What is Aggressive Driving?
Aggressive driving can refer to any display of aggression by a driver, tailgating, flashing headlights, speeding or weaving through traffic are just some forms of aggressive driving. Extreme acts of physical assault that result from disagreements between drivers are a form of aggression commonly called "Road Rage."
The New York State Police define an Aggressive Driver as one who:
Operates a motor vehicle in a selfish, bold or pushy manner, without regard for the rights or safety of the other users of the streets and highways.
Why is There Aggressive Driving?
Part of the problem may be the roads themselves. The roads are more crowded. Also, people are busier. Time is at a premium, and road congestion causes frustration.
According to the media, there are numerous events of aggressive driving or "road rage" on the public highways. There is growing concern among motorists about this problem. The American Automobile Association (AAA), Potomac Club commissioned a survey in early 1996 to determine what issues drivers were concerned about in the Washington, D.C. area. The largest group of drivers, 40%, felt the major traffic safety threat was the aggressive driver.
Aggressive Driving Enforcement Programs
The New York State Police and local police agencies conduct traffic enforcement details in an effort to cut down on dangerous aggressive driving behaviors, in particular excessive speed and reckless driving, throughout the state. The GTSC's Police Traffic Services grant supports agencies that conduct enforcement and public information and education campaigns which specifically target the aggressive driving behaviors listed below.
- Excessive Speed
- Frequent or Unsafe Lane Changes
- Failure to Signal
- Failure to Yield the Right of Way
- Disregarding Traffic Controls
- Impaired Driving
- Cell phone / electronic device use
As already noted in the Introduction, the NYS State Police have pointed out that there is a difference between aggressive driving and so called "road rage". "Road Rage", such as using the vehicle as a weapon or physically assaulting a driver or their vehicle, is NOT aggressive driving. These are criminal offenses, and there are laws in place to deal with these violent crimes.
If you encounter an aggressive driver...
The New York State Police recommend these basic tips for dealing with an aggressive driver:
- Remain calm
- Keep your distance
- Do not pass unless you have to
- Change lanes once it is safe (don't jump lanes without looking)
- If you cannot change lanes and an aggressive driver is behind you, stay where you are, maintain the proper speed and do not respond with hostile gestures.
- You may pull off the road to call 911 (or *911 from a cell phone) to report an aggressive driver or a driver you believe may be impaired.
(Of special note: If you witness an act of aggressive driving, the police cannot issue a ticket simply because you've gotten a plate number. A police officer must witness the infraction and positively identify the driver of the vehicle in order to issue a ticket. However, if you travel a route on a regular basis and witness aggressive behavior at certain times, or all of the time, the State Police would be interested in knowing about the locations.)
There are some basic things that you can do to reduce your chances of ever becoming involved in an aggressive driving or "road rage" incident:
- First of all, observe common courtesy and consciously try to avoid actions which can provoke other drivers.
- Secondly, take measures to reduce your own stress so that you are less likely to feel aggressive yourself.
- You can also try to adjust your attitude about why other drivers are behaving the way they are.
- Finally, keep your emotions in check and think about the consequences of your behavior before you react.
The following tips, which expand on the above points, were compiled from several different sources. Although the list is quite extensive, these suggestions are worth heeding:
Be Aware of Actions Which Can Provoke Aggression
Motorists are advised to be patient and courteous to other drivers. You should correct any unsafe driving habits that may endanger, annoy or provoke other drivers. Be aware of the actions that have resulted in violence in the past. Many of these actions are simply eliminated by practicing common courtesy. Others are behaviors which are, or may be considered, offensive.
Avoid behaviors which are likely to provoke aggression:
- Gestures - Obscene or offensive gestures irritate other drivers. Be aware that any gesture may be misinterpreted by another driver.
- Cell phones - Don't let your phone or any other device become a distraction. Cell phone users are perceived as being poor drivers and presenting a traffic hazard. Data shows that aggressive drivers are particularly irritated by fender-benders with motorists who were talking on the phone or texting. Remember using a hand-held electronic device while driving is illegal in New York State.
- Eye contact - If a motorist tries to pick a fight, do not make eye contact. Get out of the way without acknowledging the other motorist. If the driver follows you, do not go home. Go to a police station or location where you can get help and there will be witnesses.
- Aggressive tailgating - Riding the bumper of the vehicle in front of you is both annoying and unsafe.
