As if 2020 weren’t already bad enough, we’re seeing an increase in road rage incidents. And especially violent attacks stemming from aggressive driving.
Road rage incidents started early in 2020.
In January, it was road rage that gave the northeast Texas town of Greenville the year's first homicide. The incident led to a man being repeatedly stabbed at an intersection. He later died of his wounds.
66% of traffic fatalities
And 37% of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm.
Just two days later, a 22-year-old female passenger in Dallas was hit in the jaw by bullets fired by another driver into the vehicle she was riding in. A 3-year-old in the back seat of that car was not hit.
Two days after that an Oklahoma driver visiting Dallas honked at someone who had sped past her car and cut her off. That other driver fired several shots into the car, hitting her 9-year-old daughter in the side, damaging her kidneys and small intestine.
In February, Fort Worth police were called to investigate three different violent road rage incidents within a four-day span. The first, on 2/18, resulted in the crash death of one of the drivers. The next day, a driver honked at another driver who had cut him off twice, only to have that other driver shoot at him, hitting him in the arm. Then on 2/23, one more driver who’d been seen driving aggressively took shots at another driver.
And Houston is having the biggest problem
The nation’s 4th largest city has seen a number of violent incidents stemming from aggressive driving this year.
On December 8, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told a press conference audience that the city had seen 200 incidents of road rage this year. This is a 33% increase over last year, and 2020 isn’t even over yet! Six of these incidents, he added, resulted in someone’s death. Still despite this increase, Acevedo told the Houston Chronicle that crimes related to road rage are “underreported.”
Also at the press conference was Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who told The Houston Chronicle, “We've seen more and more situations of minor traffic incidents that are escalating into assaults and shooting.”
The following day, Texas governor Greg Abbott directed the Texas DPS to send officers to Houston to help in actively looking for aggressive drivers. Officers will be working from both marked and unmarked cars, as well as a helicopter and two patrol planes. Drivers found committing acts of violent road rage will likely have their vehicles seized.
Not just here and now
The Lone Star state is not the only place to see a rise in violence linked to aggressive driving.
A CNN article from last September started with a list of incidents from other states. In one, a mother in Wisconsin shot after a minor crash as she tried to teach her teenaged son to drive. And in August, an Alabama woman – herself the road raging driver – tried to shoot another car but shot her own husband instead.
And it’s not just another problem of 2020. That same CNN article cites a 2015 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that published numbers showing a 500% increase in crashes stemming from aggressive driving over a ten-year period.
| A rise in 2020 road rage incidents is just one part of an increase in violent crimes of all types. The Council on Criminal Justice looked at criminal reporting numbers for 28 cities across the USA.
Comparing the summer months of 2020 with summer 2019 shows increases in many categories.
What is Aggressive Driving?
Simply put, this is aggressive behavior while driving. As the list below show, it can take a lot of forms, but the common factor here is that one driver is angry and they’re letting that anger dictate their behavior.
- speeding in heavy traffic
- cutting in front of someone then slowing down
- yelling or making rude gestures at other drivers
- running red lights or accelerating through yellow ones
- weaving in and out of traffic lanes
- changing lanes without signaling
- blocking cars attempting to change lanes or pass
The term “road rage” was first used by news stations in Los Angeles in 1987. That summer there had been a series of incidents on Southern California highways where drivers pulled guns and took shots at other drivers. Calling it “road rage” or “highway hostility,” local stations drew attention to the problem, but it hadn’t started there. Drivers making each other angry is as old as driving itself. In 1980s LA, the concentration of people, cars, and guns just made it seem more acute.
2020 Road Rage Incidents: Why the Increase?
The short answer is stress.
It is undeniable that Covid-19 has contributed to the increase in road rage incidents. The kind of rage and frustration that makes drivers go off largely stem from emotional stress, and 2020 has given us stress beyond belief.
And this was on top of the stressful lives that many people were already living. Busy lives with too little time to get everything done create stress. And that’s true when everything is going well; if we add in relationship problems, money problems, job loss, and a host of other things, the stress increases.
Often it’s not actually a driving situation that causes aggressive driving. Too many drivers are already stressed and angry when they get into the car. In this situation, it doesn’t take much to escalate an angry driver into a raging one.
There are other factors like traffic delays or running late that contribute, but again it’s stress that keeps otherwise emotionally normal people from handling these without aggression.
Another factor – contributing both to overall stress and aggressive driving – is the fact that most people don’t get enough sleep. Too little sleep increases frustration and irritability, so that a sleep-deprived driver is at more of a risk of becoming aggressive.
