What Is Road Rage (and the Shocking Facts Behind It)

Posted on September 2, 2021

Road rage is, increasingly, a significant factor in fatal traffic accidents worldwide. Yet, there's a lot of misinformation about this danger. 

This article aims to clarify what road rage actually is. Unpack where road rage comes from, and learn when aggressive driving crosses a criminal line. 

Then, examine strategies to stay safe in road rage situations. Plus, learn anger de-escalation strategies. Road rage prevention could save your life.  We also recommend taking a look at our piece on how to avoid car accidents.  We believe that knowing how to steer clear of collisions can greatly improve your chances of never having to experience a road rage situation.

driver in a road rage incident
Alberta road rage incident - Photo by Britanny Bagnall

Example of Road Rage Incidents

Road rage is aggressive or violent, angry behaviour a person exhibits when driving. The term can also describe the heightened, intensely angry emotional state that leads to driver aggression. 

There are many types and sources of road rage. Here, headline-making road rage incidents serve as case studies for each type. 

Road Rager vs Pedestrian (2012)

In 2012, a Hamilton driver was charged after an act of road rage. He drove dangerously and assaulted a teenage pedestrian. 

The teenager made a rude gesture to the driver. The driver flew into a rage.

He drove over the curb, chased the teenager into a parking lot, and cornered him. Then, the driver left the car and attacked the teen physically. 

The law classifies this type of road rage as a violent crime. Psychologically, this road rage was an overreaction. This could be emotional dysregulation.

Alberta Road Rage Stalls Highway Traffic (2021)

In June 2021, drivers caught a road rage incident on video. In this incident, two drivers escalate aggressive attacks against each other. The violent altercation takes up multiple lanes. 

The fight culminates with one driver getting out of the vehicle with a bat. The other driver rams his truck into the first driver's car repeatedly.

Both drivers committed acts of violence. But, nobody actually got injured. So, Alberta RCMP charged both combatants with careless driving. 

Road Rage Shooting Kills Child (2021)

A California incident escalated from anger to deadly. In June 2021, a road rage incident started with a conflict over an unsafe lane change. One driver, a mom, gestured rudely in frustration. 

Then, Marcus Eriz and his girlfriend, Wynne Lee, retaliated. They drove behind the first car, pulled out a gun, and fired. The shooting killed a six-year-old boy in the back seat. 

Police charged Eriz with murder. The law labels murder during a road rage incident as a compound offence. Typically, this is murder and dangerous driving. 

Road Rage Statistics

Examining road rage statistics gives us clues about how to stop it.

Demographically, age and gender have the most impact on road rage statistics. In this 145 page study, graduate students from York University conducted a deep dive on the causes of road rage.  The detailed report outlines how everything from blood pressure, to traffic to car performance and traffic congestion can have an impact on our ability to operate a vehicle with a sound mind.  It also states that men aged 18-34 are the most likely to engage in road rage behaviours. 

But, it's not only men. Female Canadian drivers engage in reckless behaviour on the road. And, this happens more than it used to.

Now, women commit 20% of all dangerous driving acts. This is up from 8% in 1986. 

Gender may matter less than age. Younger drivers drive aggressively and dangerously more often. 51.4% of drivers aged 18-35 commit road rage acts. 

In contrast, 46.2% of drivers aged 35-54 engage in road rage. Only 30.3% of drivers 55 and older drive dangerously.

Road Rage on the Rise

In a recent national survey, 95% of Canadians admit to engaging in "road rage-like behaviour" at least occasionally. Around 33% of drivers in the same survey admit dealing with impulses to escalate to physical violence or scare tactics.

At the same time, 94% of Canadians label ourselves "courteous drivers." This discrepancy is a type of cognitive bias called "illusory superiority."

Unfortunately, without self-awareness, our road rage problems only get worse.  

In 2018, Ontario Provincial Police noted road rage incidents reached record numbers. 196 drivers were charged with dangerous driving that year.

Road rage assaults and collisions from dangerous driving killed 33 Ontarians in 2018. Incidents may still be increasing. 

One Canadian auto-insurance company found 54% of drivers consider fatigue and alcohol significant factors in dangerous driving incidents. Increased daily life stress escalates these factors.

Auto safety professionals note that Canadian suburbs have grown. But, traffic infrastructure has not. As a result, traffic is denser and more stressful than it used to be. 

Road Rage vs Other Violence

People who struggle with road rage the most also struggle with rage in general.

The aforementioned York University study also discovered that drivers who commit acts of road rage are 38% more likely to commit acts of domestic violence. Researchers suspect both acts stem from core personality traits.

