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The Growing Problem of Road Rage

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Our Biggest Fear as Drivers:

Statistics tell us that most all of us have been involved in an aggressive driving experience either as the victim or the aggressor at some point in our lives.

Aggressive driving and road rage is on the rise and according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) it is one, if not the top concern for many drivers today. AAA reported that, "at least 1,500 people a year are seriously injured or killed in senseless traffic disputes."

The following includes excerpts from a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Characteristics of Aggressive Driving:

The words, "aggressive driving," emerged during the 1990s as a label for a category of dangerous on-the-road behaviors. The category comprises:
  • Following too closely
  • Driving at excessive speeds
  • Weaving through traffic
  • Running stop lights and signs
Aggressive driving occasionally escalates to gesturing in anger or yelling at another motorist, confrontation, physical assault and even murder. "Road Rage" is the label that emerged to describe the angry and violent behaviors at the extreme of the aggressive driving continuum.

Graduating From Traffic Violation to Criminal Offense:

The NHTSA defines aggressive driving as, "The operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property."

An important distinction is that aggressive driving is a traffic violation, while road rage, aside from the yelling and gesticulating, is a criminal offense.

Contributing Factors To Aggressive Driving:

Experts suggest many reasons for the increase in aggressive driving and road rage.
  • Sociologists suggests it is due to the breakdown in our society's sense of community and a disintegration of shared values.
  • Psychologists point to the intoxicating combination of power and anonymity provided by motor vehicles.
  • Traffic engineers tend to believe the problem is due to inconsistent driving speeds among travelers.

Traffic Congestion:

Traffic congestion is one of the most frequently mentioned contributing factors to aggressive driving. Drivers with low tolerances for traffic delays might respond by following too closely, changing lanes frequently, or becoming angry at anyone who impedes their progress.

Running Late:

Some people drive aggressively because they have too much to do and are running late for work, school, their next meeting, lesson, soccer game, or other appointment.

Many otherwise law-abiding citizens often justify speeding when running late, almost as they would a medical emergency. Speeding because one is running late to pick up a waiting child or getting an elderly parent to a doctor's appointment is often deemed as okay in the minds of even some of the safest drivers.

Anonymity:

A driver can develop a sense of anonymity and detachment when insulated within the privacy of a vehicle. Tinted windows further detach drivers, aiding to the misconception of being an observer of the surroundings, rather than a participant.

The anonymity for some may provoke antisocial behavior unseen in other normal interaction they experience with others. Combine this with having the power of a motor vehicle and the knowledge that it is unlikely they will ever be seen again by those they offend and the result can be extreme rudeness and even turn an otherwise nice person into a dangerous, raging individual.

Disregard for Others and for the Law:

Much has been written about the erosion of shared values and respect for authority, variously attributed to the fragmentation of the extended family, increased individual mobility, media influence, and other characteristics of modern society.

It does appear that civility and respect for authority has decreased, the trend epitomized by the phrase, "I'm just looking out for number one."

Habitual Or Clinical Behavior:

Most motorists rarely drive aggressively, and some never at all. For others, episodes of aggressive driving are frequent, and for a small proportion of motorists it is their usual driving behavior.

Occasional episodes of aggressive driving might occur in response to specific situations, such as speeding and changing lanes abruptly when late for an important appointment, when it is not the driver's normal behavior.

Among the chronic aggressive drivers there are those who learned the driving style and consider it appropriate, and others who may have learned to drive properly, but for whom the behavior is an expression of illness.

Clearly, it is a matter of degree and not all anger is uncontrolled, or even inappropriate, that is, it is not the anger, but what a person does about it that matters (e.g., anger that motivates a person to call the police when encountered on the road by an obviously impaired or dangerously aggressive driver). However, chronic anger, habitual or persistent aggressive driving, and especially a pattern of confrontation on the road, must be considered manifestations of pathology, in addition to violations of the law.

Summary

If it seems that there are more cases of rude and outrageous behavior on the road now than in the past, the observation is correct, if for no other reason than there are more drivers driving more miles on the same roads than ever before.

More: How to Avoid Being a Victim of Road Rage

Source:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Road Rage: Causes and Dangers of Aggressive Driving
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

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