Behind the wheel, few people are completely immune to anger. When another driver impedes or endangers us carelessly, a little exasperation is understandable. But there’s a stark difference between muttering to oneself in frustration and retaliating with aggressive driving of one’s own. With deadly consequences across the country, a striking number of drivers are choosing the latter option, giving in to rage on America’s roads.
According to the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the U.S. averaged roughly one deadly accident related to road rage per day in 2016, the latest year for which full data are available. Although these crashes represent only a small portion of fatal accidents in total, they’re all the more tragic for being entirely preventable.
We determined to investigate these accidents related to road rage, studying the times and places in which they occurred most often. Moreover, we analyzed the demographic data of the drivers involved in these incidents. Our findings demonstrate the human cost of anger among drivers and the real risks of escalating emotions on our roads.
Anger by Age Group
Millennials are often characterized as risky drivers, largely because of their use of apps on the road. But our data indicate road rage is particularly common within this age group as well, with millennial drivers involved in more than half of fatal aggressive driving crashes. Gen Xers also accounted for more than a fifth of deadly road rage crashes, although they were involved in a quarter of fatal accidents overall. Conversely, Gen Z drivers were involved in 7 percent of all fatal crashes but 14.6 percent of crashes involving aggressive driving specifically, justifying the age group’s reputation for reckless behavior behind the wheel.
Older Americans were far less likely to cause deadly accidents by driving aggressively. Although baby boomers may endanger drivers in other ways (they accounted for nearly a quarter of all fatal crashes), they caused just 8.2 percent of fatal aggressive driving accidents. Their Silent Generation was even less likely to get aggressive while driving, although it’s unclear how many individuals in this age range still drive at all.
When Rage Rises
For those familiar with commuter congestion, it may come as no surprise that fatal accidents occur most often in the afternoon rush hours between 4:00 and 6:00 P.M. In addition to the problematic number of cars on the road, recent research indicated texting while driving spikes during this time as well. But deadly accidents resulting from road rage and aggressive driving specifically followed a slightly different pattern, peaking at 10 P.M. instead. The late-night rise in accidents of this kind could relate to fatigue: When we’re tired, we may be more prone to anger than we might have been just hours earlier.
Sundays were actually the heaviest day of the week for aggressive driving and road rage accidents, followed closely by Monday. Additionally, drivers tended to get most heated in warmer temperatures: July and September were the top months for deadly aggressive driving crashes. By contrast, rates of aggressive driving accidents were notably low in November, December, and January.
At the state level, where does aggressive driving represent the greatest threat relative to overall rates of deadly accidents? Indiana earned the undesirable top spot in this category, followed closely by Colorado. South Carolina and Alabama claimed the third and fourth spots respectively, with Connecticut rounding out the top five. The geographical range of these states is interesting in its own right: No single region seems to particularly promote road rage, but no part of the country is entirely spared either.
It may be more interesting to consider the states in which road rage seems virtually nonexistent – at least as a cause of fatal crashes. California, for example, only reported one fatal accident resulting from road rage in 2016. This is a striking statistic, especially given the infamously frustrating traffic in many of the state’s cities. But before you applaud Californians’ remarkable composure, it’s worth noting that this figure could simply reflect a difference in reporting practices. Aggressive driving is defined differently by various enforcement agencies, which can lead to significant variation in state-level data.
Hate Beyond the Highway
Road rage may call to mind high-speed chases on major highways, but our findings suggest aggressive driving incidents often occur on local roads as well. In fact, local roads witnessed 17.3 percent of fatal accidents involving aggressive driving, compared to just 9.5 percent of fatal crashes overall. Conversely, interstate roads accounted for just 11.7 percent of aggressive driving accidents. A slightly smaller percentage of all fatal crashes occurred on roads of this kind.
The vast majority of aggressive driving fatalities took place on other types of roads, however, such as major thoroughfares that didn’t quite qualify as highways. Such roads might offer a deadly combination of speed and stops: Enough pace to make collisions deadly but more braking and turning than on major highways – and thus more opportunities for arguments.
Patience and Protection
The impulse to escalate a roadway altercation may be foreign to most Americans. But our findings prove that anger of this nature is an unfortunate reality, leading to hundreds of lives lost each year. While you can’t control another driver’s emotional state on the road, there are some ways you can help prevent a dangerous incident from developing. Leave yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, so you won’t have to speed or cut ahead of other drivers on your way. And if you do offend another driver, don’t reply to rude gestures or honking in kind. There’s no better time to take the high road.
If you are in an accident, however, emotions are sure to run high. Don’t let a lack of coverage make your day even more difficult. As a leading source for information on automotive insurance, we can help you evaluate your insurance plan proactively. That way, you’ll know you’re properly protected in the event of an accident – and paying the lowest price possible in the meantime.
We collected data from the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which collects information on fatal roadway accidents in America where a driver, passenger, or pedestrian is killed while a vehicle is involved. The most recent year of data (2016) is publicly available (reported as of May 2018).
To examine vehicle level data, “Option 3” must be used when querying the FARS database. We segmented this data by accidents involving “road rage” or “aggressive driving.” When exploring this option, we determined 34 fatal accidents were not accounted for in FARS Option 3 but were accounted for in FARS Option 1 and Option 2. For that reason, figures may be off by as much as 34 fatal accidents.