Help improve road safety by watching out for rude or aggressive drivers and avoiding such behavior yourself.
By Peter Smolens
More than 37,000 people lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roadways in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Not surprisingly, each year, speeding and impaired driving account for many vehicle accidents. One additional cause is aggressive driving.
In a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, aggressive behaviors such as tailgating, illegal passing, and sudden lane changing can be contributing factors in up to 56 percent of fatal crashes. All ages are affected.
In our rush, rush, hurry, hurry world, motorists often fail to use common courtesy when sharing the road with other drivers. Whether one calls it rudeness or aggressive driving, it causes a significant number of accidents.
What can you do to prevent yourself from becoming a statistic because of the actions of a rude or aggressive driver? First and foremost: Be aware of your fellow drivers and their habits. Likewise, think of your own behavior behind the wheel and follow traffic laws.
It’s helpful to know the difference between rude drivers and aggressive drivers.
Dictionary.com defines rude as “discourteous or impolite, especially in a deliberate way.” Rude drivers often don’t realize, or care, that they are causing problems when they decide to engage in such actions. Their behavior may escalate to aggressive driving, which AAA characterizes as any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety. Aggressive drivers want to get where they’re going without worrying about the consequences of their actions. Such behavior can lead to road rage, or violent driving with the intent to harm.
Both rude drivers and aggressive drivers can cause accidents, so be on the lookout for these types of motorists. And make sure you aren’t one of them.
These commonly seen behaviors may simply annoy other drivers or, much worse, cause accidents with injuries. Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios?
- Lane blocking: Drivers in the passing lane proceed more slowly than the rate of traffic. Even if traveling at the posted speed limit, they may disregard vehicles behind them that are waiting to pass. Likewise, drivers being blocked may follow the vehicle too closely.
- Lack of signal use: By switching lanes without signaling, drivers can cut someone off.
- Failure to turn: Drivers in a turn lane proceed straight ahead instead.
- Failure to yield: Not responding to the presence of other drivers or pedestrians who have the right of way, such as when merging onto a highway.
- Cell phone use: At least 15 states prohibit all drivers from using cell phones while driving, and all but three states ban texting while driving. Despite this, an alarming number of motorists use their cell phones. It’s easy to become distracted and create a rolling traffic hazard. Even worse than simple talking, texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road when seconds count.
Many accidents involve one or more unsafe driving behaviors typically associated with aggressive driving. According to research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 78 percent of drivers surveyed admitted to performing at least one aggressive driving or road rage behavior in the previous year.
Aggressive drivers often demonstrate one or more of the following:
- Tailgating: In addition to causing an accident if the vehicle they’re tailgating comes to a sudden stop, tailgaters can make the other motorist angry. Drivers should allow at least a two-second space between their vehicle and the one ahead.
- Speeding: Aggressive drivers regularly drive well over the posted speed limit.
- Switching lanes: We’ve all seen those motorists who weave in and out of traffic, switching lanes often and without warning.
- Running stop signs: Drivers roll through rather than coming to a complete stop.
- Yellow lights: Drivers speed up to “beat the light” before it changes to red.
- Illegal driving on the shoulder: If traffic is stopped, drivers use the breakdown lane or shoulder to travel around other vehicles.
- Failing to yield: When traffic is merging on the highway, drivers purposely speed up to get in front of another vehicle.
- Cutting off vehicles: A driver may switch lanes on the highway or pull out of a side street, appearing in front of another vehicle without warning. Again, it’s important to leave sufficient room in front of another vehicle when merging, and to use turn signals.
Hand gestures, such as signaling fellow drivers to proceed, cannot always be seen, and they may be misinterpreted. Sometimes, of course, the gesture is deliberately menacing or angry. Motorists should follow the driving safety laws and signal their intentions to fellow drivers via the mechanisms provided in their vehicles.
- Apply brake lights to alert fellow drivers when slowing down or stopping.
- Use directional signals to switch lanes, rather than darting to another lane without warning. Signal in a timely manner before moving. If a fellow motorist illuminates their turn signal, this is not a reason to speed up and prevent the driver from getting in front of you.
- Keep headlights on low beam, except in rare cases where unlit conditions require high beams for visibility. Remember to dim bright lights for oncoming traffic.
If you cannot avoid the situation, try to minimize your contact with the driver:
- First, keep your cool.
- If the driver seems hostile, avoid eye contact, get out of his or her way, and do not respond.
- Give the driver plenty of room.
- Do not get out of your car to confront the driver.
- Get help. If a motorist pursues you, do not go home. If you have a cell phone, call 911. Or, drive to a police station, convenience store, shopping center, or even a hospital — any public location where you can get help and where witnesses will be present.
- Use your horn to get someone’s attention. This may discourage an aggressor.
Dealing with rude and aggressive drivers can be difficult. However, by remaining calm and understanding the situation, you can resolve the issue and get to your destination safely. And it goes without saying: Don’t become one of “those drivers” yourself.