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How to deal with road rage

Oct 15, 2021

It’s a scary situation: you’re driving along a motorway, and in your rear view mirror you see a car up against your bumper with the driver making angry gestures at you.

Road rage is intimidating – particularly if you’re a new driver and you’re not sure if you’ve done something to trigger it. So how can you avoid it, de-escalate tense situations and make sure you don’t let your own temper get the better of you?

Read on to find out more, and discover how first time driver insurance based on telematics tech can help you develop calm driving habits.

What is road rage?

There’s no official definition of road rage: you won’t find it in a list of motoring offences, in road reports, or in the Highway Code. 

The term has been around since the 1980s, when there was a spate of shootings on the highways of the US. Fortunately, such incidents are few and far between in the UK.

Nowadays, we use the term to mean anything from rude but ultimately harmless gestures towards other drivers, right up to dangerous, threatening behaviour that could cause a major incident.

Still, even if the worst you experience is a verbal insult, it can leave you shaken – particularly if you’re an inexperienced driver. And that can be dangerous.

How big a problem is road rage in the UK?

Pretty much every driver has been on the receiving end of the occasional rude gesture or honked horn. Sadly, it’s just part and parcel of driving life.

And around 43% of drivers say they have been the victims of road rage: that’s 49% of female and 37% of male motorists. Younger drivers, those with disabilities, and vulnerable road users such as pedestrians or cyclists are particularly at risk.

Many of those will suffer in silence. But what about more serious incidents reported to the police? It seems they’re on the rise – even though lockdown in 2020 saw a drastic drop in the number of vehicles on the roads for several months.

As there is no specific road rage offence, it’s not easy to get accurate data. Incidents might be classified as careless or dangerous driving, disorderly conduct, assault, or something else entirely.

Sky News obtained data from 24 out of 46 police forces in the UK, and found records of 3,549 incidents in 2019: a rise of 39% on 2017, and 15% on 2018. Between January and October 2020, 2,300 incidents were recorded. However, as so many forces – including the Met – did not supply data, these figures will be a huge underestimate.

Victims were kicked, punched, stabbed, bitten and racially abused in these incidents. In Liverpool in 2018, there was even a case of attempted murder.

Fortunately, unlike in the USA in the 1980s, there were no shootings. And given that billions of journeys are taken on the UK’s roads each year, you can see that statistically speaking, your chance of being involved in a serious incident is extremely low.

How do drivers view road rage?

Unsurprisingly, people are concerned by road rage: some 30% cite ‘aggressive behaviour by other drivers’ as a worry in a recent survey, up from 28% in the previous year.

In the top 20 motoring concerns, road rage places fourth. Some 8% of people say it’s their number one worry – a figure that’s doubled in 12 months.

Almost half of drivers said they had seen another driver being verbally abused in the past year, while 30% said they had seen some kind of physical abuse. And 60% say they see more road rage incidents now than they did a decade ago.

So why the rise in road rage? It could be that there are more cars on the road, leading to worse congestion. Or perhaps people are leading more pressurised lives, so delays to their journeys worsen the stress they’re under.

And there does seem to be something about being in a car that makes certain otherwise pleasant people behave out of character. They feel they’re insulated from the outside world, and can express their frustrations freely.

What causes road rage incidents?

Road rage boils down to two things: a driver making a mistake or bad decision, and another driver reacting poorly. You need to avoid being either of those drivers!

There are lots of bad driving habits that could annoy your fellow road users. Things like tailgating; hogging the middle lane; under-taking; speeding or even driving too slowly.

Some are common among young or inexperienced drivers: that’s one of the reasons why insurance premiums are usually so high for this group, and why you should consider first time driver insurance based on a black box or telematics system.

But even if the other driver is clearly at fault, that’s no excuse for an outright aggressive response, which can lead to a minor error escalating into a serious incident.

Dealing with road rage

Essentially, there are three elements to avoiding or coping with road rage:

1) Avoiding driving poorly;

2) Dealing calmly with angry drivers; and

3) Managing your own anger.

  • 1. Avoiding driving poorly

Of course, this is easier said than done – few of us set out in our cars with the intention of driving badly! But there are things you can do to improve your behaviour on the road.

Start by taking a look at that list of driving irritations above, and ask yourself honestly: do you do any of those things when driving? What action could you take to improve?

Put your smartphone away when you’re behind the wheel, so you’re not distracted by any pings. Get into the habit of moving to the left as soon as your motorway exit is signed, rather than swooping at the last moment and cutting up other motorists. And perhaps it’s time to take seriously those braking distances you had to learn to pass your driving test!

