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Road Rage

What is road rage?

It's been a little over a decade since the term "road rage" entered California's vocabulary, but it still seems to be a problem all over the state's roads and highways. What is road rage, anyway? Well, everyone knows that driving can be a stressful activity at times, especially if your trip isn't going as smoothly as you'd like. Most people just deal with this stress and go on about their business, but some people snap and react with anger and aggression that's directed towards other motorists. The California Driver handbook defines road rage by stating that "Road rage happens when one driver reacts angrily to another driver." California road rage can take many forms, ranging from an extended middle finger and a loud stream of obscenities to actual physical violence. Other common examples of road rage-induced behavior can include tailgating another vehicle to intimidate the other driver for going too slow, following someone who's committed a traffic offense against you, cutting people off...the list goes on and on. The tie that binds all of these seemingly disparate acts together is that they are committed with the intent of punishing or getting revenge on another driver.


Incidents increasing

Incidents of road rage have been increasing since the 1990's, when the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found a 51% percent increase in road rage incidents from 1990 and 1996. There has been some dispute as to whether this dramatic increase was due solely to an increase in road rage incidents or whether increased reporting of these types of incidents might also have also played a role in the statistics. However, road rage soon became so much of a public concern that in 1997 Congressional hearings were held on the issue. Current statistics on California road rage are harder to find than you might think, given the amount of attention the media gives to the issue. However, California road rage is hard to track because it does encompass such a wide range of behaviors. Many of these behaviors, such as extreme speeding or tailgating, go unreported except when an officer is there to issue a ticket. Other road rage behaviors are tracked, but they are hidden away in other crime statistics such as assault and even murder. However, as the National Highway Traffic Safety administration notes in a review of the subject,


"If it seems that there are more cases of rude and outrageous behavior on the road now than in the past, the observation is correct, if for no other reason than there are more drivers driving more miles on the same roads than ever before" (


There have certainly been several high-profile cases of California road rage in recent years. For example, in July of 2007, according to Fox News, California Highway 138 had to be completely closed down due to road rage directed at construction workers. The road, which is near Wrightwood, California, was being widened due to an increase in population and vehicle traffic that had overwhelmed the highway's capacity. Naturally, this led to rush hour delays while the work was being done. The poor construction workers were shot with BB's, threatened, cursed at, and apparently in one incident even pelted with a burrito!


In a much more tragic case of California road rage, 25 year old Nathaniel Ward died after another motorist hit him in the head on May 29, 2008 in San Diego. One of the craziest aspects of this California road rage tragedy was that Ward was not even driving the vehicle that so enraged his fellow motorist-it was a cab, and he was just a passenger. The other driver was apparently upset over a near-traffic accident with the cab, and decided to take his anger out on the cab’s passengers.


California road rage is such an issue that it is even mentioned in the California Vehicle Code. Section 13210 states that anyone who commits a road rage assault on the driver or passenger of another vehicle, a pedestrian or a cyclist will lose their license for the next 6 months on a first offense. This is in addition to the criminal penalties imposed for the assault itself. If the driver is imprisoned as a result of the assault, the suspension does not start until after the jail sentence is over.


Which California city has the worst road rage? According to AutoVantage's 2008 Road Rage Survey, Los Angeles ranked #7 in the entire country for the number of rude drivers. On the plus side, San Francisco and San Diego were both in the top 10 cities with the most courteous drivers.


How to avoid confrontation

How can you avoid becoming a victim of California road rage? Although there is never an excuse for committing an act of violence against another human being, road rage is often provoked by a recognized set of behaviors. Avoiding these behaviors will help keep you safe on the road. Most road-rage inducing behaviors are either rude or dangerous, anyway, so you'll also reduce your likelihood of being in accident by avoiding them. According to the state Driver Handbook, here are the most common California road rage triggers:

  • Cutting other drivers off.
  • Driving at a snail's pace in the far left lane.
  • Gesturing. Didn't your mother ever tell you it's rude to point? Especially with your middle finger...
  • Using your horn with abandon. Save the noisemaker for emergencies!


Occasionally, however, even the best drivers make mistakes. If you've made another driver angry, do not make eye contact. They may think you are challenging them. Try to give the other car some space. Get in the right-hand lane and slow down. Road raging drivers are usually in a hurry, so if you slow down instead of speeding up they are much less likely to give chase. If you do think you are being followed, don't go home. Following another driver crosses the line from simple anger management issues and indicates more major psychological problems. You don't want to lead a crazy person to your front door, do you? Go to a public place, the more people the better. Then, call the police. Or, if you know where the nearest police station is, go there instead.


Cooler Heads Prevail

Do you have a problem with road rage? If you see yourself flying off the handle at other drivers, you need to learn how to keep your cool. Keeping a cooler head will greatly increase your odds of getting home without injuring yourself or anyone else. After all, a serious road rage incident can end in a wreck or even with you getting arrested-and wouldn't that be a much greater inconvenience than whatever petty traffic incident it was that ticked you off  to begin with? Here are some strategies to help you keep your cool even when the traffic around you isn't:

  • Take a deep breath and count to 10 before you do anything! Give yourself time to calm down and consider whether or not it's really worth it to "teach that other guy a lesson!" Think about losing your car, your license, and having to pay exorbitant insurance rates for the next three years. Think about how your family would have to get along without you if your aggressive driving leads to a fatal accident.
  • Remember that you don't get paid to punish another driver's infractions. That is what the police are there for. If you come across another driver who is driving dangerously, please don't try to fight fire with fire. A better form of revenge? Call the police to report California road rage or file a report with the California DMV if you really feel that the other person is driving unsafely.
  • If you find yourself experiencing frequent episodes of road rage, you may want to consider an anger management class or therapy. Not only is it dangerous for you to be driving angry, it's also bad for your physical and mental health to be angry all the time.
  • Take a defensive driving class, like the one we offer here at Driving University. It will help you recognize the importance of driving safely and teach you how to be a better driver. Even better, it could get you a discount on your car insurance! Our class is written to be easy to read and understand, and you can do the whole thing online from your home computer. For more information, click here.


How it begins and ends

California road rage usually starts in a crowded, congested traffic situation, like rush hour traffic. Whenever you have more than one vehicle on the road, there's the potential for one driver to offend the other and trigger road rage, but it's most common in heavy traffic because traffic jams make people frustrated and upset anyway. People are perpetually in a hurry these days, and it can seem like the world is out to get them when they are trying to get somewhere and are blocked by hundreds of other cars trying to do the same thing.

Then, whether it’s an accident or on purpose, one driver does something that makes another driver angry. The offended driver snaps, thinking "I've got to teach that other person a lesson!" The "wronged" driver can pursue revenge in a variety of different ways-gesturing, tailgating, running into the other car on purpose, or even through acts of physical violence such as assault. Sometimes California road rage ends with both drivers storming off to continue their day, all too often it ends in an avoidable car accident, and on the extreme end of the spectrum it can even end in murder.


Reporting Road Rage

Drivers have two different options for reporting California road rage. The easiest thing to do is simply to call the police if you see someone driving aggressively and creating a hazard. However, if you get the other person's tag number, you can also file a report with the California DMV using this form here. This form can also be used to report a friend or relative who is driving unsafely. Although it is primarily used to report elderly or incapacitated drivers, it can also be used to report someone who becomes violent or aggressive behind the wheel. It's important to report road rage to the California authorities so that it can be dealt with appropriately, before the aggressive driver causes an accident or worse.       


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