These include impulsivity and clinical narcissism. A strong underlying drive toward vengeance is another factor.  

people with handcuff after a road rage incident

Is Road Rage A Crime? 

Road rage is a crime when intense emotions lead to aggressive actions. 

The intense experience of extreme anger is not, itself, a crime. Anger matters less than what you do with it. During road rage incidents, a person is likely to commit some of the following crimes:

  • Assault
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Criminal negligence
  • Dangerous driving
  • Uttering threats
  • Willful damage to property

Even less dangerous actions, like speeding or tailgating, can net you a ticket. Do that, and you could be labelled a high-risk driver. That's a surefire way to raise your auto insurance rates. 

Best Ways to Avoid Road Rage

There are ways to avoid road rage. There are also best practices in a situation where a driver targets their rage on you. 

If You Struggle with Road Rage...

Psychologists have studied road rage as a mental-health phenomenon. They have some professional recommendations. If you struggle with road rage, try some of these strategies.

1. Focus on Non-Aggressive, Physical Action

Rage, physically speaking, is a mix of hormones--including adrenaline. Unfortunately, when you're driving, there isn't much physical space to excise that adrenaline.

So, plan ahead. Use stress balls or other gear to channel stress into physical motion.

You can also try to take square breaths. This involves focusing on your breathing intentionally.

Exhale for four seconds. Hold your breath for four seconds. Inhale for four seconds, hold, then repeat. 

2. Try Meditation

Two types of meditation can alleviate rage. The first is mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation keeps you present. As you practice mindfulness, it becomes easier to go with the flow in stressful situations.

Mindfulness meditation can help you let go of the desire to control or seek power in a stressful situation. It lets you accept the present moment without judgement or expectation. 

The other type of meditation to try is called compassion meditation. This is one of the eight arms of meditation in classical yoga.

In this meditation style, you focus on a subject--usually a person or a place. You use your imagination to cultivate empathy for this person. 

Imagine the person you're angry at. Try to imagine their struggles. Imagine the people who love this person.

Then, imagine how you could act compassionately towards them. Fantasize about doing right by them. 

Interestingly, some people believe in the concept of catharsis. Catharsis is about "excising" socially inappropriate emotions. It is often used to justify revenge fantasies. 

But, studies have shown catharsis isn't effective. Revenge fantasies do not help people process anger. Instead, intentional "empathy fantasies" help people feel calmer in day-to-day life. 

3. Get To The Root of Your Anger (In Therapy)

For many people, anger, aggression, and violent behaviour have two causes. "Rage" behaviour is caused by deep hurt and indoctrination.

Indoctrination isn't always a process driven by a cult leader. Doctrine, in this case, is any belief that's maladaptive. That is, the belief leads to choices that harm a person socially or mentally. 

So, a person can be indoctrinated by their family, their peer group, media personalities, or cultural leaders. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you unpack those beliefs. 

Almost everyone experiences deep hurt and painful emotions. Often, avoiding this pain is more psychologically harmful than the pain itself.

good therapist can help you acknowledge your pain with self-compassion. Then, you can deal with it in a healthy way. 

4. Consider Medication

If you struggle with chronic anger, talk to a psychiatrist about medication. Sometimes, extreme anger stems from a treatable mental health disorder. 

Some people with ADHD experience extreme emotional dysregulation. Some psychiatrists call this Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). In this case, overwhelming anger can be treated with medications.

A psychiatrist can help you discover if a mental illness is causing your anger. Depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and other issues can cause emotional instability. Medication can help in these instances. 

If You're in a Road Rage Situation...

If you're in a road rage situation, the key in all cases is to try to de-escalate. Do not retaliate against someone's aggressive behaviour. Try these steps instead.

1. Focus on Safety

Most of the de-escalation is simply not returning what the driver did to you. If they make obscene gestures, don't make any back.

If they yell or honk, keep driving calmly. Don't even glare. Try to keep your expression neutral.

2. Give Them Space

Get physical distance between yourself and the road-rager. If they tailgate you, change lanes. If they want to pass you, let them.

Sometimes, there's no easy way to give space. If the situation heats up, do what you have to in order to move away. Pull over or pull off an exit if you need to.

3. Stay Behind the Road Rager

If you are behind the driver, you are at a much lower risk of injury. If you can, take note of the driver's license plate. 

In an instance where driving is truly dangerous, it may be wise to call the police. It is easier to pull over to make this call when the road rager is in front of you.

Stay Safe on the Road with Auto Insurance

You never know when you'll be the victim of road rage. Stay safer with comprehensive auto insurance.

Insurdiary lets you compare rates from all over the country. Get quotes and offers today.

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