Aggressive Drivers: How to Handle Them

Noble McIntyre on October 13, 2015


What is an aggressive driver? Chances are you know one if you see one, but it’s kind of hard to explain what, exactly, that means. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines an aggressive driver as being when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” That’s still kind of vague, but in essence, aggressive driving happens when a motorist behaves in a way that is dangerous because of anger, speed or another factor that causes impatience behind the wheel.

Aggressive driving can lead to “road rage”, which is when aggression or anger on the road becomes violent. Here are some behaviors that you might not think are aggressive driving, but they might cause you to become a victim of road rage because they anger other drivers:

Lane blocking. If you’re in the far left lane, you should yield to the right if a vehicle wants to pass you or is moving faster than you are. If you can tell that someone approaching from behind wants to pass, let him.

Tailgating. “Tailgating” is when a driver follows too closely behind another vehicle. Always keep a safe distance behind the car in front of you, regardless of how slowly its moving. Tailgating is one of the most common causes of road rage.

Signaling. Always signal when turning or switching lanes. Also, don’t cut off other drivers who are already in the lane into which you’re about to move.

Gestures. There are several reported road rage incidents where a driver has been shot, stabbed or beaten because of a gesture like the “middle finger” given to another motorist. It might be tempting to make an obscene or angry gesture if someone does something you don’t like, but try to take the high road (no pun intended) and avoid responding.

Horn-blowing. If you’re behind a car at a traffic light and the car doesn’t move the instant the light turns green, be patient. That goes for horn-blowing in other circumstances, too. You have no idea what’s going on in someone’s head or what kind of day she’s having. If that driver is on edge for some other reason, feeling like a horn is being blown at her could set off aggression, or even rage.

Eye contact. If you sense that another driver is becoming aggressive, avoid eye contact. If you make eye contact once an angry situation has already begun, it could be seen as a challenge. Try to just move on, get out of the way and go about your business. The best thing you can do is put as much space as possible between yourself and the other driver.

High beams. High beams (also called “brights”) should not be used when there is oncoming traffic. If there is a car headed your direction with its high beams on, let it go by. Flashing your own high beams at an oncoming car does nothing, except perhaps make the driver angry. Likewise, don’t flash your lights or high beams at a vehicle in front of you in order to get that person to move so that you can pass.

How to handle an aggressive driver

What if you believe you’ve done nothing wrong, but you encounter a driver who is aggressive towards you? How do you diffuse the situation so that no one gets hurt? Of course, the best way to avoid an aggressive driving or road rage situation would be to avoid conflict. Assume that if another driver does something you don’t like, that it’s not directed toward you, personally. However, if you do find yourself in a situation where you feel threatened by another driver, here are some suggestions for how to stay safe:

  • Avoid escalation by trying to keep going and move away from the other driver. Even if it means turning onto another street or going slightly out of your way, do it. You can always get back on course, but let the other driver continue without getting in the way.
  • Avoid eye contact and don’t display anger towards the driver or his/her passengers.
  • Forgive. This might sound strange, but it’s possible that the other driver is just having a bad day. His or her actions might have nothing to do with you, but he or she is angry about something at work, at home, or elsewhere and is channeling that anger on the road. It’s not right, but it happens. Instead of feeling vindictive, or like you have to get the “last word”, try to move on and let it go whenever possible.
  • Stay in your car. Your car gives you protection. Once you get out, you’re escalating a conflict, and you’re exposing yourself to a situation where you don’t yet know what you’re dealing with. If the other driver has a weapon, you could be opening yourself up to bodily harm, or even death.
  • Don’t go home. If you believe that an angry driver is following you, don’t let that person know where you live. Instead, drive to a crowded, public place. If you can find a shopping mall or other place with lots of people (in other words, witnesses), you’re more likely to get the help you need and be less likely to be injured.
  • Call 911. If you cannot pull over to safety, or if there’s not a public place with lots of people, call 911. Tell the dispatcher exactly where you are and what is happening, and why you feel like you’re in danger, and the dispatcher will tell you what to do.

Common courtesy goes a long way to avoid aggressive driving

Remember, there are things that you might be doing behind the wheel that you don’t mean to be aggressive, but another driver could perceive them that way. That’s why you want to give other drivers the benefit of the doubt, just as you would want them to do for you.

Common courtesy cannot be understated. People think that being in a car gives them a degree of anonymity — they think that they can do things and react in ways that they probably never would in another situation. You probably would not make an obscene gesture at someone in the supermarket for taking the last carton of milk, right? But, you might make that kind of gesture at another driver for cutting you off in traffic. What’s the difference? Driving can be stressful, so the best thing that you can do is to try to be considerate of those around you. That will go a long way in making the roads safer for everyone. Everyone just wants to get to his or her destination safely and quickly. You never know who is behind the wheel of another car, or what that person has already experienced that day. Make it easy on him, and it will be easier for you. Stay safe out there.

Noble McIntyre

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law who focuses primarily on drug litigation and catastrophic injury cases. He is currently representing clients injured by the drugs Paxil, Levaquin and testosterone therapy drugs and by clients affected by oil field injuries. His goal has and continues to be to work diligently on behalf of his clients to achieve the highest and best result for his clients’ injuries while maintaining professionalism and abiding by all ethical standards of his profession. Read more about Noble McIntyre.

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