Think back to the last action movie you watched. Chances are that it included a high-speed car chase, in which the heroes confidently and aggressively weaved their way through traffic to catch “the bad guys.” It looks effortless, easy, and cool. However, that's all Hollywood movie magic, made in a controlled environment by professionals. In reality, this kind of aggressive driving leads to fatal accidents, long-term health issues, and unsafe highways. It can even trigger uncontrollable road rage—often accompanied by tragic consequences.
Aggressive driving is an issue
The United States, perhaps more than any other country, is built around the car. Many Americans travel to work on the highways. Long commutes, stressful workdays, and traffic backups all combine to create tension on our freeways and roadways.
It's enough to set many drivers off, leading them to make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors. In a survey that included 200 million drivers, over 50% admitted to having purposefully tailgated other vehicles—a leading cause of rear-end collisions. Nearly half yelled at other drivers or used their horn aggressively. A smaller, yet not insignificant, percentage went even further, cutting off others, following and confronting them in-person, or even purposefully causing a wreck.
For many drivers, aggression is a habitual behavior and a mindset they embrace when getting on the road. They drive fast, make quick maneuvers, do not use their turn signal for lane changes, and weave in-and-out of traffic. As we'll discuss, even “calm” aggressive driving can have dire consequences.
When aggression turns into rage
“Road rage” refers to a driver completely losing their cool and composure and blindly making violent, aggressive decisions without any regard for their own well-being or the well-being of others on the road. No matter its trigger, road rage is incredibly dangerous. Raging drivers use their vehicles as a weapon, cutting off other drivers or crashing into them. They'll harass their target and follow them at exits or turns, hoping for an in-person confrontation. In some instances, if armed, they may attempt to physically harm the other driver.
While not every aggressive driver loses control in this manner, it's important to recognize that aggressive driving is the starting point of road rage. When a driver is willing to drive aggressively and engage in risky behaviors on the road, they are—in essence—pouring fuel everywhere. It then just takes one spark for that aggression to flare up into rage, putting everyone at risk.
The consequences of aggressive driving
Aggressive drivers are constantly gambling with not only their own lives, but the lives of others. Their hubris may lead them to think they are a “good” driver who can handle high speeds, aggressive maneuvers, and weaving in-and-out of traffic, but all it takes is one mistake for things to go terribly wrong. Aggressive driving, especially on highways and at high rates of speed, can lead to fatal accidents.
Even if a perpetually aggressive driver is fortunate enough to avoid collisions, they're still not coming out ahead. In a 2016 study, researchers found a significant link between aggressive driving and several detrimental health conditions, including high blood pressure, anxiety, and heart disease. Driving aggressively literally takes a toll on the human body. As with all rage and anger, it can put immense strain on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. In this way, it can be said that aggressive driving will eventually lead to a shorter lifespan—whether an accident is involved or not.
Drive calm and drive defensively
If you have a history of driving aggressively and you're ready to make a change, you need to start by shifting your entire mindset. Think empathetically: every other driver on the road with you in rush hour is also trying to get home safely to see their families. They're human beings and, until the day robots all drive our vehicles, they occasionally will make mistakes.
Instead of raging at them, take a defensive stance. If you drive at reasonable speeds, give yourself plenty of space, use your signal, know your route, and anticipate traffic, you'll be able to account for errors made by other drivers and even aggressive behaviors. Defensive drivers are far less likely to be involved in an accident than aggressive drivers.
You can't control the behavior of others, but you can react to it. If you encounter an aggressive driver or someone in a road rage mindset, give them space and get away from them. Avoid direct confrontation or behavior that could escalate the situation. If needed, pull off to the side of the road entirely and allow them to pass. Move past the temptation to “defend” yourself: there's no point to engaging in high risk behavior on the road and there's nothing for you to prove.
For an overview of the full scope of this issue, along with recommendations for better defensive driving, take a look at this infographic.
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