Step one for your next road trip: calm down

By Author: Carolyn Briggs, Date: Jul 22, 2016
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We’re afraid of aggressive driving, and rightfully so. More than half of all fatal accidents in the US involve at least one aggressive driving behavior. Prior research by AAA says nine out of 10 drivers are concerned about the prevalence of aggressive driving by others.

So when asked to rate their own driving, you’d expect these people to drive cautiously and mindfully to avoid danger, right?

Ha!

A new study suggests that more than three quarters of us need to take a chill pill behind the wheel.

Conducted by AAA Foundation for Traffic safety in 2014, the study relies on self-reported data, which is the first indication that this is going to be hilarious. AAA used an online questionnaire to poll a nationally-representative group of 2,705 drivers over the age of 16.

The survey asked about eight aggressive driving behaviors, ranging from honking the horn to intentionally bumping or ramming another vehicle (a shocking number of people admitted to it). Drivers were asked how frequently they engaged in each behavior in the last year.

Aggressive Chart

A whopping 78.1 percent of those surveyed admitted to engaging in at least one behavior at least one time over the last year. Frankly, I don’t believe the 21.9 percent who say they haven’t.

The most common transgression was not the horn, but tailgating another vehicle. At 50.8 percent, it’s a crap-shoot whether that guy behind you on the interstate is going to get right up on your bumper. A few of us might even be guilty of it here at Rides & Drives (looking at you, Mr. Briggs). Those instances, of course, are all justified due to the presence of a left-lane bandit who should have moved over miles ago.

Yelling at another driver and honking the horn come next, at around 47 and 45 percent. People living in cities were more likely to make use of the horn, while those in the country tend to avoid disturbing the pristine silence.

Around 33 percent of us are guilty of making an angry gesture at another driver; yes, that includes flipping the old bird. While this is the fourth most common of eight behaviors overall, it is one of the most common behaviors to engage in just once. If you’re getting flipped off, there’s a good chance you just pulled someone good to the dark side of driving.

Trying to block another vehicle from changing lanes comes in around 25 percent, again, not surprising given my experience on US highways. There’s nothing more infuriating than the guy suddenly speeding up when you approach. That’s usually when I engage in yelling behaviors.

More than 10 percent of us have cut someone off on purpose, which is certainly dangerous, but not as bad as what comes next.

The penultimate transgression? Almost four percent of those surveyed have gotten out of their car to confront another driver, which is not something we’d recommended. Why? We’ll let Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough demonstrate.

And finally, nearly three percent of drivers have intentionally bumped or rammed another vehicle. That number is one of the few shockers in the report. A little math suggests there are 5.7 million drivers on the road right now who’d be willing to not just ram another car on purpose, but admit to it. It’s worth noting that 5.7 million people also watched the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona this year. Coincidence? We think not.

Not surprisingly, most people surveyed reported ”rarely” engaging in these behaviors. This is where self reported data becomes important. Each respondent is going to draw the line between “rarely” and “fairly often” somewhere slightly different.

Honestly the results of this survey are not too surprising. Hey, who hasn’t tried to hurry someone along by following a little closer than they should or honked the horn at someone who’s not quite sure how a roundabout works. While more dangerous forms of aggression are less common, they do happen. It’s worth noting that an overwhelming number of people engage in them “rarely,” or “just once.” We don’t know the stories behind these events, and it’s entirely possible one more benign form of aggression led to the violent ones.

But just in case, I’ll be practicing some mindfulness next time someone tests my boundaries on the road. I’d really hate to piss off the .5 percent of respondents who are out there bumping or ramming other cars “often” or “regularly.”

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Carolyn Briggs

I grew up on the road. As a child, my family took regular trips from Wisconsin to both coasts. That's how I've seen most of this country — through the window of a car. Years later, I still feel that excitement when I toss my bags in the trunk and get behind the wheel. That's how seeing something new always begins. I've scaled mountains, dived with sharks, and stepped to the very edge of the Grand Canyon, all because I spent hours in a car. This site combines my passion for the road with my actual talent — communication and journalism. In college I rose to the position of managing editor for The Badger Herald, the largest independent student newspaper in the country at the time. I spent a year after graduating in social media marketing before moving off the grid to explore the wild beauty of West Virginia.

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