We’ve all been there. Somebody starts tailgating you in the fast lane and angrily flashing their high beams. Or you accidentally cut them off, and they follow you down the highway screaming and flipping the proverbial bird for the next 20 miles. Road rage comes in many shapes and flavors, but they’re all dangerous—and avoidable.
While it can feel cathartic to let out aggression behind the wheel, it can swiftly lead to serious injury or fatalities. Let’s talk about some of the causes of road rage, as well as some actionable tips to keep in mind if you find yourself on the wrong end of someone else’s anger.
What is road rage, exactly?
Let’s define our terms here. Road rage is a dangerous and potentially deadly behavior that can occur when drivers become extremely angry or frustrated while on the road. It can be triggered by heavy traffic, slow drivers, or rude or aggressive behavior from other drivers. Surprise, surprise: Being stressed out or too tired to drive can make road rage worse, as can alcohol or drug use.
Road rage is more than just an attitude—it translates into actions on the road that could get you, or others, killed. Shouting, horn-honking, and rude gestures can swiftly escalate into swerving between lanes, tailgating, or changing lanes to cut off other drivers.
That can lead to accidents, of course, as well as physical altercations if motorists leave their cars for a face-to-face confrontation. Things get even hairier if one or both drivers have guns. Yikes.
What should you do if you’re the one feeling a bout of road rage?
Everyone loses their head on occasion. If you’re feeling that rage rising while you’re behind the wheel, here’s what to do:
- Stay calm: Take a deep breath and try to remain calm. Remind yourself that getting angry will not solve the problem and will only make things worse.
- Don’t give in to temptation: Avoid eye contact, don’t flip the bird (or a passive-aggressive peace sign), and don’t lay on the horn.
- Pull over!: Find a safe spot—such as a rest stop or parking lot, not the shoulder of the highway—and take a few minutes to calm down before continuing your journey. Open that Headspace app for a 10-minute meditation, or listen to some calming music (Brian Eno’s ambient period works better than thrash metal).
- Practice empathy: Remember that other drivers are human beings—they really are!—who are likely going through their own shit. Try to be understanding and avoid getting angry at minor mistakes or misunderstandings. Yeah, we know, easier said than done.
- Seek help: If road rage is a persistent problem, it might be time to find a therapist who can dig into why being in the car causes you to lose your cool. More on that later.
“When you get upset when someone cuts you off, it usually means you are interpreting their actions as being dangerous and personally directed at you. Your emotional response is personal as well. As you become more self-aware, you will eventually notice that you make an early choice to interpret the situation that way. And once you have awareness of that moment, you realize you are free to choose a different interpretation that leaves you freer, happier, and safer.”Deepak Chopra
What if you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s road rage?
On the internet, a maxim generally holds true when it comes to blogs or social media: Don’t feed the trolls! In much the same way, it’s important not to engage with aggressive drivers, since it’ll only make the problem worse. (And, unlike on the internet, you’re hurtling through space at 60+ mph in this case.)
If you’re not able to ignore a problematic driver, you’re making a cycle of aggression worse. This cycle can continue to build, with each person becoming more and more angry and aggressive—and more and more certain that they’re in the right, and the other person is the irresponsible creep who doesn’t deserve to have a license.
Here’s some actions you can take to protect yourself and others if you encounter an angry driver:
- Stay calm and avoid making eye contact.
- Keep a safe distance from the other vehicle, and don’t try to speed up or cut in front of the other driver.
- Don’t gesture or make any other actions that might be seen as “provocative.”
- If the other driver is following you closely or tailgating, pull over and wait for them to pass.
- If the other driver is threatening you or trying to cause an accident, see if you can safely get their license plate number, and call a police station immediately.
Why is tailgating particularly dangerous?
Tailgating while driving is most definitely not a party. It’s a reckless driving behavior in which one car follows another way too closely, often at high speed.
This creates a scenario in which the tailgating driver doesn’t have enough time to respond safely to what’s happening around them. For example, if the vehicle in front of a tailgater suddenly slows down or stops—the so-called “brake check”—the tailgater may not have enough time or space to stop safely, which can lead to a fender bender, at best, or a more traumatic rear-end collision.
As a general rule, a safe following distance is two seconds or more. Choose a fixed object on the road, such as a street sign or a tree. When the vehicle in front of you passes the object, count the number of seconds it takes for your vehicle to reach the same point. If it takes two seconds or more, you are maintaining a safe following distance. If it takes less than two seconds, you should increase your distance to allow for safe stopping.
What do road rage statistics show?
According to some sources, including AAA survey data, men are more likely to suffer road rage than women.
Why is this? It’s possible that men are just more likely to engage in risky or aggressive behaviors in general. Additionally, men may be more likely to engage in competitive or dominance-seeking behaviors on the road, which can lead to road rage.
However, let’s not fall prey to stereotypes. Road rage is not limited to men, and women can also experience road rage (needless to say, so can any drivers who identify as non-binary!).
According to Forbes Advisor survey data, certain states tend to experience more road rage. Utah, Missouri, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico top the list.
What should I do if I’m experiencing road rage on a regular basis?
A therapist can help you work through what’s causing your road rage. And no, that doesn’t mean you’ll end up lying on a couch, unpacking how your driving aggression is all your mother’s fault. Therapeutic approaches you might find useful would include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation techniques, and anger management training.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a branch of psychotherapy that focuses on changing negative patterns of thinking and behavior in order to improve mood and reduce symptoms. In the case of road rage, a therapist might use CBT to help the person identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their aggro behavior on the road.
A person with road rage might have thoughts such as “all other drivers are out to get me” or “I have to be the first one to get where I’m going, no matter what.”
A CBT therapist might help the person recognize these thoughts as irrational and replace them with more balanced and realistic thoughts, such as “other drivers are just trying to get where they need to go like me” or “it’s okay to take my time and drive safely.”
Will road rage affect my car insurance rates?
Getting into an accident will certainly affect your auto insurance rates, so in that sense, playing into road rage is a risk factor here.
When you drive with the Lemonade Car app and location services enabled, we’re able to track how safely you’re driving—and reward you accordingly with lower premiums at renewal.
But the app also picks up reckless driving habits that are common with road rage. No, it won’t know if you’re making rude hand gestures at neighboring drivers. But it will sense aggressive driving behavior like swerving, abrupt changing of lanes, and excessive speed.
Before we go…
Road rage just isn’t worth it. And while it can be really hard to practice empathy—to look at the enraged driver tailgating you and imagine what his or her day has been like, and why they’re acting so erratically—it’s your best bet to stay safe, and stay alive.
Now take a deep breath, practice a moment of gratitude… and spend a few minutes finding out how much you’d pay for Lemonade Car insurance.