What is aggressive driving?

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration's (NHTSA's) definition of aggressive driving is "a combination of moving traffic offenses to endanger other persons or property." Put more simply, aggressive driving is engaging in risky behavior that ignores the safety of others. It can occur at any speed and isn't necessarily a habitual action. For instance, someone can become an aggressive driver in a moment of stress or when they're in a hurry.

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What are examples of aggressive driving?

A broader, more practical definition can include behaviors that aim to provoke other drivers, like honking the horn excessively, flashing headlights at drivers traveling too slowly, or anything that might create tension or fear on the road.

Intent and awareness are important components of aggressive driving. For example, a driver who runs a stop sign because they aren't paying attention is negligent but not aggressive. But changing lanes while honking is aggressive, even if traveling at a normal speed. Context matters, too. Speeding is risky and illegal all the time but could be considered aggressive driving in heavy traffic.

The list of behaviors that meet the NHTSA's definition of aggressive driving includes:

  • Speeding
  • Dodging in and out of traffic
  • Passing on the right
  • Running stop signs or red lights
  • Tailgating
  • Cutting other drivers off or ignoring the right of way

What is the root of aggressive driving?

Understanding the causes of aggressive driving is important because it's often a precursor to road rage, which is even more dangerous. Experts say there are both internal and external causes of aggressive driving.

External factors

External factors include running late and heavy traffic or traffic delays, which are cited as some of the most common motivations for aggressive driving. When drivers are behind schedule, they often respond by speeding, which can cause other aggressive driving behaviors like tailgating.

Internal factors

Internal factors, on the other hand, are less concrete. They include personal habits and a sense of disregard both for others and for the law. A driver's sense of anonymity plays a big role in aggressive driving, too. If you never have to see another driver again, you might feel like your actions don't have consequences if you drive aggressively.

Tips for avoiding aggressive driving

Strategies for avoiding aggressive driving are like those for avoiding road rage, which is often the result of a cycle of aggressive driving behaviors. External risk factors like traffic delays and lateness can easily be avoided by planning ahead and leaving yourself plenty of time. Internal factors like a general disregard for others may be more difficult to resolve. People with this attitude might not realize or be willing to admit that their behavior is a problem.

If you've identified yourself as an aggressive driver and want to improve, a defensive driving course might help reset your driving habits. Learning to control your emotions can be helpful too. When you have an impulse to make an aggressive driving maneuver, remind yourself that others can see you and may be someone from your community or workplace.

Finally, even if you aren't an aggressive driver, you're bound to encounter one on the road. Safe, careful driving is often a trigger for aggressive driving in those who are impatient, stressed, or unconcerned with the well-being of others.

In these cases, don't respond to aggressive driving by trying to punish the offender (such as by blocking the lane they're trying to jump into). Instead, get out of the way and let them pass. Don't engage or make eye contact. The faster you get them out of your personal space, the safer you'll be. Reacting badly to aggressive driving usually creates more problems rather than resolving them.

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