Simply put, road rage is driving in an aggressive, hostile, or angry manner. The nicest and kindest of people can turn vicious behind the wheel. Any little thing can set someone off. The worst part is that people act on their rage, now more than ever, with sometimes deadly consequences.
A recent study of North American driving habits found that up to 80% of drivers on the road today are angry most or all of the time. And we’re not getting angry at bad driving, per se. We’re getting upset at everything—waiting at red lights, construction zone holdups, too many bicycle lanes, and no parking spots).
Many theories claim to explain how our behaviour and attitude change when we get behind the wheel but one thing is certain: it’s a very real problem and it’s getting worse. And being the victim of another’s road rage can be a very unsettling experience.
The good news is, there are steps we can all take to guard against road rage from others and stay safe while on the road.
1. Don’t be the trigger
Sometimes we, ourselves, are the trigger for another’s rage. The more aware you are of your own driving, the less likely that you will provoke rage from another driver.
If you keep being subjected to road rage, it might be down to the way you drive. Perhaps you’ve fallen into some bad driving habits that wind others up, such as not indicating or driving too assertively or not being aware of your surroundings because it’s a route that you take everyday.
2. Drive with your doors locked
Consider locking your doors while you are driving. Don’t worry about the emergency services not being able to get to you because they’ll automatically unlock after an accident.
3. Defuse the situation with a gesture
We all make mistakes and it’s easy for other road users to take it the wrong way. If you accidentally annoy another road user, an apology and a raised open-hand gesture goes a long way to defusing the situation. If someone does shout abuse at you, try apologising, even if you aren’t at fault. Although it’s natural to defend yourself if you’ve done nothing wrong, sometimes you just have to take “the high road” because it’s impossible and fruitless to reason with an enraged driving who has no rational thought at that moment.
4. Do not get out of your car
If you become embroiled in a road rage incident, stay in your car. Do not get out of your car!
Stay calm, lock your doors, and consider driving off safely or turning around if the route ahead is blocked. If the enraged driver gets out of their car and approaches you, ignore them. If you feel threatened, drive away if it is safe to do so. Stay as calm as you can and don’t panic and make a bad situation worse.
5. Draw attention to yourself
If you feel threatened, honk your horn, flash your lights, do anything to make others look at the situation. Observers may call the police or step in to help.
6. Drive to a populated area
If you are followed by the other driver, don’t drive home. Instead, drive to a well-populated area. A gas station is a good choice because they’ll have CCTV cameras running, which gives you time to call for help and wait for the police from the safety of your car while being observed on camera.
7. Record the incident
If you have a passenger, you may want to ask them to video the incident and offender. This serves two purposes: to deter the confrontation and as evidence for insurance and/or legal purposes.
Alternatively, consider installing a camera in your car (dash cam). If you have concerns about being on the receiving end of another driver’s bad behaviour, a dash cam can act as an impartial, reliable witness.
Ideally, obtain the make and model of the car, the colour of the car, and the license plate number.
8. After the incident
If you’ve been in a situation with another driver, it will undoubtedly affect you. But if you get too wound up, your concentration levels will drop, putting you at greater risk of having an accident.
If you feel uneasy and shaky after the incident (and who wouldn’t be?) pull over as soon as you can, where it is safe, and calm yourself with some deep, full belly breaths, a short walk, or whatever quickly relaxes you. Think through what happened and try to understand how it happened: was your driving to blame? Did you inflame the situation at all? Was there anything you could have done differently? Or were you just the unlucky victim of a bully who was having a bad day?
9. Consider reporting the incident to the police
Consider reporting the incident. By doing so you might help prevent anyone else becoming a victim of the same enraged driver.
Think through what happened and try to understand how it happened: was your driving to blame? Did you inflame the situation at all? Was there anything you could have done differently? Or were you just the unlucky victim of a bully who was having a bad day?
10. Don’t retaliate
If you find yourself being subjected to road rage, and another driver is being confrontational or aggressive, ignore them and don’t make eye contact or react in any way that they can see. If someone’s driving aggressively behind you, aching to get past, find a safe place to pull over and let them go. It’ll add seconds to your journey but may save you from being involved in an accident or having an unpleasant confrontation.
If you’ve been in a situation with another driver, it will undoubtedly affect you. But if you get too wound up, your concentration levels will drop, putting you at greater risk of having an accident. “I was angry” isn’t going to get you out of trouble with the police or help you with a car insurance claim.
To help prevent stress levels rising, pull over and get some fresh air, or walk around if you need to before resuming your journey. Alternatively, find some distraction, like listening to the radio. Move your mind deliberately onto something else and don’t dwell on the incident.
For more information about anger and conflict, the following resources may be helpful.
- Understanding Anger and Anger Management. https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/understanding-anger-and-anger-management/
- Feeling Angry? https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/feeling-angry/
- Anger. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/anger/index.aspx
- Eight steps to effective conflict management. Government of Canada. https://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/gcc-bdm/8etapes-8steps-eng.html
- Preventing and resolving workplace conflict. https://canadabusiness.ca/blog/preventing-and-resolving-workplace-conflict-1/