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Road Rage

What is road rage?

Let's face it: everyone gets frustrated driving in heavy traffic. Some people, however, let this frustration boil over into anger. When drivers become so angry at other drivers that they actually try to retaliate against them, "road rage" is the result. In Texas, road raging drivers can attempt to get revenge by driving dangerously, intentionally causing accidents, and even by acts of violence such as assault and murder. Although there have always been aggressive drivers out there, road rage became a commonly-used term in the 1990's, when violent drivers began to be recognized as a growing societal problem. In 1997, the US House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure even held a hearing on causes of and possible solutions for the problem of road rage.

According to the Texas Department of Safety, road raging drivers can be identified by the following behaviors:

  • Running stop signs and red lights.
  • Speeding, tailgating and weaving between lanes.
  • Passing on the right of a vehicle.
  • Making inappropriate hand and facial gestures. (DPS Backgrounder: Road Rage. revised 10/2006).

Of course, many of the behaviors on DPS' list are really just bad driving. When does simple bad driving become road rage? There's a fine line between the two, and you cross it when you start thinking "I'm going to teach that other guy a lesson!" Of course, driving selfishly because you are impatient or in a hurry is also a bad thing, and it can lead to accidents as well. However, Texas road rage is even more dangerous because the angry driver is less concerned about avoiding an accident and more concerned about punishing the other driver for a perceived slight. When you are angry and trying to intimidate other drivers, it's all too easy to feel invincible. However, nobody is invincible, and using your car to frighten or intimidate other people is a good way to cause a wreck. 


Incidents increasing

Incidents of Texas road rage increased through the 1990's and remain a problem today. The latest statistics from DPS are from 2001-they show that 219 accidents from 2001 were caused by Texas road rage, resulting in 1 fatality. This was increase of 143.3% from 2000. However, since accidents involving Texas road rage were not tracked until April of 2000, at least part of the increase is probably attributable to better reporting. Of course, DPS’ statistics only include incidents where Texas road rage actually caused an accident. “Close calls” due to road rage that did not result in an actual collision are not counted. Also, other Texas road rage-induced acts of violence are hidden in crime statistics, under headings like "assault." One of the most recent notable incidents of road rage in Texas occurred in November 2007, when a Dallas teenager named Frank Vega was shot and killed by 30-year-old Anthony Gray after the teenager cut Gray off while driving.

Regardless of the statistics, almost anyone who drives has probably either experienced or engaged in one of the Department of Public Safety's "road rage behaviors" within the past few weeks. In Texas, road rage in its many variations has become a common occurrence, as people's busy, high-stress lifestyles collide with the reality of rush hour traffic. 


How to avoid confrontation

The best way to avoid becoming the victim of a road-raging driver is to try not to provoke them. That's not to say that road rage is excusable. There really is no excuse for letting your emotions get the better of you when you are piloting a potentially deadly weapon composed of at least a ton of steel and highly combustible fuel. However, when people are polled about road rage, they do mention a common list of behaviors that are likely to provoke it. Avoid these behaviors and you can usually avoid confrontations with other drivers. Most of the behaviors that provoke Texas road rage are driving behaviors that you really shouldn’t be engaging in anyway. Here is list of things you can do to that are guaranteed to tick your fellow drivers off:

1) Cutting other cars off. Make sure to look before your change lanes or merge!

2) Not letting other cars pass. Sure, you may be going the speed limit or even a little bit above. However, if you are in the far left lane and there's someone that wants to go faster, let them by. After all, it’s their speeding ticket, not yours.

3) Tailgating. Following another car too closely is not an acceptable way to signal that you want to pass. It just makes people angry, and it's dangerous. You need at least 2 seconds worth of space between you and the car in front of you. Otherwise, if the other car has to slow down suddenly for some reason, you are going to end up smashing your car into their back end.

4) Mean, rude or crude gestures. If someone cuts you off or does something else that seems stupid and dangerous, it's tempting to flip them the bird. However, another driver may see your expression of frustration as an attempt to pick a fight.


