Although aggressive driving is a significant contributor to traffic fatalities, attempts to address this problem have not led to a significant reduction in aggressive driving-related fatalities. Understanding the reasons of aggressive driving and how to stop this could help increase traffic safety.
Aggressive driving behavior takes many forms. Typical aggressive driving behaviors include speeding, driving too close to the car in front, not respecting traffic regulations, improper lane changing or weaving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” Most people drive aggressively from time to time and many drivers are not even aware they are doing it.
Approximately 6,800,000 crashes occur in the United States each year; a substantial number are estimated to be caused by aggressive driving. The danger of an accident is comprehendible to all of us, but the accident victim and the loved one realize danger more than anybody else. Accidents happen in a fraction of a second but their consequences may last for days, months, years or the rest of life. A large number of road users involved in traffic crashes recover from their injuries, but some of them never recover fully and suffer from some kind of permanent disability. In addition to loss of life or reduced quality of life, road accidents carry many other consequences to the survivors such as legal implications, economic burden as well as psychological consequences. Aggressive driving is also bad for the environment. Researchers at the Flemish Institute for Technological Research has shown that aggressive driving during heavy traffic conditions can guzzle up to 40 percent more fuel. The exhaust gases from the aggressively driven cars contained considerably more polluting chemicals and in the case of carbon monoxide the increase was as much eight times greater than normal.
Because of the extent of the problem of aggressive driving, increased enforcement and other external measures will only ever have a relatively limited effect. What is needed is the recognition by the ordinary drivers of the problem and their resolve to try to curb their own aggressive driving and to show more respect for other drivers. What can I do as a driver?
Show courtesy to other drivers and avoid actions likely to provoke. Make sure that your driving does not upset others. Always indicate before changing lanes and turn it off when done, dip your headlights for oncoming vehicles at night, do not block the passing lane for faster drivers.
Try to avoid driving when you are feeling stressful, emotional or angry. Relax behind the wheel and be patient. Try to be more tolerant to other drivers. Aggressive use of the horn can aggravate others. Do not assume that aggressive deriving by others is aimed at you.
Plan ahead and allow plenty of time for your trip. Avoid getting into the situation where you are driving aggressively to get an important meeting and taking risk of your life and others just to gain a few minutes.
Do not react to other drivers who are looking for conflict or challenging you. Get out of the way without acknowledging the other drivers. Do not engage in eye contact and do not make hand or other gestures which may show your irritation or frustration with their behavior.
Do not tailgate. Riding the bumper of the vehicle in front of you is both annoying and unsafe. Honking horn to express anger is aggravating.
We all make mistakes. Do not assume that all unsafe driving actions are intentional or personal. Be polite and courteous, even if the other driver isn’t. Do not let your phone or any other devices distract you while driving. Cell phone users are perceived as being poor drivers and presenting a traffic hazard.
Aggressive driving is a learned behavior. Children learn about aggressive driving from their parents. When parents drive aggressively with children in the vehicle, they teach them to drive like they do, even before they have a driver’s license. Kids learn by example. They’re always watching and learning.
Before initiating or responding violently to a traffic situation, ask yourself, “Is it worth being paralyzed or killed?” Remember, split-second impulsive actions can ruin the rest of your life and your family. Therefore, B-SAFE (Buckle up. Slow down. Always drive sober. Focus. Everyone share the road.)
• Iqbal Hossain, MBA, PE, is a transportation engineer at the Arizona Department of Transportation.