Avoiding road rage and hyper-aggressive driving

Once fall hits, the summer vibes end abruptly with the grind of back-to-school routines, longer commutes and endless traffic. We need to get where we’re going fast and the person ahead is going way… too… slow. When tempers flare behind the wheel our reactions can range from honking horns, muttering expletives, to full-blown road rage.

Road rage triggers

According to a national State Farm Canada survey in 2015, 33 per cent of Canadians say they are victims of road rage at least once a month. The most common road rage triggers include:

  1. Tailgating (30 per cent)
  2. Others driving distracted (22 per cent)
  3. Being cut off (22 per cent)

“Increased suburban development and a lack of updated transportation infrastructure have led to increased congestion on Canadian roads,” says John Bordignon, media relations, State Farm. “More traffic can lead to frustration for drivers. Add things like weather, construction and the behaviours of others and one can understand how emotions can quickly escalate into road rage. Being in a disgruntled state of mind can drastically increase the possibility of accidents and decrease safety for yourself and those travelling with and around you.”

Work Safe Alberta cites most road rage incidents start as a simple encounter between two drivers, which can escalate quickly into an aggressive and dangerous situation.

Road raging or just hyper-aggressive?

Perception might indicate a rise in road rage incidents, as bystanders expose confrontations via Youtube and the Internet. But how common are these incidents?

David Wiesenthal, professor emeritus and senior scholar with the Department of Psychology at York University, says it’s hard to definitively pin down the level of road rage these days.

“Physical assaults, thank goodness, tend to be unusual,” Wiesenthal says. “There are more vehicles on the road and we know from Statistics Canada data that commuting times have increased dramatically.” He notes that more congestion on the road, coupled with stress and time pressure delays would lead him to suspect, “the nasty stuff of cutting people off, honking, obscene gestures and shouting at people, probably has increased.”

Particularly in urban areas, drivers know they are relatively anonymous in their car. It’s unlikely they’ll encounter the other driver in the next lane ever again.

“The combination of anonymity and the notion of infrequent interaction in the future is a liberating experience for people to behave in a nasty or unpleasant manner,” says Wiesenthal.

Scott Wilson, senior policy analyst with the Alberta Motor Association says, “Road rage is very infrequent. Very rare. In Alberta this year, going back the last 12 months, we’ve probably seen a handful of these types of situations in the province. Road rage is a type of aggressive driving that results in some sort of violent confrontation. You don’t see that very often.”

Instead, Wilson says experts are actually seeing an increase in hyper-aggressive driving.

“What you tend to see and what most people will experience—is somebody near you while you’re driving doing something that you probably perceive as aggressive,” says Wilson.

He adds that when a driver becomes agitated, those frustrations can manifest themselves in a number of different ways. It could be someone speeding, not signalling or weaving in and out of traffic. They ride your tail, bumper-to-bumper because they feel you’re not driving fast enough.

If you are the perpetrator of road rage or hyper-aggression, recognize your anger. Pull over when it’s safe to do so. Get out of traffic. Take a break.

Wilson advises, “The most important thing you can do is decompress. Whatever helps you relax and get back to a better space.”

10 ways to keep your calm and drive on

How to avoid road rage

Bad behaviour behind the wheel—avoiding road rage and hyper-aggressive driving

Call it road rage or hyper-aggressive driving, any outward display of aggression on the road poses a safety issue for all parties involved.

Drivers need to place themselves in a position where they can best react to the hazards they encounter in traffic—sometimes those hazards happen to be other drivers.

If you find the need to tame the rage, or find yourself in a confrontation—here’s what you need to do:

  1. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Know how long it will take to get to your desired spot and avoid rushing which causes speeding on the roads.
  2. Get plenty of sleep and recognize when you’re fatigued. Being tired can add to stress and cause unnecessary reactions while driving.
  3. Don’t take it personally. You don’t know the other driver and they don’t know you. We can’t control other drivers’ habits—we can only control our own behaviour and reaction to others.
  4. Avoid rolling down your window to make obscene gestures and swear. It’s tempting, but this will only escalate the incident.
  5. Leave lots of room between yourself and the car ahead—don’t tailgate.
  6. Keep honking to a minimum.
  7. Don’t block passing lanes or drive slow in fast lanes.
  8. Create a calm environment in your car, with minimal distractions to help you stay calm and focused on the road.
  9. Avoid eye contact with aggressive drivers.
  10. If you feel threatened by another driver, do not get out of your car or attempt to drive home. Get help immediately by calling the police or going to the nearest police station.

*Source: Work Safe Alberta Driving for Work: Developing Safe Practices for Employers and Workers

“If an individual is sensing that they might be getting into a situation that has the potential to escalate into a confrontation—don’t get out of your car to go over and talk to somebody for example. Stay in your vehicle, avoid eye contact and don’t engage,” says Wilson. He adds, “If they sense they can’t get a rise out of you, they’re going to keep on going and leave you be.”