Moreover, inadequate sleep can affect driving behavior and decision-making much like alcohol. So not only does too little sleep give us drivers ready to lose control, it also gives us other drivers who are driving badly enough to give that first group a reason to lose it.
It’s worth mentioning that some people just have a long history of aggressive behavior. They are generally aggressive by nature. Or they may be moderate in most situations but habitually aggressive while driving.
And there are a few who choose to drive aggressively because they can. They know that the other drivers are strangers they won’t see again. And they’re counting anonymity to get away with on-the-road rudeness.
What to Do About Aggressive Driving
Dealing with road rage comes down to two things actually:
- how to drive in such a way that you don’t cause the rage (or at least so you don’t attract someone’s rage to target you)
- and how to deal with the situation once you’re in it.
Driving Behaviors to Avoid
Polling among drivers – and aggressive drivers, in particular – shows a relatively short list of things that cause most cases of road rage. Unfortunately, a 2016 poll by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that many of us drivers do the things on this list fairly regularly.
- Tailgating, especially tailgating someone on purpose after they make you mad (51% of the people in that poll admitted to doing this.)
- Yelling at another driver. (47% admitted to this.)
- Honking in anger. The horn is there so you can warn people about something (pedestrians who don’t see an oncoming car, drivers drifting your lane or changing lanes without seeing your car, etc.). Using the horn because you’re angry is not the right thing, and yet 45% of us do it.
- Gesturing with a raised fist or sometimes just one finger. (33 %)
- Deliberately blocking someone from changing lanes (24%. And I suspect most of them are on Interstate 35 through Dallas)
- Getting out of your car to confront another driver (4%)
- Intentionally bumping or ramming another car (3%)
Dealing with Another Driver’s Road Rage
Don’t respond to anger with more anger.
- According to SafeMotorist.com, half of the drivers on the receiving end of aggressive driving admit to responding with some aggressive behavior of their own.
- That same source says that about 2% of drivers admit to trying to drive an aggressive driver off the road at least once.
- Reacting to aggression with more aggression just makes the situation worse. Retaliation may be your instinctive reaction, but – just like not panicking in a dangerous situation – often being a safer driver means cooling using your knowledge instead of going with your instincts.
If you spot what you think is a road raging driver get into a crash, be careful about approaching them. Stop a safe distance away and call the police to report the crash.
Pretend you don’t see or hear some things.
- If someone is angrily honking or yelling or giving you the one-finger wave, just ignore it.
Keep your distance.
- Once you’ve spotted aggressively dangerous drivers, keep away from them. Slow down or change lanes (or both) to put some distance between you.
- If that driver is on a highway, maybe exit to the service road for a while; you can always get back on at the next on-ramp.
If an angry driver starts following you, change your destination.
- Instead of leading a raging person to where you live or work (or where anyone you know lives or works), drive to a police station. Or drive to some well-lighted place with lots of people around, then call the police from there.
Avoid Becoming an Aggressive Driver
Monitor your own mood. And stay off the road when you’re too angry or stressful.
- More than anything else, your aggressive driving has more to do with your emotional state that with that other driver’s behavior. So monitor your emotions. If you’re too angry or even sad, stay off the road. Pull off to the side or into a parking lot until you calm down.
- This might seem like bad advise if you’re already running late, but remember that taking time to get your temper under control and showing up 20 minutes late is much better than aggressively driving into a crash and not getting there at all.
Avoid running late.
- Hurrying to get somewhere is a big factor in the driving stress that sets some people off. (Never mind that running late and then getting pulled over or into a crash is just going put you even further behind schedule! We’re not talking about logical decisions here.) Avoiding the mad last-minute rush will save you from a lot of stress.The best driving advice I ever got was to calculate what time I needed to leave and then purposely leave fifteen minutes early. That one change in my behavior saves me so much driving frustration (when I remember to actually do it, that is).
Keep both hands on the wheel.
- When driving in a stressing situation – such as bad weather or heavy traffic or what seems to be an convention of idiot drivers – keep both of your hands on the wheel. This will not only improve your steering control, it will help you to avoid honking or making one of those expressive gestures.
Summon some sympathy.
- Remind yourself frequently (no, more often than that!) that other drivers are human; they are going through their own stressful life just like you are. And they are going to make mistakes and/or do stupid things. Give them some of the understanding and patience you would want if the situation were reversed.
The increase in 2020 road rage incidents is the just the latest story about aggressive driving in general. And because road rage has been and continues to be such a problem, Comedy Guys will continue to make it part of our state-approved driving safety course.
Whether you take a live defensive driving class in one of our locations or you do defensive driving online, Comedy Guys will cover this and the other topics needed to make you a safer driver, get your ticket dismissed, or get you that auto insurance discount.
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