Everyone’s heard horror stories about the irate motorists who weave in and out of traffic, flipping people off, riding up on someone’s bumper, or slamming on their brakes. It’s dangerous and foolish, but how you choose to respond — or not respond — to angry drivers is crucial.
Angry drivers are aggressive drivers, and aggression behind the wheel equals road rage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines “aggressive driving” as that which occurs when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.”
When you encounter road rage, your first priority is to be safe. Here’s how you get there.
Avoid Eye Contact… and Hand Gestures
As the old song goes, “Keep your mind on your driving and your hands on the wheel.” This applies any time your car is on the road, and is especially advisable when you’re dealing with an angry driver.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “An eye can threaten like a loaded and levelled gun.” Avoid eye contact. Remember that the next time an angry driver pulls alongside and tries to engage you. Focus on the road, and not on the distractions vying for your attention.
Be Somewhere Else
If the angry driver is upset that you’re in the left lane, move. It’s really not that big of a deal and it’s not your job to teach them a lesson. In some states, such as Florida, you’re part of the problem if you’re “coasting” there, so you may be in the wrong, too. Intentionally frustrating an already aggressive driver is unwise and only compounds the problem. Be better than that. Be safer than that. Safely move to a different lane.
If you’re being followed by an aggressive driver, stay in your car and drive to a busy police or fire station. Do not get out of your car or engage the driver in any way.
Dueling Egos Make for Angry Drivers
If you’re behind the wheel, you’re responsible not only for your own driving, but how you react to others. Don’t allow your injured pride to provoke you into responding. Don’t videotape the incident — that’s equally dangerous and makes you part of the problem. If someone rides your bumper and you hit the brakes to send a message, you have just become an aggressive driver yourself, make no mistake.
When you’re behind the wheel, head games may gratify your sense of self-approval, but they will not diffuse the situation. Any response that begins with a mental, “I’ll show him!” is an angry reaction and patently unsafe.
Follow Safe Driving Rules
We all get into patterns of behavior, and not all of them are good.
It’s possible that other drivers are angry because you’re driving dangerously yourself. If you’re running lights, not using your turn signal, making illegal u-turns, or even driving too slowly, you are driving in an unsafe manner.
Perhaps you drive with your turn signal on for miles. Maybe you change lanes without checking your blind spot first. It by no means makes it acceptable for other drivers to teach you the error of your ways, however: that’s for the police to do. Review your state’s road rules to ensure you’re following safe driving procedures.
Remember not to take it personally. Don’t panic. Keep a cool head and mind your own vehicle. You are responsible for your own actions.
What to Do if You Need Help
If you do feel threatened and as though you are in danger, however, or if you observe road rage taking place and you have a safe way to call the police, do so.
Don’t speed, and don’t leave the safety of your car. Make sure your windows are up and your doors locked. Don’t drive home. If you’re on a highway and you’re being chased by an angry driver, stay there. Don’t stop your car unless you need to phone for help or seek a crowded public area.
And never, ever get behind the wheel of a car if you are upset or angry. Calm down first. Make your safety your number one priority.