Controlling Road Rage

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Road rage is a term that has become popular to describe angry, hostile reactions when driving that are directed toward other drivers. Ranging from acts of true violence (such as using the automobile as a weapon or physically assaulting another driver) to aggressive tailgating and gesturing, road rage is on the rise all over the world.

Experts agree that crowding of roads and highways is one reason people resort to road rage. The construction of new roads has not kept pace with the number of cars, leaving today's drivers feeling more cramped than ever. The territorial nature of humans - to react defensively when we feel that our spaces have been invaded - certainly also plays a role. Finally, the anonymity and security of having a ton of steel between us and the outside world can embolden even the usually timid driver and remove the inhibitions one might normally feel about aggressive or inappropriate behavior.

Both victims and perpetrators of road rage are most likely to be young males, but road rage occurs across all ages and genders. It is most common in urban areas where overcrowding of roadways is greatest. Up to 90% of people report having been the victim of an aggressive act by another driver, and over half admit to having acted aggressively themselves.

If you are overcome with anger while driving, try to remain calm and regain control over your emotions. The following tips can help tame anger on the roadways:

  1. Remember that safety is your number one concern.
  2. To control an angry, adrenaline-driven response, focus on your breathing. Pay attention to each breath as it goes in and out and maintain a normal breathing rhythm.
  3. Recognize that an aggressive driver is just unleashing his or her anger on the rest of the world and not at you specifically. Don't personalize the incident.
  4. Keep in mind that, unless you are a police officer, it isn't your job to punish others for poor driving.
  5. Accept the fact that mistakes occur. We all make them, and maybe what you perceived as an aggressive act was a simple mistake.
  6. Refuse to allow another driver - someone you do not know and will probably never see again - to dictate your mood and determine the quality of your day.
  7. If you feel out of control, find a safe place to pull over, stop and unwind.

An angry or stressed-out driver is a potentially dangerous driver.


The California Department of Motor Vehicles Driver Handbook has the following suggestions for avoiding road rage situations.

  • Don't cut off other drivers.
  • Don't drive slowly in the left (fast) lane.
  • Don't tailgate.
  • Don't make gestures to other drivers.
  • Use your horn for emergencies only.

You can protect yourself from becoming involved in a potentially violent incident by following some basic tips:

  • Avoiding eye contact with an angry driver.
  • Giving an angry driver plenty of space.

Reference: California Department of Motor Vehicles (www.dmv.ca.gov)


Last Editorial Review: 5/22/2006




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