How To Control Road Rage

Red man symbol highlighted on traffic light

Busy streets, honking horns and bad behaviour—driving on the UK's roads can be a stressful experience! Getting yourself from point A to point B by car is not always plain sailing, and in some cases your emotions may get the better of you.

When people annoy you on the road, it's very easy to lose your cool from the comfort of your own car. The problem is, while road rage is often the tempting response to a particularly bad driving scenario, it isn't good for you or the person you're aiming it at.

So, to help you keep a lid on your frustrations and swerve car-based confrontations, we've devised a guide to help you control road rage. From how to manage your own feelings, to tips on avoiding the wrath of other drivers, we have you covered!

What is road rage?

Traffic cone

On a very basic level, road rage is a bad action combined with a bad response that takes place on the road. It can present itself in many forms and cases range from mild to severe. A throwaway angry comment from behind the wheel, for example, can be considered a form of road rage. As can getting out of your car and hitting another driver in the face. See what we mean?

One of the tricky things about road rage is that, while it's a fairly common issue, it isn't mentioned in the highway code or considered a specific crime. This means it's hard to categorise and control. Angry drivers are something we need to be concerned about, though—especially considering that Britain has one of the highest rates of road rage in the world!

What causes road rage?

Three lanes of cars in a traffic jam facing bridge
Image source: lorenz.markus97

The truth is that a number of different factors contribute to road rage, which is what makes it such a tricky thing to tame. It could stem from your own mistakes, the bad driving of others, or annoying circumstances that are out of your control. Add to that the loud noises and potentially stuffy environment on the road, and you have the perfect cocktail for a stressful drive!

While your vehicle can often feel like a comfortable, secure little bubble, sitting in a car isn't necessarily conducive to calm. You're constricted in terms of where you can move and when, there's a level of uncertainty about what's happening around you and during busy periods you may find yourself rendered completely immobile. When a situation starts to go south, therefore, it's very easy to feel like a caged animal!

One of the most common factors people cite as a cause for road rage is fellow road users. Most of us like to think of ourselves as good drivers, so there's nothing worse than being forced to share the road with those who don't take the rules seriously. They don't indicate, they cut you off, they join a new road or lane without making the correct observations—the list goes on!

How does road rage present itself?

Man sat in dirty car waving hand in annoyed manner
Image source: Jon Collier

Road rage usually presents itself as anger expressed in various forms. Depending on the severity of the situation, this could be someone shouting from inside their car, aggressively beeping their horn, or driving closely behind another road user in a menacing manner.

The pattern you'll often see when road rage takes over is initial impatience, followed by aggressive behaviour, resulting in selfish driving. Whether you're experiencing road rage yourself, or happen to be the cause of someone else's, it affects the safety and well-being of everyone on the road.

Potential consequences of road rage

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Image source: Arisa Chattasa

The reason road rage is a big deal is that it often goes hand in hand with bad driving. You might start out being triggered by someone else's questionable choices, and then become the problem driver yourself. It's a vicious cycle!

A poll of AA members, for example, revealed that tailgating is considered the most irritating habit of other drivers. It is very tempting, when faced with this behaviour, to slow down even more to prove your point. The problem is, not only is this likely to prompt rage from the tailgater, it can cause problems for other drivers. (Remember, driving too slowly can be just as dangerous as driving too quickly!) You then become the problem, and a potential source of other drivers' road rage.

Even minor road rage puts your safety at risk. When you're angry, you lose focus on the task at hand (driving). Replaying something that just happened in your head and stewing over it will only distract you from what's continuing to unfold on the road. If something does get you really riled up, we advise that you find a safe place to pull over and give yourself time to cool off before continuing your journey.

When it comes to major road rage, the potential consequences are extremely serious. You might feel safe in your car, but you're certainly not indestructible! It can feel like nothing to swear or honk your horn at another driver, but you really don't know who could be sat behind the wheel. Severe cases of road rage have escalated into incidents of physical assault. So, if you don't fancy ending up in the hospital or police station, think before you act!

How to control your road rage

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Attitudes

To prevent road rage before it's even begun, you should have a realistic attitude about driving. After all, perspective has a huge impact on how you deal with potentially stressful situations.

Before setting off on a car journey, acknowledge that delays and bad drivers may crop up. You have no control over this, so there's really no point in getting worked up about it. Navigating the road isn't always fun or easy, but your car is often the most convenient mode of transport, so just get on with it!