- Aggressive horn use - Leaning on the horn to express anger is aggravating.
- Aggressive headlight use - Flashing headlights to denote irritation is rude and unsafe.
Use common courtesy:
- Lane blocking - Don't block the passing lane on multiple lane highways. Allow vehicles to pass you.
- Tailgating - Maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
- Signal use - Don't change lanes without using your signal, and make sure you can change lanes without cutting another driver off. After changing lanes or turning, turn your signal off.
- Horn use - Use your horn sparingly. Noise is shown to be a contributor to stress.
- Failure to turn - In many areas, including New York State, right turns are allowed after a complete stop for a red light unless an intersection is marked otherwise. Avoid the right lane if you are not turning right.
- Don't take up more than one parking space
- Don't park in a space reserved for people with disabilities unless you are disabled
- Don't open your door into the car next to you
- When parallel parking, do not tap the vehicles in front or in back of yours
- Always look carefully before backing out of a parking space
- Headlight use - Keep headlights on low beam, except where lighting conditions are poor. Dim your high beams for oncoming traffic, when approaching a vehicle from the rear or when another vehicle is passing you.
- Merging - When traffic permits, move out of the right hand acceleration lane of a freeway to allow vehicles easier access from on-ramps.
- Blocking traffic - If you are driving a cumbersome or slow moving vehicle, pull over when possible to allow traffic to pass you. Do not block the road to stop and have a conversation with another driver or a pedestrian.
- Alarms - Be sure you know how to turn off the anti-theft alarm on any vehicle you are driving. If you are purchasing an alarm, buy one that turns off automatically after a short time.
Reduce Your Stress
Learn to spot the warning signs of stress, and try to avoid situations which are likely to cause stress, distraction and fatigue.
- Keep your vehicle in good working order to avoid the stress of a breakdown.
- If your destination is in an unfamiliar area, plan your route and have a map available.
- Have windshield cleaning materials and sunglasses available.
If you are making a long trip:
- Plan your route and have a map in your vehicle.
- Take breaks to stretch and walk around.
- Eat light snacks as opposed to heavy meals.
- Avoid eating in noisy, crowded places since they can promote stress.
Road congestion is a major contributing factor to traffic disputes:
- Consider altering your schedule.
Allow plenty of time to get where you are going. Can you change your schedule or route to avoid the worst congestion? And does it really matter if you are a little late?
- Improve the comfort of your vehicle.
Listen to music that reduces your anxiety, or try listening to books on tape, but avoid anger-inducing talk radio. Use your air conditioner. Make your seat more comfortable by adjusting your seating position or using a pillow.
- Concentrate on being relaxed.
Take a deep breath. Don't clench your teeth or grip the steering wheel too tightly. Try doing limited stretching exercises.
- Don't drive when you are upset, angry or overtired.
Take a break to calm down, "cool off" or rest before you get behind the wheel.
Adjust Your Attitude
- Give the other driver the benefit of the doubt.
- We all make mistakes. Do not assume that all unsafe driving actions are intentional or personal.
- Be polite and courteous, even if the other driver isn't.
Keep Your Cool, Think Before You React
- Self-control is crucial in managing stress and aggression.
It is important for individuals to have a set of responses to cope with frustration. The most important advice is to remain patient in traffic congestion. You can gain a sense of control by realizing that people behave differently in different situations and that environmental factors may effect others to a greater or lesser degree than they effect you. Information about why a driver may be acting in a certain way will make their behavior more predictable to you, and you will be able to take action to avoid a confrontation, if necessary.
- Drivers must pay more attention to their own levels of emotion.
Evidence suggests that drivers who allow their emotions to spiral out of control while driving are a much greater risk to themselves than to those around them. It is important not to try to alleviate aggressive emotion with an outburst. Research shows that this does not help to overcome the situation, and the risk of retaliation increases.
Several psychologists suggest a "cooling off" period such as going for a walk or using relaxation techniques. Although many people, particularly men, go for a drive to "cool off", it is not recommended. Any activity that is an attempt to "cool off" must be distracting enough to interfere with the train of anger-inducing thought.
- Avoid all conflict if possible.
If you are challenged, take a deep breath and get out of the way, even if you are in the right.
- Finally, before reacting, think about the possible consequences of your actions.
Aggressive behavior behind the wheel could result in serious injury or even death to yourself or someone else. Don't let an impulsive action ruin the rest of your life.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration