driving involves deliberate behaviors that put people and property at risk, such as speeding, running red lights, tailgating, cutting off other drivers, and weaving through traffic. Usually, it includes a combination (or all) of the above. And if a driver moves beyond acting out in frustration and actually tries to use their vehicle to do harm, aggressive driving becomes “road rage,” a criminal offense.

What causes drivers to behave aggressively?

There are many possible factors (bad mood, running late), but traffic congestion is a major contributor. That sea of taillights at rush hour has drivers seeing red in more ways than one. Over the last 2 decades, cities of all sizes have seen huge increases in traffic, and as more and more people begin commuting to and from work, congestion is predicted to get even worse.

Cars can also make drivers feel territorial — they consider their vehicle part of their personal domain and react defensively if they feel threatened. Plus, drivers often feel a sense of anonymity and power behind the wheel that encourages them to act in ways they normally wouldn’t.

On top of that, there’s an element of learned behavior. Children learn aggressive driving behavior from watching how their parents drive.

4 ways to tell if you’re an aggressive driver

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?

  • You hit the gas when the light turns yellow
  • When someone tries to merge at the last minute, you “teach them a lesson” by not letting them in
  • You blare your horn when someone is slow to respond to a green light
  • You’re frustrated by a slow driver in the left lane, so you ride their bumper or zoom past them on the right

If so, you’re letting aggression get the best of you behind the wheel.

How can you avoid becoming an aggressive driver?

Aggressive driving not only puts you and others in danger, it can be expensive as well. Most insurers won’t cover an accident resulting from deliberate or reckless behavior, and a road-rage incident on your record can substantially raise your rates.

To keep your inner Mr. Hyde from coming out, try these tips:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going since being late sends frustration levels through the roof
  • Avoid driving when you’re angry or stressed
  • Adjust your schedule to avoid peak traffic times if possible
  • Use traffic reports or traffic apps to prepare yourself for (or ideally, avoid) delays
  • Listen to music, the news, or an audio book if you find background noise soothing rather than distracting
  • Don’t take things personally — give other drivers the benefit of the doubt
  • Remember that red lights and traffic jams are beyond your control, and getting upset won’t change anything

How can you avoid conflicts with other drivers?

While there’s no excuse for driving like a jerk, here are a few things that can help keep you from lighting someone’s fuse:

  • Use the left lane for passing only
  • Remember to always use your turn signals
  • Be courteous and allow plenty of room when passing and merging
  • If you make a mistake, acknowledge it with a friendly wave
  • Use your horn only when necessary
  • Don’t use hand gestures to express your frustration

What should you do if an aggressive driver challenges you?

The best way to diffuse the situation is to let it go. Reacting may cause the problem to escalate. If confronted by an angry driver:

  • Avoid eye contact with the driver if possible
  • Don’t respond to or return hand gestures
  • Give the driver plenty of space
  • Resist the urge to put them in their place by racing or blocking them
  • If the driver follows you, drive to a police station, store, or other public area — do not go home

Ultimately, your best protection against aggressive drivers or other road hazards is to learn defensive driving techniques, and always buckle up.

Stay safe out there! And of course, make sure you have the right car insurance coverage.

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3 Responses to “4 Ways to Tell If You’re an Aggressive Driver”

  1. gerg999
    February 26, 2014 #

    So, is a slow driver who purposely stymies traffic — impedes the flow of traffic — an aggressive driver? Is a slow driver who tools along in the left lane at or below speed, just stupid, or not aware of their surroundings, not fit to drive? Why aren't we talking about those drivers who drive oblivious to their surroundings. By definition (of this article) the half dozen or so drivers who pass a slow driver and then regain the left lane, are they aggressive drivers? How many accidents are caused by drivers who must change lanes to avoid the "slow" driver?

    Slow drivers are just as likely to cut off traffic as a speeder. I have noticed more often slow drivers occupying the left lane, backing up traffic behind them suddenly have to change several lanes to get to an exit — changing lanes quickly and across them to get to their exit — without pause going from one the lane to the several lanes across.

    The focus on speeding, tail-gating, etc., are worthy of concern, but just as certainly is the concern of slow drivers who persistently, wantonly and passive-aggressively maintain their position in an area of the roadway that by the driving culture historically is occupied by the faster moving traffic. I would even say that the "faster" drivers are more aware of their surroundings, have more of a deliberate purpose of their travels and really do know what they are doing and should not (all) be classified as "aggressive" drivers.

    I will add that at both ends of the spectrum (and in between) there are bad drivers. Period. Those that speed recklessly; those that occupy space on the roadways without care (and awareness) of other drivers, those that change lanes quickly and without signaling — no class of drivers are immune from those driving behaviors. But, please, aggressive driving is not limited to the examples provide for in Ellen Hall's article.

  2. Keep right pass left
    February 26, 2014 #

    Those slow drivers in the left Lane are the true hazard. Passive-aggressive driving that causes vehicles to drive in packs is much more dangerous than driving with proper lane discipline 10 miles over the limit. Move over, lazy people. The word drive is an action verb for a reason.

  3. Marina
    April 2, 2014 #

    I usually ride my motorcycle to work, so for me speeding up when the light in front of me turns yellow isn't aggressive driving, it is defensive driving. Because there is no way the car desperately trying to tailgate me can or will stop, and the chances there isn't a car desperately trying to tailgate me are extremely small.
    But unfortunately, the drive who is aggressively attempting to intimidate me by tailgating me will not five up just because he/she now have to run a red to continue the attempt. The only thing that will end the frenzy triggered by the sight of a motorcycle in traffic is that the motorcycle disappears from sight. This is why all states ought to allow lane splitting, as it allows motorcyclists to leave the sight of aggressive motorcycle-haters much easier and quicker.

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