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 lay on your 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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about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.