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What is Road Rage?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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Road rage covers a multitude of hostile acts committed by angry or frustrated drivers, from deliberate tailgating to vehicular homicide. Its prevalence has increased so much in the past decade that psychologists have actually classified it as a mental disorder. Many drivers who are prone to sudden emotional outbursts or inappropriate reactions are now said to suffer from intermittent explosive disorder. Not all incidents of road rage can be attributed to a mental disorder, however. Some experts believe drivers learn aggressive behavior from observing their parents and watching numerous examples of simulated rage on television.

Even under the best of conditions, driving is a stressful activity. Experienced drivers develop coping mechanisms for the everyday driving errors of others, but there's always the possibility of a major accident lurking around the bend. Drivers also bear the responsibility of keeping other passengers safe during the commute. With all of these elements to consider, it is easy to see why some drivers may be especially anxious or defensive. If another driver does something wrong or reckless, the result can be the explosive and uncontrolled reaction we recognize as road rage.

One of the main concerns during this type of incident is escalation. If another car cuts off an aggressive driver at an intersection, for example, the offended driver may shout expletives or blow his horn excessively. At this point, road rage could be avoided if the angry driver pulls over to calm down for a few minutes or accepts the incident as a minor disturbance. Instead, he or she may become even more outraged and decide to punish the other driver. When the situation escalates, a person's driving may become more erratic and reckless. The anger and frustration temporarily overrides good judgment and the driver becomes consumed with notions of vengeance or payback. Some extreme cases end with vehicular homicide, assault with a weapon, or other physical assaults.

Many driving schools teach students defensive driving techniques designed to reduce the number and severity of minor accidents. Some drivers mistake defensive driving with aggressive driving, which can lead to dangerous incidents. While anticipating accidents and driver error is a good practice, aggressive driving often stirs up powerful emotions within drivers. One of the best ways of avoiding road rage is to ratchet down aggressive maneuvers while driving. Passing a slow-moving car safely is one thing, but tailgating followed by an abrupt lane change and increased speed is a form of road rage. As a rule of thumb, drivers should avoid getting on the road while in highly emotional states.

Laws concerning road rage incidents vary widely from state to state. Many drivers who succumb to it can only be charged with minor traffic violations such as failure to signal or speeding. Depending on the events, some may be charged with more serious offenses such as reckless or aggressive driving. If there was damage to the other driver's vehicle or property, a civil suit could also be filed. Some states can actually charge a driver with the crime of road rage, although in extreme cases the charges might be vehicular homicide or attempted murder with a vehicle. Since the event can be short-lived, the driver may not show signs of emotional impairment at the time of arrest.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon140558 — On Jan 07, 2011

a while back a friend of mine became a victim of road rage. A roadworks truck pulled out in front of him without indicating from a corner shop (it wasn't taking part in any road works) and my friend tooted at it to warn of an impending collision, then the jerk driving the truck recklessly pursues him, tailgates him and blasts his horn.

Then, my friend and the truck ended up at a set of lights, and the enraged contractor began slamming on my mate's car, swearing and threatening him. before driving away, he reported the incident to the police, but the NZ Police being the lazy muppets they are didn't take action (road rage is generally unpunished in New Zealand). The road rager must have been the thickest driver in the world for he was driving a company truck and my friend made a complaint to the company who responded with "we don't tolerate aggressive drivers and that workers actions where unacceptable." Whether or not the jerk road rager was fired was unknown but the company manager told my friend in writing that "the driver concerned has been disciplined."

Seems the company the jerk worked for took more action than our incompetent police force (too busy handing out tickets for no valid wof or rego no doubt).

By oasis11 — On Aug 30, 2010

Mutsy- I always say that when the traffic jam is severe because of a fatal accident, I always say that the person that lost their life would give anything to be stuck in a simple traffic jam again.

This is what I told my husband once when we were stuck in a really bad traffic jam because of an overturned car that lost control. The driver lost her life.

After I said that to my husband, he never complained about the traffic jam again.

Although in this case the death was a result of reckless driving and not road rage, it is important that people realize that a car is a weapon and road rage can effect your driving and cause harm to yourself and others as well.

By mutsy — On Aug 30, 2010

Road injuries occur with significant incidents of road rage. There was an aggressive driving article that rated Miami as the top city for road rage incidents.

Road rage is really dangerous to the person driving and to the drivers around that driver. Often these people are filled with rage because they are overscheduled and did not give themselves sufficient time to get to the place that they are going.

It is really important for these people to calm down and take deep breaths because if not they can cause a catastrophe.

You really have no idea of the people that you are dealing with and you can start a fight with someone because you are in a hurry and end of dead because they shot you and you did not know that they were armed.

Road rage should always be avoided because the temporary discomfort of a traffic jam will eventually subside, but death or a critical injury is forever. Nothing is worth risking your life over. It is important to maintain the proper prospective when dealing with traffic.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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