The San Diego area has the honor of being on the top of many desirable top ten lists; however, one recent distinction does not fit that bill. According to the Auto Insurance Center, which analyzed over 65,500 posts on Instagram with the hashtag “RoadRage” from June 2013 to April 2016, San Diego rated #5 in number of posts with that hashtag. Three other California cities also made the top ten: Los Angeles #1; San Francisco #6; and Anaheim #7.
So what exactly is road rage? Although the phenomenon of road rage is not new, it wasn’t until 1987 that the term was coined to describe a rash of incidents in the Los Angeles area. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), road rage is subtly different from aggressive driving: aggressive driving violates traffic laws, whereas road rage involves more serious criminal actions that knowingly endanger other drivers and passengers. Running a red light to make an appointment is aggressive driving — running that light to follow a car you think cut you off is road rage.
The NHTSA defines aggressive driving as the behavior of an individual who “commits a combination of moving traffic offences so as to endanger other persons or property.” Road rage, on the other hand, is defined as when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property; an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle on the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle caused by an incident that occurred on a roadway.” The important distinction between the two is the escalation from a traffic offense to a criminal offense. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety places aggressive tailgating, headlight flashing, and deliberately blocking other cars among the most frequent expressions of road rage.
Unfortunately, road rage can escalate rapidly to physical assaults, which often make the news, especially when captured on video. Last week, an El Cajon man was arrested (and charged with assault with a deadly weapon) for using a golf club to break the windshield of a pregnant woman he claimed cut him off. Last month, a 39-year-old Minneapolis woman was shot four times after she honked at a Jeep that cut her off. In November, a New Mexico man shot at another driver who had criticized his unsafe driving, killing the other driver’s four-year-old daughter. Obviously, all of these incidents, and their ensuing tragedies, could have been avoided.
The primary reasons to avoid road rage are safety and common courtesy and decency. Not risking legal issues, such as loss of license, fines and incarceration, also should be motivating factors. (California is the only state where road rage is classed as a felony assault, punishable by up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine.) Also of consideration is subsequent consequences, including having a negative record that will follow you long after the fact. And, of course, it can affect your auto insurance. If you are involved in a road rage accident, you may not receive full payout for your car’s damages and most insurers restrict coverage for deliberate or reckless acts such as road rage. It’s good to remember, there are many ramifications from one preventable act.
So how can you prevent road rage? In addition to the obvious – don’t challenge or retaliate, don’t take the actions of others personally, allow plenty of travel time, avoid extremes (driving too fast/too slowly), etc., here are a few additional proactive suggestions:
- Give yourself some maneuvering space. People tend to drive bumper-to-bumper in heavy traffic, but giving yourself some wiggle room increases your options if confronted by an aggressive driver.
- Relax your grip on the steering wheel when stressed. This will decrease your likelihood of getting a tension headache, which exacerbates the situation.
- Turn on some tunes. Listening to music can help keep you calm.
- Pay attention. Distractions while driving lead to mistakes, which can provoke aggressive responses.
- Keep in mind high-peak road rage times. According to the study, 6 pm is the worst time, Friday is the worst day and August is the worst month! (Forewarned is forearmed!)
If avoiding road rage is on your top ten list – staying calm, collected and courteous can diffuse most volatile situations. However, if you become concerned about an aggressive driver and/or feel threatened, immediately report the situation to law enforcement.