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The number of road rage incidents has increased sharply in recent years. Anna Berkut/Stocksy United
  • Researchers say road rage and road rage-related shootings are on the rise.
  • Multiple factors related to the pandemic may have contributed.
  • It is important to take steps to cool your temper if you become upset while driving.
  • There are also several steps you can take to avoid trouble when other drivers are upset.

Researchers say incidents of road rage and road rage-related shootings have been on the rise in recent years.

According to a June 2021 report, the average number of people shot and killed or wounded in road rage incidents in the United States had almost doubled, going from a monthly average of 22 deaths and injuries in the 4 years prior (June 2016 to May 2020) to a monthly average of 42 deaths and injuries between June 2020 and May 2021.

Sarah Burd-Sharps, senior director of research at Everytown for Gun Safety, who co-authored the report on this phenomenon, said the trend has continued since the report’s release and is accelerating.

In 2021, there were 728 road rage incidents, she said, noting this was higher than the record in 2020 with 702 incidents.

The total number of people killed or injured in 2021 was 522, compared with 409 in 2020.

This contrasts with the figures from 2016 to 2019, which never exceeded 300 incidents.

Burd-Sharps said that although there’s not enough data at this point to know for certain what is driving the increase in road violence, she feels it’s probably a mix of multiple factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has brought all kinds of new financial, medical, social, and other stressors into people’s lives,” said Burd-Sharps.

William Van Tassel, PhD, manager of the American Automobile Association (AAA) driver training programs, agreed it’s too soon to be certain whether the pandemic has been responsible for rising road rage, but he said that the AAA is very concerned about the rising violence.

“Generally, COVID-19 has caused frustration among just about everyone, including people who have been driving much less than before the pandemic,” said Van Tassel. “People could easily bring their frustrations with them into the vehicle, which could negatively affect their driving behaviors.”

Burd-Sharps suggested that weak gun laws may also be a factor in the rising number of road rage shootings.

She noted there have been record increases in gun sales in recent years.

Road rage is not uncommon, said Burd-Sharps, but “easy access to a firearm can turn an unpleasant few minutes in the car into a deadly incident — not only for both drivers, but also for passengers and sometimes pedestrians as well.”

“Gun violence was already a public health crisis before the pandemic,” said Burd-Sharps, “but when you see the kind of increases we’ve seen in road rage injuries and deaths in such a short amount of time, it’s a clear warning sign that we need action.”

She said in states with weak gun laws and in states moving toward removing gun permit requirements, loaded guns become readily available in tense situations.

“It’s important to uphold permitting systems to keep our streets, and highways, safe,” Burd-Sharps said.

While shootings are a growing problem, road rage isn’t just about gun violence.

Van Tassel said road rage can occur anytime a driver uses their vehicle or some other object to threaten another person or cause them harm.

He gave examples like throwing objects at another car, yelling and threatening another person, and attempting to ram another vehicle or road user.

Van Tassel said road rage is fueled by aggressive driving behaviors that can lead to escalation of emotions, overwhelming a person’s self-control.

Allowing emotions to become unmanageable for a moment can lead to serious consequences, like crashes, injuries, and even death.

Van Tassel also noted that road rage can be contagious. If people allow themselves to respond to the other person’s anger by becoming upset themselves, it can make the problem even worse.

Van Tassel shared several suggestions for what people can do if they find themselves in a heated situation on the road:

  • Understand your emotional makeup. The more you know about yourself and why you act the way you do, the better you can control your actions, he explained. You can plan your driving time accordingly, or even decide not to drive when you know you’ll probably get upset.
  • Expect other drivers to make mistakes. “Be patient and remember that others’ mistakes may be ones you have made yourself or may make in the future,” said Van Tassel.
  • Emotions are contagious. Often, the other driver will mirror your own anger, further escalating the situation. But you can use the same tactic to defuse the situation. “A smile and courteous behavior can be spread among drivers just as easily as anger can,” said Van Tassel.
  • Delay driving when upset. Emotions are temporary, said Van Tassel. Wait until your emotions have calmed before driving.
  • Unwind. If you become upset while driving, find a place to stop and calm yourself. Van Tassel suggests taking a short walk, taking deep breaths, or taking a break for refreshments.
  • Ask someone else to drive. If you’re feeling strong emotions, Van Tassel said it might be wise to ask another person to drive or to use public transportation.

Even if you are feeling calm, it’s possible that you may find yourself faced with another driver who is behaving aggressively or erratically.

In these cases, Van Tassel said there are also several things you can do:

  • Do not respond. You don’t want to do anything that might escalate conflict.
  • Remain calm and take a deep breath. It’s important not to allow yourself to also become upset.
  • Be tolerant and forgiving. The other driver may be having a really bad day and need to vent.
  • Be polite. Your behavior may help soften their anger.
  • Allow enough room around your vehicle. If the other person approaches you, increase the space between you. This will allow you to pull out or go around them.
  • Stay in your vehicle. This gives you protection if the other person attempts to harm you.
  • Call 911 or local emergency services. Seek help from law enforcement if you need assistance.
  • Drive to a busy public place where there are witnesses. Van Tassel said hospitals or fire stations are good places to go. There are also some convenience stores and municipal transit authorities that designate areas of their parking lots and zones near their buses as SafeZones, he said. These areas have active video and audio recording of nearby events. Once you’re in one of these areas, you can use your horn to attract attention.