When things do go wrong, try your best to rise above and move on. Everybody makes mistakes! Thinking the worst of other drivers will only increase your frustrations. Focus on the present, rather than something irritating someone did 2 minutes ago. If you find yourself unable to let it go, try to apply a positive spin on things. Maybe that person who dangerously overtook you just found out a loved one is in the hospital and is rushing to see them. Sure, it's probably not the case, but if it helps you feel empathy rather than anger in the moment, who cares?

At the end of the day, it's very unlikely that you'll be stuck around the same drivers for your entire journey. Once you're at your destination, you'll probably have forgotten all about them, so don't let them ruin your day right now!

Techniques

Close up of hands-free mobile device located to right of steering wheel
Image source: Humberto Arellano

Beyond a positive attitude, there are actual techniques you can put into practice that should help you control road rage. When you do something wrong on the road that impacts other drivers, for example, be the bigger person and apologise with a wave of your hand. Before kicking off, other drivers will often wait to see if someone acknowledges their mistake. It's a simple gesture that could save you a lot of hassle.

Although you can't control what happens on the road, you can control what's happening inside the car. A frustrating journey can be made all the more bearable if your car is at least a nice place to be. Fill it with calming smells and upbeat music or the latest episode of your favourite podcast. That way, even if you're stuck in traffic, you can enjoy a singalong or work your brain a little. Winner!

Pro tip: When using your smartphone to listen to music or a podcast in the car, make sure you're following the rules of the road. You must use a hands-free set and you cannot touch your device while the engine is running. Avoid getting into trouble by having everything set up before you leave.

If it's possible, don't drive when you're in a crappy mood. We're all guilty of being grouchy when we're hungry or tired, but there's no need to take it out on others! If you overdo it with the driving, you'll only end up resenting it. We love travelling by car, but it doesn't need to be your go-to way of getting to places. Save the planet and your patience by walking or taking public transport every so often.

And, if you do have to drive when you're not feeling particularly forgiving, at least try to remember that your horn is there to alert fellow road users to your presence in hazardous situations. It's not there for you to sound your frustration at other people!

Know your stressors

Road barrier

Suffered from road rage in the past? Treat it as a learning experience! Identify what really hacks you off when driving and be prepared to deal with it if and when it arises.

If people driving too slowly really gets your goat, for instance, the next time you're stuck behind a real slow coach, practice that positive mindset. Look out for a safe opportunity to overtake them, but, in the meantime, try to appreciate that they may just be nervous or lost. Annoying? Yes. Completely unforgivable? Of course not. Whatever the root cause, honking your horn or tailgating them will only ruin their day and yours.

Maybe you get antsy when driving because you feel like you're always pushed for time. If this is the case, you should probably start setting off for things earlier. Leaving yourself plenty of time to get to places means it's not as big of a deal when you're faced with delays. As a result, there's no need to get worked up!

How to deal with other people's road rage

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Even if you manage to control your own road rage, you may still have to deal with it from other drivers. Below we've listed a few common scenarios and responses that should prevent the situation from escalating.

  • Another driver is shouting, beeping or swearing at you. Avoid eye contact and try to ignore them so you can focus on the road. This isn't cowardly—you're just choosing to be the bigger person.
  • The car behind is tailgating you and urging you to drive faster. Stick to the speed limit or whatever is safe given the conditions on the road. At the next opportunity let them overtake you. That way they can become someone else's problem!
  • Someone's road rage is out of control and they are becoming increasingly aggressive. If things turn nasty, stay in your car and lock the doors. Drive extremely carefully and wait to see if the other driver eventually takes a different route. If you feel like you are in immediate danger, pull over, turn off your engine and call the police.
  • You are frequently on the receiving end of other people's road rage. It might be time to take a look at your own driving. Do you follow the highway code and make decisions in plenty of time? If you're unsure, revisit the material you had to study for the theory test.

Hit the brakes on road rage!

You might think of road rage as a natural response to the daily frustrations of driving, but it's actually a serious problem in this country. From minor stresses to major crime incidents, none of the outcomes of road rage are positive. It has the power to not only ruin your day but maybe even ruin your life. So, rethink how you respond to mishaps on the road.

We all like a little moan from the comfort of our own car, but don't let it get out of control. Keep a lid on road rage and you'll be helping to keep the UK's roads safe!