Then consider the last time you know you made a driving mistake that inconvenienced other drivers or put them at risk. What led up to that mistake? Were you distracted? Running late? Showing off to your mate in the passenger seat?

All these considerations will give you valuable insights into improving your driving.

Another great method is to choose first time driver insurance that’s based on a telematics, aka  black box system. This is a device that you plug into your car to monitor your driving behaviour, assessing things like how smoothly you take corners and brake; and how often you exceed the speed limit. There’s a great incentive to drive well, too: if you can prove you’re a careful driver, you may get a discount when you come to renew your policy after a year. 

  • 2. Dealing with angry drivers

So you’ve made a driving mistake – it happens! Or perhaps you are sure you were in the right, but another driver thinks otherwise.

Either way, you hear a horn honking, and look into your rear view mirror to see the motorist behind making gestures at you and driving aggressively towards your bumper. How do you react?

If you know you were at fault, it’s best to acknowledge it calmly. A simple raised hand in the direction of the aggrieved driver often works wonders to nip the situation in the bud.

If that doesn’t have the desired effect, stay calm and focus on the road. Don’t catch the angry driver’s eye: it’s likely to come across as confrontational, and escalate the tension. Keep driving carefully, ignoring the other driver if at all possible.

Don’t try to take a photo or video of the other driver with a view to reporting it later to the police: you run the risk of escalating the confrontation, and driving dangerously yourself. Mobile phone use behind the wheel is a motoring offence.

In situations where you’re both stopped and the other driver gets out of their car and approaches you, stay inside with the doors locked and the windows wound up. If necessary, call the police.

After a nasty incident, you might want to give yourself time to relax before continuing your journey. So pull over where it’s safe, and perhaps call a family member or friend.

You could also put P-plates on your car to let other drivers know that you’re new on the roads. It should make them more sympathetic to occasional errors on your part – particularly if they’re clearly caused by nervousness.

Remember: serious road rage incidents are rare, so don’t be put off driving.

  • 3. Managing your own anger

It’s common for emotions to run high in teenagers and young adults, but if you’re prone to fits of temper, it’s vital that you learn how to control them.

Perhaps you already know which factors lead to an outburst. Maybe they happen when you’re tired, upset, stressed, anxious or distracted. Try to avoid driving when any of those apply.

On longer journeys, build in rest times and don’t forget to eat and drink – not alcohol, of course! And plan for delays where at all possible, so you don’t get wound up by traffic jams. Perhaps you should travel at quieter times of the day if possible?

If another driver triggers angry feelings in you, try to stay calm and keep moving where possible. Take some deep breaths, and focus on the road. And don’t make gestures, flash your lights, honk your horn or do anything else that will cause temperatures to rise.

Once the incident has passed, don’t obsess about it: you’re likely to find errors creeping into your own driving. First time driver insurance will cover you in case of an accident, but driving safely is essential.

Save any strong emotions until you’re safely parked and out of your car. You can always let off steam once your journey’s over: perhaps by phoning a mate, going for a run, or taking a long bath.

If you do act aggressively in response to a stupid mistake, you might feel ashamed afterwards and want to change your behaviour. Consider seeking therapy to tackle the root causes of your anger, and help you learn management techniques.

4. Reporting road rage incidents

Of course, don’t trouble the police with reports of minor irritating incidents of poor driving, such as someone pulling out in front of you. We all make mistakes from time to time.

But for more serious incidents, call the police on 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger as soon as it’s safe to do so.

If the event has passed, you can report it to the police online or via the non-emergency 101 number. Give as many details as you can, including dashcam footage if you have it.

While there is no set definition of road rage, rule 147 of the Highway Code states that you should always be careful of and considerate to other road users, especially those needing extra care.

In addition, you shouldn’t throw litter out of a car as this could endanger other drivers and especially cyclists or motorcyclists.

Remember that the police will look at your own driving actions as well as the other driver’s!

Get a quote from Smartdriverclub today

It’s common for inexperienced drivers to make mistakes on the roads – and that’s no excuse for others to get angry or aggressive.

But have you considered installing a telematic device into your vehicle to evaluate your driving and reward you if you’re safe on the roads?

With first time driver insurance from Smartdriverclub Insurance, you’re given a Smartplug to monitor how smoothly you brake, accelerate and take corners; how fast you drive; and how often you drive after dark. It uses this data to calculate your personal risk of being in an accident and give you a driver score.

After one year, if you’ve got a driver score of over 80, you could receive a discount on your premium when you come to renew your policy. It’s a great way of learning good driving habits, and bringing down the costs of your first time driver insurance.

Get a quote today!

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.