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We often hear about road rage through media reports. One incident I read about involved a young child, shot to death while sitting next to her father. A person in another vehicle was apparently upset with her father’s driving. There had been no crash and nobody was hurt, but the shooter felt the need to fire his gun at the other vehicle, killing the young girl. Of course, the perpetrator fled the scene, but thankfully, they were later caught by police.
I have spent many hours speaking with and to law enforcement over the years. My own street driving experience has involved cars and motorcycles for more than 4 decades. Road rage is an issue in the US and sadly, all reports indicate things are getting worse. I want to share some thoughts to help you and your teen navigate this problem. While this advice is definitely something to share with your new driver, it really applies to ALL drivers. This is for anyone who’s ever encountered a road rage scenario.
“It takes two to tango” is an expression I learned a long time ago. It wasn’t because I had an interest in learning to dance, but because I heard the words from my mother. She would use them when explaining the problem I had with my friend had probably been fueled by both sides, and I was not blameless. This simple logic applies to most cases of road rage.
Most road rage incidents are NOT initiated by actual crashes, they usually start when one driver unnecessarily forces another driver to brake, evade or wait. Here are some traffic scenarios that may “trigger” road rage incidents: A vehicle pulling in front of another vehicle, a distracted driver holding up traffic at a green light, a distracted driver’s vehicle almost hitting you as they drift into your lane, pedestrian and cyclist/car driver issues, a driver suddenly slowing down with no signal to make a turn stopping for no apparent reason. There are so many more. I call these primary catalyst events.
Nobody is hurt, there has been no crash, but one driver had to respond in some way to another driver’s action (primary catalyst event). It is the response from the initially affected driver that starts the road rage incident.
Looking at this in isolation, it doesn’t really seem fair. You may have been affected by another driver’s distracted driving, thoughtlessness or recklessness, but now ALL eyes are on you. What will you do next?
The choice you make is a big one. You can choose to ignore the incident and move on, or you can choose to take things to another level. Police officers tell me all the time: the choice of a driver to respond comes with a cost.
Your response may be as small as a gesture, but it can be enough to set the other driver off and their counter response may be very aggressive; check out your local TV news coverage most nights of the week if you doubt me.
This is where you need to think. Try your best NOT to react. This should be the mantra for every driver. A good example comes from professional sports. We see a fight start to break out in a football game and a penalty is given. Many times, the penalty falls to the player who has reacted to something the ref didn’t see. The ref only saw the response of a player who thought they were wronged and they get the penalty. Now, even more upset by the perceived injustice, they end up getting another penalty as they hopelessly plead their case to the ref.
It’s the same way with road rage incidents. Maybe you were forced to brake or evade, but it is very often your next moves that are seen by other drivers. It will be those moves that get reported to authorities and likely seen as the primary cause of any resulting mess. Is it fair? No, but remember, you always have the choice not to react.
With so many distracted drivers out there on our roads, it is becoming more and more likely all of us will be subjected to events requiring us to evade, brake or have more patience. Just keep in mind: you were attentive enough to avoid a crash with one of these drivers.
I actually use reverse logic. I tell myself: Maybe the driver who affected me was having a really bad day; maybe they are impaired—from alcohol, drugs or drowsiness. Maybe they are a new driver. There may be children in the vehicle. Maybe they are the most selfish person on the planet.
Whatever the reason a vehicle may have entered into my driving space, I know I don’t want to meet the driver. So I take a breath, have a little talk to myself and move along. In a minute or two, I don’t even remember anything happened.
Don’t let anything you managed to avoid on the road, drag you into some road rage mess. Also, please remember; if you drive with children in your vehicle, they learn from you as they grow up. They will react to traffic situations exactly the same way you do when they start to drive. Please set a safe example.
Take care out there all.
DriveitHOME™ is an initiative of the National Safety Council, designed by and for parents of newly licensed teen drivers. DriveitHOME™ offers free resources parents can use to help their teen build experience to become safer drivers.