How to handle road rage

October 7, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance

Man with road rage.How to handle a driver with road rage

Do you know the best way to deal with a honking, angry driver, or maybe one who flashes not-so-friendly hand signals? You might want to find out if you live in Washington!

That’s because Washington ranked 9th in the nation among the worst states for road rage, according to a recent survey by Forbes Advisor. Oregon came in at a relatively mellow 31st. Utah was the angriest state at No. 1, while North Dakotans were the least confrontational drivers.

RELATED: State-by-state map ranked by road rage | Forbes Advisor

The Forbes ranking factored in the degree of aggression, giving more weight to truly egregious behaviors like running other cars off the road, waving or firing a gun, damaging another car or getting out of the vehicle to fight. Lesser sins including honking, gesturing and tailgating. Middle-of-the-road offenses were cutting off other drivers and purposely preventing them from changing lanes.

Technically, there’s a distinction between aggressive driving (recklessness; a driving violation) versus road rage (intent to inflict harm; a criminal act), but sometimes the two are so intertwined it takes a court case to separate them.

Whichever it is, here’s what to do the next time you cross paths with an angry driver and how to make yourself less of a target – plus, how to tell if you have the potential to be a road-rager yourself.

Is road rage increasing?

PEMCO periodically polls Northwesterners about road rage. It’s crept up since 2012, with 2019 (our latest poll) showing 10-year highs for both people admitting to aggressive acts and those witnessing aggressive acts by other drivers. In that poll, Millennials topped the list in admitting to aggressive acts, saying they made an average of 3.3 risky maneuvers in the past month.

In the Forbes survey, about one-third of self-described ragers said fellow drivers’ behavior drove them to it. Other ragers were more introspective, saying stress, heavy traffic or running late caused their behavior. In other words, if you’re the target of an aggressive driver, there's a high chance that the root of the problem has nothing to do with you.

Neither the Forbes survey nor our poll addressed why road rage seems to be increasing or why it differs state to state.

RELATED: Polite Driver Index Poll | PEMCO

What should I do if another driver acts aggressively toward me?

Don’t engage! Remember, you have no idea what’s really behind their aggression, and you don’t want to find out.

Avoid aggressive drivers as much as possible. On the freeway, you’re better off behind them than in front or alongside. You’re less vulnerable and can better see what they’re doing. Also:

  • If you’re being tailgated, change lanes to let the rager go by. On the freeway, you can take an exit and get back on once they’ve passed.
  • Don’t return rude gestures, and minimize eye contact that ragers could interpret as you “accepting” their challenge.
  • If you think you’re being followed, drive to a police station rather than your home. Another (surprising) safe haven in a pinch? Casinos. They have a 24-hour security staff and surveillance cameras everywhere.
  • Don’t attempt to outrun the rager. They may chase you. Driving at excessive speed also puts you at risk for both a ticket and an accident. Pulling over and stopping to let them pass may not always be the best strategy, either. The aggressive driver may swoop in behind you and try to confront you.

How to make yourself a less-likely target of road rage

Since many aggressive drivers say another motorist’s (perceived) error is what set them off, you’ll want to avoid these common road-rage triggers:

  • Driving too slowly in the left lane. Use the left lane only to pass or, in those rare occasions where an exit is on the left, to leave the freeway.
  • Meek merging. That can anger drivers on the freeway who need to move over or brake to let you in as well as fellow drivers on the onramp who are backing up behind you.
RELATED: How to zipper merge video | PEMCO
  • Tailgating. Even if the driver in front of you is going too slow, you need to keep a safe distance behind them. That allows you time to stop if needed and doesn’t give them the impression that you’re invading their space.
  • Leaving too little space when changing lanes. Drivers who believe you’ve cut them off can spiral into road rage.
  • Blocking the intersection after the light changes. Don’t enter the intersection unless you can see there’s room for you on the other side.
RELATED: Who is blocking the box? | PEMCO
  • Honking or gesturing. There’s only one time when you must honk: to prevent a collision. You can also give a light, gentle tap on the horn (ideally accompanied by a smile and a wave) if the driver in front of you doesn’t notice the light has changed. Don’t use your horn to express emotion. When it comes to gesturing, reserve that for courtesy waves, like when a driver lets you in while merging.
RELATED: PEMCO Poll: Honking, helpful or rude? | PEMCO

Could you be an aggressive driver?

Everyone makes an occasional driving mistake – accidentally cutting off someone in traffic, driving too slowly when we’re lost or absentmindedly getting caught in an intersection when the light changes. When you see those behaviors, do you instantly assume the other driver is doing it on purpose? Do you yell at other drivers from inside your car? Speed up to beat cars you think are likely to be slowpokes? Change your behavior based on the bumper stickers a driver has on their car?

RELATED: Bumper stickers linked to road rage | PEMCO

Those are all signs you could be getting overly stressed behind the wheel and, without taking steps to manage your emotions, you could be at risk for aggressive driving.

Driving in an agitated emotional state is a form of distracted driving – not unlike using electronics, eating or applying makeup. Give yourself and other drivers a break:

  • Pull over until you’ve calmed down. Deep breathing can be helpful if pulling over isn’t an option.
  • Reframe commute time as me time. Leave early for appointments to enjoy your “sanctuary” a bit longer without stressing that you’re going to be late. Reward yourself with relaxing music, an audio book or an interesting podcast (skip provocative topics that are likely to get your blood pumping).
RELATED: Find a doable commute | PEMCO
  • Talk to someone. If daily stressors are affecting work, sleep, relationships or your driving, ask a counselor, clergy member or wellness instructor for healthy strategies to help ease tension. The last place you want to take out your frustration is on the road.  
No one “wins” in a road rage incident. From an insurance standpoint, road rage claims are complicated to settle and hinge on the coverages chosen, laws of the state and circumstances of the accident. If you’re the unfortunate innocent victim of road rage, you may have coverage under your own policy. If you’re the aggressor in the incident, your coverage may be void (as explained by the Insurance Information Institute) and you might be on your own in paying for damages and injuries you cause.

If you need to report a claim, we’re here to help 24 hours a day. Log in to your account at or call 1-800-GO-PEMCO (1-800-467-3626).  


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