angry driver in his car

Rage on the road is an issue. Among drivers, 5% suffer from road rage on a daily basis, while 49% say it happens occasionally when driving, according to a new study by I Drive Safely. A large number of irate motorists! Way too many! 

Moreover, if you’re prone to outbursts of wrath, you likely feel depleted, miserable, and embarrassed afterward. Rage on the road can ruin more than just your driving experience; it can also sap your joy and health. Let’s take a look at the reasons for road rage and find out how to control our own tempers when driving.


How Does Road Rage Occur?

Let’s pause and define our terminology first. Although it may appear as a matter of “knowing it when you see it” nature, this NIH study states that no officially recognized definition of road rage exists. Rather, it’s a “relationship between a series of events that transpire as a result of an unwarranted provocation while driving.” 

Rage-on-the road behaviors can encompass:

The National Institutes of Health refer to these as “driving behaviors that endanger or potentially endanger others and are accompanying with intentional acts of aggression toward others, negative emotions while driving, and risk-taking.” 


Spectrum of Road Rage

Most cases of road rage, however, are on the milder side of the scale; shouting at another motorist is far more common than intentionally causing an accident or physical confrontation. 

However, your violent behavior becomes more normalized the more you lash out. The darker side of life can be more enticing to pursue.

Results showed that 61% of drivers have witnessed road rage actions in other drivers on occasion, frequently, or constantly, and that 75% of drivers have been the target of road rage themselves. 80% had been a victim of a road rage accident, either their own or another driver’s. I am terrified by those figures! This epidemic of irate drivers needs a solution. We should begin by discussing the root causes of road rage.


When Does Road Rage Occur

The National Institutes of Health has identified four main factors that contribute to road rage:

Please consult a mental health expert if you feel that the latter two considerations are important to you; we have not addressed them in this post.


Mental Health Issues

We find no evidence of road rage in the first two variables. Angry other drivers were the root cause of road rage for 79% of people who took our study. Most people’s anger outbursts occurred as a result of stress related to their jobs (63%), terrible traffic or congestion (52%), or problems in their personal lives (49%).


How Can Rage on the Road Impair Your Driving Skills

When you’re furious, your body goes into stress mode. What your body does when it senses danger is known as the stress response, or the “fight or flight” reaction. 

When activated, the hypothalamus secretes hormones that cause your heart rate to rise, your muscles to tense up, and your breathing rate to speed.

This reaction may have served early humans well while they were fleeing from a large, aggressive predator, but it doesn’t help us much now that we’re behind the wheel. 

In addition to driving faster, leaving less following distance, and having a smaller scanning area, drivers who are upset are more prone to making unnecessary lane changes, according to the study. Even those who ordinarily don’t drive aggressively can become hostile after a string of frustrating encounters, according to the same study.

Anger and stress impair judgment, making you more prone to aggressive behavior or risk-taking. If reading the preceding paragraphs caused you to tense up or clench your jaw, you likely have firsthand experience with the unpleasant sensations associated with the fight or flight reaction. As a result, we know that driving under the influence of anger or stress is dangerous; in fact, driving carelessly or violently is a traffic offense in most states. However, what steps can you take to alleviate road rage?


One: Preparation for Avoiding Road Rage

Although anger triggers the stress response in the body, the inverse is also true: driving aggressively when stressed out can make you act irrationally, regardless of whether you’re upset with someone or something else entirely. Reducing travel stress is the first step in preventing road rage. Here are a few things you can do to increase your odds of success:

Get yourself a set of directions before you set out. Stress and potential injury might result from fumbling with a phone’s mapping software while stopped at a red light. That won’t be an issue if you are familiar with the route in advance.

Give yourself plenty of time to travel. Make sure you include a few extra minutes in your travel time in case of traffic or mishaps. Being late is the single most stressful thing that can happen.

Combine some soothing music for the car. If you’re the type of driver who gets fidgety or irritated easily, it can be helpful to have some soothing music on hand.


Two: Recognize What Sets You Off

Being aware of your own personal stress triggers might help you avoid road rage and other driving-related issues. Keep an eye on your vitals; a rapid rise in heart rate, tightening of the muscles, or an overwhelming sense of heat are all signs that your body’s stress reaction is activating. If you notice that you are becoming irritated, attempt to pinpoint the source of that emotion. 

