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 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.

Related posts

Are synchronized traffic lights the answer to traffic congestion?
Learn how race car drivers stay calm behind the wheel
Find your Zen next rush hour with these 8 Buddhist quotes

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

  1. Ania
    May 23, 2014 #

    I'm sorry I live in California moved from Chicago Illinois , here in CA everyone DOES NOT LET YOU IN, THEY CUT YOU OFF AND FLIP YOU OFF WHEN YIELDING INTO YOUR TRAFFIC, I don't like driving here, I feel scared all the time that one will just crash into me and I am done! I keep a distance from the car in front of me and have my eyes on my A** so I won't be rear ended… and if someone is on my rear i just pull over and let them go!

  2. Zek J. Evets
    May 23, 2014 #

    Couple of problems with this article….Allow me to correct them.

    1. Assertive driving is safer than defensive or aggressive driving. Assertive drivers do not impede the flow of traffic, they signal, they understand and obey the rules of the road, they do not panic, and they do not give in to angry or incompetent drivers. Do not drive defensively just as you should not drive aggressively.

    2. The problems most so-called "aggressive" drivers exhibit are due more to incompetent drivers on the road than outbursts of frustration. We should be putting the onus on drivers to drive correctly rather than on other drivers for being upset at our people's dangerous mistakes on the road.

    3. Far too many drivers do not signal at all, or signal as they are cutting another driver off (as if signaling only after the lane-change has begun somehow counts). Failure to signal is one of the leading causes for accidents — nobody is a mind-reader, so if a driver doesn't signal, it can cause serious accidents, especially on the freeway.

    4. Far too many drivers do not recognize that the left-most lane is the fast lane and that the right lane is the slow lane. This causes significant traffic congestion, such as we see on the freeways/highways. By blocking the flow of traffic through driving slow in a fast lane, congestion builds up for miles behind that driver. If you cannot or will not drive with the flow of traffic, then move to the slowest lane, AKA the right-most lane. (In California, it's important to remember that the posted speed limit is not the only say in how fast or slow you go — the basic speed law requires that you follow the flow of traffic, even if that flow exceeds the post limit. For instance, going 70-75 in a 65 freeway is normal when traffic is flowing at that rate in combination with other road conditions.)

    5. Motorcycles should not lane-share. Lane-sharing is incredibly dangerous, mostly to the motorcyclists. Driving in-between cars, whether in congestion or when traffic is flowing, can lead to numerous accidents because you are pulling right into drivers's blind spots, as well as getting into unreasonably close proximity to moving vehicles in a part of the road not meant for a vehicle. Motorcycles need to stay in ONE lane.

    6. Yellow light does not mean stop immediately. Yellow light means that the red light is coming soon. As such, do not slam your brakes, because that will cause the car behind to rear-end you. You need to gauge your speed and know when it is too late to stop and so you must take the yellow, and when the yellow is going to change too quickly and so you must stop in anticipation for the red.

    7. Stop signs are not red lights. You stop and then go. if you come to a stop sign at the same time as another driver going a different direction, the driver on the right ALWAYS goes first. Do not sit and idle at a stop sign. This can cause major problems, especially at a 4-way stop sign intersection.

    8. Cyclists need to follow the rules of the road. This means that, in general, bicycle-riders do not signal, they do not stop at lights or signs, they do not yield to peds or right-of-way drivers, and they tend to do incredibly suicidal maneuvers. Cyclists need to follow and respect the rules of the road if they wish to share it with others, especially since they are more risk for a serious injury than the average car.

    9. Use your horn regularly to alert drivers/vehicles/cyclists when they are failing to signal, failing to respond to a light or sign, or impeding the flow of traffic. Communication on the road is important; people must not become lost in their own little world in their car. The road is a shared-space and we need be aware of our surroundings and other drivers in order to use it effectively.

    10. Use your emergency lights when the situation calls for it! For instance: when you are double-parked, pulling over to the side of the road, or stopping to grab a parallel parking space on the street. Your emergency lights let other drivers know you are not turning or lane-changing but stopping your car entirely and they can then go around you.

    If you follow the above tips, you will do much better on the road but, sadly, not everyone is a good driver even with practice. If you know you are a poor driver (and you should know this without having to lie to yourself) you should avoid driving whenever possible, minimize your presence on the road, drive in the right lane at all times, exaggerate your signals, take extra care and caution when changing lanes (the 3 second rule should always apply, for instance), and generally avoid other drivers so you do not cause an accident.

    That all being said, most people will always forget to follow these tips at least sometime. Your goal is to be apologetic and communicate your regret to other drivers appropriately when you make a mistake. It is not other drivers's responsibility to forgive, forget, or endure your incompetence.

