4 strategies for dealing with aggressive drivers
A common wisdom says that you can’t control other people, you can only control your reactions to them. The same is true for your interactions on the road—particularly when it comes to aggressive drivers.
We’ve all encountered them: those impatient drivers who need to go as fast as possible and react angrily if they perceive someone is in their way (which is to say, everyone). Or, perhaps (ahem) it might be a young driver trying to show off by demonstrating how they “own the road.”
Unfortunately, aggressive drivers are a reality of the road, and a dangerous one at that. Having a stranger blast their horn at you or pressure you to move aside or driver faster can be distracting and uncomfortable, and at an extreme, make you do something unsafe.
Less experienced drivers are particularly susceptible to on-the-road bullying, simply because they don’t have as much experience handling a vehicle or dealing with the conflicting distractions of city streets. Here are a few skills to keep in mind to stay safer when you inevitably encounter an aggressive driver.
1. Don’t be one.
The first rule of dealing with aggressive drivers is to not be one yourself. Leave on time for your destinations so you don’t feel rushed on the road, and, please, don’t try to show off by driving fast everywhere. Just, don’t. Putting other people in danger by attempting to impress is a silly thing to do.
2. Stay calm.
If someone is tailgating you, honking at you, or yelling at you, try your best not to react. Breath, stay focused, and continue driving in a safe manner. They’ll most likely just drive around you once they have a chance. Panicking and reacting to the aggression, such as entering an intersection before you’re ready because someone is honking at you, will only put you and others in danger.
Even worse, responding with aggressive tactics of your own, like hitting your breaks to startle a tailgater or driving faster to prevent someone from passing you, only increases the danger and could insight a road rage incident. Neither of those outcomes are worth the small satisfaction you might feel from antagonizing someone who’s being a jerk behind the wheel. Instead, let it go and ignore them.
3. Just yield.
In many cases, the best way to deal with an aggressive driver is to let them be on their way. If someone is tailgating you on a two-lane road, don’t speed up. Maintain the speed limit and let them find a place to (safely!) pass. If they try to pass you in an unsafe manner (such as on a windy road or with visible oncoming traffic), gently slow down to be out of the way in case they need to suddenly veer back into your lane. If there appears to be nowhere safe for them to pass you, use the nearest pull out. It will take only a few seconds to pull over, and then you can continue your drive in peace. Whey they inevitably race past you, possibly with a hand gesture, ignore them.
4. Be thoughtful about horns.
A honking horn can is meant to be startling because it’s a safety feature, intended to quickly get someone’s attention to hopefully avoid a collision. If a driver isn’t paying enough attention and is about to run into your car, you want to use your horn to alert them to your presence.
A horn is a tool to say, “I’m here! Be careful!” (i.e. stop moving). A lot of aggressive drivers, however, use the horn to yell, “Get out of my way!” (i.e. go faster).
Do your best to keep context in mind when someone is honking at you. If someone honks at you in a parking lot, for example, it might be because you’re about to hit their car while maneuvering into a parking spot; or it might mean that they want to get out of the parking lot and are impatient that you’re driving slow to look for a spot. Take a moment to try and assess what’s being communicated before responding, especially in the latter scenario.
Also be thoughtful about your own horn use. Be sparing and use it to communicate danger or potential car damage, not as a way to yell at people.
Confidence isn’t aggression
By staying calm and clear in your driving, you can remain in control of the situation, even if someone is throwing a temper tantrum because they want you out of their way. Driving aggressively doesn’t make you a better driver, it only makes you an unsafe one. So, stay calm and focused so that you can drive with confidence.