Road rage covers a multitude of hostile acts committed by angry or frustrated drivers, from deliberate tailgating to vehicular homicide. Its prevalence has increased so much in the past decade that psychologists have actually classified it as a mental disorder. Many drivers who are prone to sudden emotional outbursts or inappropriate reactions are now said to suffer from intermittent explosive disorder. Not all incidents of road rage can be attributed to a mental disorder, however. Some experts believe drivers learn aggressive behavior from observing their parents and watching numerous examples of simulated rage on television.
Even under the best of conditions, driving is a stressful activity. Experienced drivers develop coping mechanisms for the everyday driving errors of others, but there's always the possibility of a major accident lurking around the bend. Drivers also bear the responsibility of keeping other passengers safe during the commute. With all of these elements to consider, it is easy to see why some drivers may be especially anxious or defensive. If another driver does something wrong or reckless, the result can be the explosive and uncontrolled reaction we recognize as road rage.
One of the main concerns during this type of incident is escalation. If another car cuts off an aggressive driver at an intersection, for example, the offended driver may shout expletives or blow his horn excessively. At this point, road rage could be avoided if the angry driver pulls over to calm down for a few minutes or accepts the incident as a minor disturbance. Instead, he or she may become even more outraged and decide to punish the other driver. When the situation escalates, a person's driving may become more erratic and reckless. The anger and frustration temporarily overrides good judgment and the driver becomes consumed with notions of vengeance or payback. Some extreme cases end with vehicular homicide, assault with a weapon, or other physical assaults.
Many driving schools teach students defensive driving techniques designed to reduce the number and severity of minor accidents. Some drivers mistake defensive driving with aggressive driving, which can lead to dangerous incidents. While anticipating accidents and driver error is a good practice, aggressive driving often stirs up powerful emotions within drivers. One of the best ways of avoiding road rage is to ratchet down aggressive maneuvers while driving. Passing a slow-moving car safely is one thing, but tailgating followed by an abrupt lane change and increased speed is a form of road rage. As a rule of thumb, drivers should avoid getting on the road while in highly emotional states.
Laws concerning road rage incidents vary widely from state to state. Many drivers who succumb to it can only be charged with minor traffic violations such as failure to signal or speeding. Depending on the events, some may be charged with more serious offenses such as reckless or aggressive driving. If there was damage to the other driver's vehicle or property, a civil suit could also be filed. Some states can actually charge a driver with the crime of road rage, although in extreme cases the charges might be vehicular homicide or attempted murder with a vehicle. Since the event can be short-lived, the driver may not show signs of emotional impairment at the time of arrest.