    • Vlad
      May 24, 2014 #

      Zek, very good letter, but I have a few comments.
      To #6. If you decide to go, usually you don't need to increase the speed to pass the crossing. If you decide to brake, check your rearview.
      To #7. Show with your hands to a driver or a pedestrian if you are expecting them move before you.
      To #9. Use rather light if there is no danger. Honking is forbidden in many places.
      To #10. Is double-parking allowed in California?
      And additions.
      11. Keep your lights on when you are driving, particularly not in your home state. It is always correct and many states have different requirements when they must be on.
      12. When you stop, start to brake earlier giving at least 5 feet to the point where you really need to stop, then release the brake if everything is ok. It is very important when the road can be snowy / icy. Watch your rearview when you are braking. You can use this distance also to run from the car, which is too close. Have both your hands on the wheel.

  3. Bob
    May 23, 2014 #

    To Pahana! Use common sense! You are the exact one they are describing! Would it kill you to take your foot off the gas and let them in? They would probably wave as a thank you, and Courtesy IS contagious. You let him in this time, and he will probably let the next guy in! Then, you both feel better about yourselves!

  4. Kevin Howard
    May 23, 2014 #

    I see many posts concerning driving the speed limit in the left lane. In the state of Georgia, we just passed a law to make it a misdemeanor for those who do not move over, even if you are going the speed limit.

    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/final-ok-for-georgias-slow-poke-bill/nd9p4

    This bill passed 45-2 and is intended to prevent road rage.

  5. Jay
    May 23, 2014 #

    This article is obviously for someone who lives in a state where traffic congestion consists of 2 cars at a stop light. If you live in a place like Atlanta, you don't let people do last minute merges because it enrages the driver behind you and if you do something that angers another driver and then wave it makes them want to punch you in the face. You NEED to speed up if you are at a yellow light or you will get rear ended. The green lights for turn lanes are usually very quick so if somone is sitting there daydreaming and the light has turned green I will use the horn so they will move. And this article doens't even touch upon the fact that half the people behind the wheel are often talking on the phone, looking at themselves in the rear view mirror or even worse texting. Most of the people diving slow in the left lane are oblivious to the fact that every single car is passing them or don't really even care.

  6. Christopher (@Critofur)
    May 23, 2014 #

    I really hate it when people let in jerks that speed ahead to merge instead of slow down and drop back to merge – they're only encouraging bad driving habits by doing so. This "quiz" is stupid for several reasons. Please, people – don't let the jerks merge. When people are just trying to take their proper turn, such as an "alternate" merge, then by all means, take turns.

    Some places, like entering the tunnel from NJ to go into Manhattan, you HAVE to be an aggressive driver, or else, you will simply never get a turn and sit there literally for hours while the other drivers go in and you don't.

    Also, please blame the jerks who cruise in the left lane rather than following the rule "keep right pass left", not the majority of people who get irritated at them!

  7. apex
    May 23, 2014 #

    The four listed article items are not not in the SF bay area but like like some mentioned we DO have deadbeats road blocking the fast lane when all clear in front in combination with attending roadblocks in no. 2 and no. 3 lanes. Also, motorcycle lane sharing MUST be made legal in all states as this is very safe with experienced riders and at all speeds.

  8. Alexandra
    May 23, 2014 #

    What's really aggravating is when trucks impede the flow of traffic. You'll have a speed limit of 65, a truck driver will be doing 55 in the slow lane…and another truck driver will pass them doing 60.

    If I honk at someone that's slow to respond to a green light, it's *after* I've given them enough time to realize the light's green. I'm reasonable. And I don't lay on the horn, I just give it a tap.

  9. Caralo Johnson Sr
    May 24, 2014 #

    Hello all..I think that I am a good driver; not easy to aggravate. I do respect all road laws and drivers, etc. It's not easy but I practice to allow more time for travel and road conditions. I try my best to stay clear of rush-hour driving. I think my skills as a "road tester" years ago, gave me a better edge for safety and good habits..

  10. Barbara Stumbaugh
    May 24, 2014 #

    I did not read all the comments. I work as a volunteer with our Public Information officer at the CHP office in Victorville, Ca. in a Start Smart program for teenagers and the parent or guardian of the student. We have the free program once a month. It is a good reminder for all on how to use the privilege of driving a car.

  11. Nair
    July 17, 2014 #

    I am a courteous driver, but have seen a lot of People that Drive with Rage. I refuse to let the driving get the best of me.

  12. Michael Reeves
    October 5, 2014 #

    I drive a Prius and am now a target for aggression.

  13. p. hedger
    December 1, 2014 #

    right lane driving cuts the capacity of the
    highway something
    fierce. in my state it is Legal to pass from any
    Lane ( sometimes our freeways have eight ran
    lanes).

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