Once you’re aware of your triggers, you can take steps to prevent them. Figure out how to avoid that particular crossing if it’s constantly chaotic. Take an earlier exit and leisurely drive along the access road if there’s a highway exit where drivers consistently exhibit terrible driving habits. Perhaps you’re most miserable at certain times of the day. Mornings are the most likely times for 59% of people to experience road rage, according to our survey. For instance, if you can avoid traveling during rush hour, try to do so!

Also, you’ll need to find out ways to relax when driving because, well, driving isn’t without its share of stressful or bothersome events. 


Three: Learn to Relax While on the Road

To begin, train yourself to recognize the signs that you are beginning to feel negative emotions like anger, stress, or frustration. How can you stop it once it begins? Below are some techniques you can try. Figure out what works for you, and start that intervention as early as possible once you feel that stress going up.

Many people find that deep breathing helps them relax. Try breathing in for three counts, holding your breath for three counts, and then blowing the air out of your mouth for three counts. This helps your body to relax and calm down.

Initiate the relaxation response as much as possible. According to Harvard Health, your body has a relaxation response that is the opposite of your stress response. Some ways to flip that relaxation switch include visualizing tranquil scenes, focusing on a calming word or mantra, and yes, abdominal breathing.

Distract yourself with joyful things. Normally, you don’t want to be distracted in the car, but distracting your brain from the things that are making you angry is a good thing. Whether it’s happy music, a comedy podcast, or an audiobook that will absorb your attention, try to reset your brain by putting upbeat music on the stereo.

If it’s not working, pull over. If you can’t find your way to a calmer state of mind and you know you’re driving aggressively, pull over somewhere safe, get out of the car, and reset. You can do more deep breathing, close your eyes, go for a quick walk, do some jumping jacks, or call a friend to vent. Just don’t keep driving if you know you’re being aggressive.


Four: Look at the Bigger Picture

There’s only so much you can do when you’re in the car in the middle of a road rage incident. But if road rage is a problem for you, you owe it to yourself, your family, passengers, and other drivers on the road to address some of the underlying issues contributing to your anger.

Address your anger issues. The NIH named a tendency to displace anger as a major contributor to road rage. If you find that your anger comes bubbling up when on the road, talking to a therapist or working through your anger issues will not only lessen your road rage tendencies, but it is also likely to make you a happier, healthier human.

Find more zen. Don’t just destress when you’re in the car—try to find ways to destress in life! Remember, you bring your stress with you when you drive, and that contributes to aggressive driving. Whether it’s your job, your family, or just life, find ways to let go of what is pushing your buttons. You can try yoga, meditation, exercise, enjoying nature, a deep breathing practice, therapy, or even just taking more time to yourself to relax and feel good.

Take a defensive driving class. Our survey found that 72% of people who had experienced road rage in themselves or others this year changed their driving behaviors, and the most frequent change was taking a defensive driving class. Defensive driving will refresh your skills, give you the confidence to drive defensively, and teach you techniques for staying safe on the road. Knowing you have that knowledge in your back pocket can help calm your nerves when things get intense.


Other Drivers With Road Rage

Calming your own road rage is a fantastic goal and will make you safer on the road. But that doesn’t change the fact that other drivers can still be a threat. Our survey found that 30% of people experienced road rage from other drivers often or every time they drove, and of those drivers, 65% felt unsafe due to another driver’s road rage.

How to Spot Road Rage in Other Drivers

The first step to staying safe around road-raging drivers is knowing what to look for. Here are some warning signs of road rage in other drivers:


What to Do If You Are in a Road Rage Situation

First, stay calm. Freaking out will only make things worse. Try to let the aggressive driver pass or get around you, and don’t make eye contact. If you think that someone is following you, don’t pull over and don’t drive home. Getting out of the car might indicate to them that you are interested in a physical altercation. Your best bet is to try and get away from the aggressive driver without incident. In most situations, you should be able to move to another lane, take a turn, or let them pass and go on their way.


Road Rage Is Not Inevitable

We live in a high-stress time in a high-stress society. Driving anxiety is on the rise, and it seems like traffic gets worse all the time. But none of that means you are fated to be an angry or aggressive driver. Ultimately, road rage is a choice, and you can choose to use the strategies we’ve talked about to keep yourself calm on the road. Good luck out there, driver!