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Aggressive Driving vs. Road Rage: Are You Crossing the Line?

Before you lose your temper while driving, understand the effects.

We’ve all been there: A driver unexpectedly swerves in front of us and we feel the urge to yell, blow our horn or gesture at them. But unchecked emotions behind the wheel can lead to aggressive driving and even road rage.

So what’s the difference between aggressive driving and road rage? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, aggressive driving is operating a vehicle in a way that endangers—or is likely to endanger—people or property. Road rage is the extreme of aggressive driving, when behavior turns angry and violent.

Here’s how to identify these dangerous habits—and how to prevent them:

Aggressive driving includes:

  • Speeding, weaving, tailgating

  • Changing lanes without signaling

  • Cutting in front of someone and then slowing down

  • Running a red light

  • Blocking cars attempting to pass or change lanes

Road rage includes:

  • Cursing and making rude or obscene gestures

  • Throwing objects

  • Ramming or sideswiping another vehicle

  • Forcing a driver off the road

Why do drivers get so angry? Our cars are like metal safe havens: We feel protected in them—and they also help us feel anonymous while driving. This anonymity, psychologists say, can lead to more aggressive, less-inhibited behavior. That driver in front of you doesn’t know who you are, the thinking goes, so you’re more likely to lay on the horn if he doesn’t move after the light turns. When we get mad, we also can feel the urge to teach others a lesson, such as tailgating a slow driver. But focusing on others means that you’re not concentrating on your own driving—and that’s unsafe.

Safety tips to avoid aggressive driving Stay considerate of others: Don’t intentionally force another driver to brake or turn in response to something you’ve done. Be tolerant and forgiving: Don’t take it personally if the driver of a vehicle is tailgating or cuts you off. The other driver may simply be having a bad day. Keep your distance: When drivers are agitated, it’s best to stay behind them—they can do less damage to you this way. If necessary, pull off the road or exit the highway to avoid them. Do not respond: Avoid eye contact and gestures, maintain space around your vehicle and call 911 if you believe you’re in danger. Or, drive to a busy place, such as a mall or gas station. Use your horn to get someone’s attention. This usually will discourage an aggressor. Don’t get out of your car, and don’t lead an aggressive driver to your home.

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