Cooler heads prevail

Do you turn into the Incredible Hulk when you encounter other people on the road who "just don't know how to drive?" Do you tailgate other drivers to get them to move over and let you pass? On the road, drivers that keep their cool are less likely to get in an accident, and more likely to make it home safe. The next time you feel like driving aggressively, take a deep breath and think. Think about the financial consequences of getting in accident; for example, having to buy a new car or pay higher insurance rates. Some experts advise to put pictures of your loved ones on the dashboard where you can see them. Think about what would happen to your family of you died in accident, and then ask yourself "Is it worth the risk to get to my destination a few minutes sooner?" Chances are that it isn't worth it.

Also, with Texas gas prices shooting through the roof, consider this: Edmunds.com reports that driving less aggressively results in an average gas savings of 31 percent!

Here are some other strategies that can help you keep your cool on the road:

  • Remember that driving is not about winning. Too often, people think of driving as a contest. Does your interior driving monologue sound something like this? "I have to get ahead of all of these losers! They are going too slow! I have more important places to be..." If so, you need to remember that you are on a road, not a racetrack. Also, you should realize that driving aggressively probably doesn’t save as much time as you think it does. For example, if you go 75 miles per hour instead of 55 miles per hour, even under ideal conditions you’ll save less than 3 minutes for every 10 miles.
  • Don't make driving personal. Remember, the car that’s blocking you from roaring down the interstate at 90 mph is not "out to get you." They are probably just elderly and are not comfortable going any faster. 
  • Say positive things to yourself while driving. Talking to yourself doesn't mean you're crazy. Everyone does it. Especially if you are driving alone and there's no one else in the car with you, the things you say to yourself while driving can be mean, hateful and downright nasty. Changing your interior monologue from negative to positive can help diffuse road rage before it starts. Learn to take control over your emotions. If someone around you is driving poorly, try to think of a reason why they could be acting that way. Maybe they are having a family emergency. Maybe they just spilled hot coffee on themselves. You don't know exactly what's going on in that other car, so tell yourself to calm down and cut the other person some slack.
  • Get help if necessary. If you can't control you emotions, you might want to invest in an anger management class. You'll find life is a lot more pleasant once you learn how to stop yourself from flying off the handle. Or, if you just need a refresher course on driving defensively, why not sign up for Driving University's online course? It’s a convenient and entertaining way to learn the skills you need to react safely to aggressive driving.


How it starts and ends

Texas road rage usually begins with one of the "triggering behaviors" listed above. Someone who is stressed or in a hurry gets cut off, feels they are being followed too closely, or experiences some other real or perceived "traffic offense." They feel angry and self-righteous about the incident, and may try to scare or intimidate the other driver with words, gestures, or aggressive driving. People who have been caught in a heavy traffic jam are especially prone to road rage because they are already tense and frustrated. Depending on the tempers of the drivers involved, Texas road rage can escalate from there and possibly end in a car crash, a fistfight, or as in the case of the Dallas teenager, the death of one of the drivers.

If you've inadvertently offended another driver and they are acting aggressive toward you, the following tips can help you get home safe:
  • Give the other person as much room as possible. If you let them go ahead of you in traffic, they will probably just continue on their way and leave you alone. 
  • Don't make eye contact, gesture, nod, or acknowledge the other driver in any way.
  • If the other driver is following you, do not go home. You don't want someone with these kinds of issues knowing where you live, do you? Go to someplace populated, like a mall or a shopping center. If they don't leave and you have a cell phone in the car, call the police. If you don’t have a cell phone, park close to the entrance of the mall or shopping center.

Reporting road rage

Texas doesn't have a law against "road rage" per se, but most acts of aggressive driving are already moving violations. Of course, physical attacks against other drivers are also covered under existing laws against assault. To report road rage and/or aggressive driving, the Texas Department of Transportation website recommends calling 911 if you feel your safety is being threatened by an aggressive driver. You can also call your local police department to report people who are driving erratically. It’s important to report road rage on Texas highways-your phone call could save someone’s life!

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