In the past (almost) ten years that I have been writing for 10-4 Magazine, I’ve seen plenty of surveys and reports about aggressive driving and road rage. I recently came across this older report which was, in my opinion, the single best study on road rage ever put together. Still to this day, there has never been anything done that was as extensive or as believable.
Way back in 1997, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (yes, they are affiliated with AAA Motor Club) released the results of a study called Aggressive Driving: Three Studies. The first part was conducted for the Foundation by Mizell & Co. International Security, a Bethesda, Maryland-based firm which specializes in tracking crime and terrorism trends. Most of the firm’s research work is done for law enforcement and national security agencies.
Mizell & Co. has a database of newspaper articles and police reports on all kinds of crimes dating back to January of 1990. From that date through 1996, they compiled every “violent aggressive driver” report in their database (10,037 incidents) where someone intentionally caused harm to a person or property in a moment of rage. They did not included any incident where damage or injury was done as the result of a simple accident, drunk driving, or even violent crimes – so keep in mind, this report focuses only on incidents where a person lost their temper and used hands, feet, a car, a gun, or any weapon at hand against another person or property – on purpose. Most of us call it road rage, but for the purpose of this study, it’s called violent aggressive driving.
There are a lot of statistics on this subject of violent aggressive driving, and most show an increase in road rage incidents, as does this one. Each year, these violent acts reportedly increase by an average of about 7% annually. And they happen everywhere, not just in urban areas. This AAA study is the only one that I know of that analyzed actual police reports, and gives the actual reason for the rage, according to the culprits themselves. They didn’t number them by order of frequency, but they listed the so-called excuses people tried to use that had at least twenty-five incidents which resulted in death or injury.
And, here they are: It was an argument over a parking space; He cut me off; She wouldn’t let me pass; He hit my car, so I shot him to death; Nobody gives me the finger; He was playing the radio too loud, so I shot him; He kept honking and honking his horn; She was driving too slowly; He wouldn’t turn off his high beams; They kept tailgating me; I would have never shot him if he hadn’t rear-ended me; He practically ran me off the road – what was I supposed to do; We was dissed (often used by teenagers who murdered a passenger in another vehicle). Those are the dumbest “excuses” I have ever heard!
When it comes to weapons of choice, according to this study, the most common weapon used is a firearm (37%), or a car (35%). But just about every conceivable weapon has been used including fists and feet, tire irons and jack handles, baseball bats, knives, bayonets, ice picks and swords, beer and booze bottles, canes, wrenches, hatchets and golf clubs (to name a few). However, it bears mentioning that in other studies I’ve seen, a car is usually the weapon of choice. But this time it came in second.
The report also made mention that most of the people who used a firearm were normal, law-abiding people who carried it (a weapon) just for protection, and would have likely never used it if they didn’t feel provoked somehow. Among those who made the list is actor Jack Nicholson. He thought another driver had cut him off and retaliated by stepping out of his car at a red light, grabbing a golf club, and striking the windshield and roof of the offender’s vehicle.
I know most of you must be thinking there are some crazy people out there. And yes, I’d have to agree. But I also think we are all a little crazy sometimes. And anybody can be pushed over the edge. We all draw a line somewhere in the proverbial sand, that, when someone crosses it, we fight. The problem is, when we drive, we become our vehicle. I think of the old adage, fight or flight. In normal life situations, when confronted in one way or another, we all have the standard “fight or flight” reaction to danger. But, given the power and protection of 3,500 pounds of steel around us, anyone can become a fighter.
The report also had some good advice on how to avoid road rage incidents. “Don’t cut off other drivers” was listed as the number one thing to remember. Being cut off seems to irritate drivers more than anything else. And, speaking from personal experience, I know it is the number one thing that irritates truckers, too.
Well, here are some other helpful bits of advice to avoid a road rage incident:
Don’t change lanes without signaling, and if you do, wave a quick “thank you” to the other person. Also, don’t block the passing lane, stay to the right. Don’t tailgate – dozens of deadly road rage incidents started with a tailgater. Don’t tell them they are number one with an obscene gesture – this silly little act has got many people shot, stabbed or beaten. Use your horn sparingly – scores of shootings began with a driver honking. Don’t allow your door to strike a parked car – dings can enrage some people out there. Don’t use your high beams to punish other drivers. Don’t let your mobile phone distract you – drivers hate fender-benders with motorists who were talking on the phone.
Learn to stay calm while driving and avoid confrontations. If you sense a motorist getting angry, avoid eye contact, turn the corner, or slow down and let them go ahead. You never know what’s on a person’s mind – they might even be a firefighter or a doctor on their way to an emergency. Give aggressive drivers a wide berth, just in case. Check out Big City Driver for more road rage stories and City Driving safety articles.