How Road Rage Works

Avoiding Road Rage

Robbie Crawford demonstrates his LED "Thanks," "Help!" and "Sorry" sign in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ian Cook, Time Life Pictures, Getty Images

Here's the bad news: Everyone makes mistakes, even you. No matter how skilled a driver you are, you're bound to make an error at some point that could seriously agitate another driver. Here's some news that's worse: Sometimes you don't even have to make a mistake to trigger someone else's road rage. Because a person experiencing road rage isn't rational, he might interpret a reaction as innocent as an increase in speed as an act of aggression.

Fortunately there's some good news to go along with the bad -- by keeping a level head and calm point of view, you can avoid most conflicts:


  • Don't show a physical reaction to an aggressive driver's behavior. In particular, you should avoid eye contact, as this is often seen as a sign of mutual aggression. Advice like this might give you the impression that drivers experiencing road rage are similar to aggressive animals in the wild. According to some psychologists, that might not be too far off.
  • It's very important to keep control of your own temper when someone is driving aggressively. Remember that many people don't view their own actions as aggressive. Surveys have shown that drivers often think of their own actions as assertive, but not aggressive. Try not to match another driver's behavior.
  • Don't use your car horn to express displeasure at other drivers -- doing so might make them more aggressive. It's extremely difficult to resist the urge to express yourself. Individual expression has deep roots in our culture, and to deny yourself that venue seems counterintuitive and unnatural. Try to keep in mind that there are more important factors than your displeasure. Remember that your safety, the safety of your vehicle and the safety of everyone around you is far more important than your sense of indignation.

Try to be kind and courteous to your fellow drivers. The best way to avoid road rage is to practice good driving habits. When you do encounter an aggressive driver, it's better to let him have his way, even when it feels unfair. It's easy to think of this as letting the bad guy win, but try to avoid that mentality. It's more important to think of driving as a group experience instead of a competition. Try to increase the distance between you and the aggressive driver. Remember that he is likely under just as much stress as you are -- he's just really bad at handling it.

In the next section, we'll look at ways to defuse your own road rage.