What is road rage?
Road rage is an aggressive reaction to other drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists. Types and examples of road rage include verbal insults, rude gestures, honking your horn, reckless driving, fights or dangerous confrontations. It's important to understand how to stop road rage — if you lose control and act aggressively toward other drivers, you may create a situation that could cause harm to yourself and others.
What causes road rage?
Road rage might be triggered by the actions of others or by your own stress, provoking you to lash out in anger. Some triggers for drivers include lack of sleep, traffic jams, and being late. Distracted drivers, someone cutting you off, inexperienced drivers, or someone honking their horn may also cause you to experience frustration on the road.
The two phases of road rage prevention
The tools for how to control road rage fall into two groups: out-of-traffic strategies and in-traffic strategies. Out-of-traffic strategies are habits and planning that make it less likely to encounter stress on the road. Emotional control exercises can help you stay calm under pressure. In-traffic strategies are techniques that help you regain calm and avoid escalation when someone angers you on the road.
It's important to know how to avoid road rage because it's often a vicious circle: an aggressive driver angers you, and you drive more aggressively, angering someone else. Even worse, you could escalate a situation with a driver who angered you, who then responds in kind. As the situation worsens, so does the danger for the drivers involved and for others on the road.
Out-of-traffic strategies: How to prevent road rage
Stifling anger in the moment is often difficult, so the best way to prevent road rage is to practice techniques and strategies that can help you avoid road rage situations in the first place. Out-of-traffic strategies include:
- Plan your day: Try to structure your day so that you have plenty of time to get where you're going. The more rushed you are, the more likely the drive will feel stressful, leading to road rage.
- Choose your route: Taking a less crowded route — even if it's longer — can keep you calm and make it easier to manage your feelings.
- Get enough sleep: Research shows that lack of sleep makes us more emotionally reactive, so it's important to get enough rest — especially before a particularly long or stressful drive.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation: We can train ourselves to interrupt negative thought patterns and better regulate our emotions — but it takes practice. Developing a mindfulness or meditation practice can prepare you for stressful situations and make it easier to control your emotions when you're provoked.
- Sit with good posture: A stooped body posture can activate negative moods and make it harder to recover from negative feelings. We often drive hunched forward. Sitting in that position can make us more likely to get angry and make it harder to calm down. Before you hit the road — and periodically while you're driving — check to make sure you're sitting in a comfortable, relaxed position with good posture.
In-traffic strategies: How to handle road rage
Even with the best planning and good habits, road rage can still happen. When you do get angry on the road, the following techniques can help calm you down before the situation gets out of hand.
- Interrupt negative thoughts: When you start to get mad at another driver for something they've done, try to remind yourself that it's probably not personal, and you don't know what the other driver is dealing with. For instance, if someone cuts you off, they might be rushing to the hospital. A slow driver might be lost or just learning to drive.
- Practice calming breathing: The way you breathe can help you calm down. When our fight-or-flight system activates, we tend to take fast, shallow breaths from our chest. In contrast, diaphragmatic breathing — deep breathing where your belly inflates — is calming. Taking a few deep belly breaths can lower your heart rate and calm you down. Studies show it can even reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body, promoting relaxation.
- Check for tension in your body: The body tenses up under stress. Do a quick check to see if you're gritting your teeth, gripping the steering wheel too tight, or holding other tension. If you are, try to relax those muscles. Letting go of tension makes it easier to calm down.
- Lay off the horn: Your car's horn is a signal for alerting others to your presence, not a tool for chastising other drivers. Excessive honking because someone angered you can cause the other driver to get angry, too, making the situation worse.
What can happen if I don't learn how to get over road rage?
Rage driving can lead to consequences like being cited by the police, getting arrested for reckless driving, getting your license suspended, and possibly even injuring or killing someone else if you cause an accident.
What to do when these techniques fail: Avoiding an emergency
Occasionally, road rage can escalate into a physical confrontation or other dangerous behaviors that put lives at risk. If you feel yourself getting angry and can't calm down, pull over as soon as it's safe to do so and count to ten. Taking yourself out of the situation can give you a break and let the offending driver move on.
If, on the other hand, you're being targeted by an enraged driver and you feel unsafe, consider calling 911 — especially if you're being attacked, harassed, or followed. Don't drive home. You don't want the violent driver to know where you live. Instead, drive to a police station or a busy public place like a rest stop, gas station, or crowded parking lot where witnesses are present.