The lane to the left is moving faster. The car ahead is driving too slow, the car behind, too fast. The driver to the right is texting.
Any driver can tell you stories about the perils of the road. The problem is, though, that while most people can handle these hazards with a little music, or maybe a fist pounding on the steering wheel, some let their anxieties take control of their actions.
The term road rage, first surfacing as an issue in the late 1980s because of increased roadway congestion, was a term originally used to describe driver behavior, incited by unsatisfactory driving conditions, that led to injury or death of another driver. The term has since gained a widened definition to include all aggressive driving behavior. Such behavior includes, but is not limited to rude gestures or insults, intentionally unsafe driving or threats of any kind toward other drivers or pedestrians.
According to the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA), incidents of such aggressive driving in the U.S. rose from 1,129 in 1990 to over 1,700 in 1995.
A national survey performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found in 1999 that “60 percent of motorists believe that unsafe driving by others is a major personal threat to them and their families.”
AAA extended their studies of road rage in 2009, finding that while 78 percent of their respondents claimed that aggressive drivers were a serious threat to safety, many of the same people were guilty of the very habits they found threatening.
Almost half of those same respondents reported to have driven more than 15 mph over the speed limit in the past 30 days. Other behavior that they perceived as dangerous was also admitted: 58 percent sped up to beat a yellow light, 41 percent honked at other drivers, 26 percent pressured other drivers to increase their speed, 22 percent tailgated and six percent deliberately ran red lights.
Apparently threatening driving behavior is only a problem if “someone else” is doing it.
Regardless of where the fault lies, though, the problem persists. The same report by AAA, using data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, found that 55.7 percent of the 192,069 fatal crashes between 2003 and 2007 were caused by at least one “potentially-aggressive action” included in the scope of road rage.
The prevalence of road rage behavior, exhibited by the very people that only begrudgingly accept similar behavior from others is a clear example of the hypocrisy we live with every day in our commute. Why would we, as drivers, act out against others who are no guiltier than we are?
NHTSA studies in 2000 point to six factors: Traffic delays, anonymity, running late, disregard for others, disregard for the law and habitual or clinical behavior.
In addition to these factors, this peculiar retaliation-style behavior may stem from the fact that what may be perceived as unsafe driving by one motorist, may be considered perfectly normal and safe to another. We all took the same driving test, yet we each have different socially derived definitions of acceptable behavior on the road.
The NHTSA offers several e-pamphlets at www.nhtsa.gov/aggressive to help identify and combat aggressive driving commonly known as road rage. While not everyone will agree on whether or not a specific driving action should be considered aggressive, or part of road rage, the facts don’t lie. Aggressive driving kills people.
By Jeff Jacobsen – Online Content Manager
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