What is the difference between road rage and aggressive driving?

Research from the Insurance Information Institute shows that half of all fatal car accidents from 2003 to 2007 involved aggressive driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given guidelines showing the differences between road rage and aggressive driving.

No one wants to be on the other end of either road rage or aggressive driving but knowing the distinctions can help you understand how best to protect yourself against these types of drivers.


The term “aggressive driving” covers a range of unsafe driving behavior. Speeding, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights, or combining these activities are generally considered aggressive driving.

Although most drivers are familiar with this type of driving, it is difficult for legislatures to define aggressive driving completely. As of 2017, 15 states have passed laws aimed at aggressive drivers. Typically, these establish an aggressive driving offense and set fines and penalties for committing such an offense.

  • Running a red light
  • Speeding in heavy traffic
  • Tailgating
  • Cutting off other drivers
  • Ignoring traffic signs
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Changing lanes unexpectedly
  • Blocking drivers attempting to change lanes
  • Angry gesturing or yelling at other drivers
  • Misusing headlights or brakes to show your disapproval of other drivers’ mistakes.

There are many reasons people display aggressive driving behaviors. A recent study has linked the condition known as, Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) as leaving subjects prone to aggressive driving and road rage. Frequently other troubles in our daily lives spill out onto the open road.


It’s hard to believe that drivers manuals from the 1970s encouraged drivers to express their anger towards other drivers on the road by yelling in their cars. Consequently, road rage is the legacy of this encouraged behavior, where drivers allow a minor upset to develop into a full-blown fit that overshadows safe driving decisions.

Frequent road rage violations encompass some of the following behaviors:

  • Cursing/insulting
  • Making rude gestures
  • Throwing objects
  • Intentionally hitting other vehicles
  • Intentionally sideswiping on other vehicles
  • Cutting off or forcing another_ driver off the road
  • Physical assault (in extreme cases, even murder)


Whenever you encounter an aggressive driver on the road:

  • Remain calm and avoid eye contact.
  • Slow down and let the ‘angry bird’ pass you.
  • By all means, don’t take things personally.
  • Mind your p’s and q’s; don’t react, nor respond with the same anger. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • If you have done something wrong that caused a driver’s anger, apologize.
  • The horn is a big no-no for people’s nerves; it goes without saying, be thrifty with it.
  • Put your own and your passengers’ safety first.
  • If possible, take notes on important information to report it to the police.
  • If you suspect that things may get out of hand, call 911 before it’s too late.

On the other hand, if you are the one with the short fuse:

  • Organize your trip thoroughly and leave plenty of time to get to your destination.
  • Remember, other drivers do not try to irritate you on purpose; people make mistakes, it is not about you.
  • If/when angered, focus on your breathing, and remain in control of your actions.
  • Concentrate on your driving and how to get safely to your destination.
  • Keep in mind, the road is not a race pit, and other drivers are not your competitors.
  • If you have anger management issues, consult a professional to help you regulate them.
  • Consider taking a defensive driving course. Without a doubt, it will help you develop safe driving habits.
  • Also, it’s always a good idea to create a pleasant environment inside your vehicle.

So, the next time the driver behind you starts excessively honking or flips you the bird, stay calm, take a deep breath, and remember to set a good example. It is essential to understand that road rage can be controlled, and we all can choose to stay calm in hostile driving situations.