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Is Road Rage on the Increase?

Is Road Rage on the Increase?

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Motoring journo, John Swift, looks at road rage from a very personal perspective.

When I was thinking about what to write in my article on road rage, little did I know that within the day I'd see it laid bare, in all its ugliness, leaving me wondering just why drivers get into such a state behind the wheel.

If you're ever a victim of raod rage, follow these 5 tips for diffusing the incident:

  • Apologise, even if you think you're in the right.
  • Don't make eye contact if someone is being aggressive.
  • Don't open your door or window.
  • Film the incident if you're stationary.
  • Call the Police if you feel threatened.

The other morning my wife took me to a hospital appointment; when we were leaving she turned left onto the main road, quite safely and properly, and then, within a few car lengths, turned left again into a petrol station. It’s true that she didn’t indicate and seemingly that was enough to light the fuse of the driver racing up behind, keeping his hand on the horn for several seconds to let us know how angry he was.  My wife, hardly a shrinking violet, indicated with a finger what she thought of his reaction.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but we thought it an everyday incident hardly worth mentioning. What happened next wasn’t and isn’t; the driver reversed onto the forecourt and stopped immediately behind us, blocking us in.

The man, a fellow in his 50s, jumped out and approached my wife’s side (who initially stayed in the car) so I too got out and listened while he berated her driving. It wasn’t so much what he said, as the state he was in, which shocked me; he was shouting, quite literally shaking with anger, his eyes bulging with rage. Trying to defuse the situation I gently suggested he calm down, get back into his car and drive off so we could all carry on with our day.

It took several minutes during which time my wife got out, apologised for her lack of indication and with admirable restraint also suggested he acted like an adult and move on. This he finally did, albeit still shaking with anger, and roared off causing another car to brake hard in the process.

Road rage fight

We brushed it off, but I couldn’t help wondering about three things.

The first is, that someone more nervous person than my wife might very easily have felt intimidated and frightened by his in-yer-face body language, leaving them upset and distracted when they resumed driving. Secondly he was most definitely in no fit mental state to be driving.

And the third; why do, presumably otherwise reasonable people, have a character change when they slip behind the wheel? What is it that makes anger bubble away just beneath the surface and why do we think it’s OK to let rip at even a slight provocation?

Like anyone, I get frustrated when I come across some witless driving, but confine my response to a shaking of the head and certainly I – like the vast majority of us - have never, ever got to the state of even a verbal altercation, far less a physical one. Not even close.

And yet all the evidence shows we are becoming a more stressed and intolerant driving nation to the point where intimidation is common and even assault is not unknown.

There have been many psychological studies done showing that we feel we are in a private space in our own car and can behave how we want and I guess that’s OK, but when that private space becomes a private pressure cooker then it isn’t.

Now a national campaign #sweartochange backed by Auto Trader and sporting celebrities, double Olympic gold winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton, and British Paralympian athlete Lauren Steadman, has been launched asking all of us to take a look in the driving mirror and see if how we behave and treat others on the road, is the way we would like to be treated ourselves.

Victoria Pendelton #sweartochange campaignVictoria Pendleton

Based on a survey of several thousand people, including motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, runners and wheelchair users, it revealed that more than half of road users have felt intimidated; 47% say they have faced aggression, 45% been shouted at and 41% sworn at or insulted. Nearly half believe road rage is increasing, but almost two thirds of us agree that we all share responsibility for one another on the road.

Victoria said: “These results show that we can all help make Britain’s roads a more pleasant place to be. As someone who cycles, horse rides, drives and walks, I know things could be better. Instead of swearing at each other, let’s swear to change the way we treat our fellow road users. We all have an equal right to be on the road, so let’s be more compassionate and considerate to others and see what change we can drive.”

Lauren added said: “I’m backing Auto Trader’s #SwearToChange campaign; it’s sparking a constructive debate on the changes all road users would like to see on UK roads. With changes in infrastructure and more people taking up cycling and running, there’s no better time to challenge these attitudes and #SwearToChange.”

Auto Trader’s Audience and Brand Director, Lei Sorvisto, said: “The survey reveals there’s much fear and intimidation on our roads, but we can all play a part in helping to eradicate it by acknowledging the responsibility we have for motorists and all other road users.”


Motoring safety group, IAM Roadsmart, offers the following advice on how to handle a road-rage situation.

  • If there’s conflict between two parties there’s a likely chance you’ve both played a part. This doesn’t mean you should react. Try to take yourself away from the problem, let the other driver go on ahead. Even if you feel wronged, letting the other party go will make no difference to the rest of your day
  • Is someone being confrontational or aggressive? If so, don’t make eye contact and don’t react visibly. Try not to think about them so that the incident doesn’t affect you afterwards
  • If the other party is still being aggressive to you and you are in fear of your own safety, call the police
  • If the other party approaches you in your car, can you drive away safely? If you can, consider doing so; but, don’t rush off and drive like the getaway driver in a film, or as if you think the other driver is going to chase you. If they are chasing you stop in a busy public place and call for help.
  • Do you have a passenger who can film any behaviour on a mobile phone? This will help in terms of evidence. Remember to include the registration number of the other vehicle involved
  • Don’t open your door, don’t open your windows fully and don’t start or get provoked into an argument, try to stay calm
  • If you were at fault, admit it and apologise. It may be enough to diffuse the situation quickly. And do not do anything that can be interpreted as retaliation. Even if you weren’t at fault, is the argument really worth it?

We've put together a more detailed guide on dealing with road rage, which will help you not only deal with the situation if you're faced with it, but also help you stop yourself from beoming enraged behind the wheel.