Someone cuts you off in traffic. A line of drivers won’t let you merge. A truck is puttering slowly along in the fast lane. A car at the head of a line is idling at a green light, preventing dozens of other vehicles from making it through the intersection.
Do you yell? Lean on the horn? Follow another vehicle closely to let them know they’re going too slow? Cut someone off in return? Maybe even get out of your vehicle to confront the other driver?
According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 8 out of 10 drivers in the United States admitted that they had expressed anger or aggression in the form of road rage. Honking, yelling, and using the horn inappropriately were most common in the northeastern U.S. Young men aged 19 to 39 were most likely to admit to road rage; men were three times more likely than women to ram another vehicle deliberately and to get out of their own vehicle to confront another driver.
A quarter of the drivers surveyed told researched that they had deliberately attempted to block another vehicle from making a lane change. Half reported that they had tailgated another vehicle on purpose. 12 percent reported that they had cut off another vehicle as a result of road rage.
According to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, two thirds of fatal accidents involve aggressive driving. Even behaviors like following too closely, which may seem like an appropriate way to express displeasure in the heat of the moment, can have fatal consequences. And traffic deaths are on the rise in America, with 35,200 fatalities reported in 2015.
Experts are scrambling to find a solution to America’s growing road rage problem. One possibility: pushing for a social shift away from the current status quo that it’s all right to express visibly anger as long as you’re in a car. “For some reason yelling, honking impatiently, or making angry gestures while driving – behaviors that we typically would not do when walking behind a slower person on a sidewalk, for example – are still deemed socially acceptable from the relatively anonymous confines of our cars,” said Jonathan Adkins, the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
New technology may complicate the problem of road rage. How will angry drivers react when the other car they’re frustrated with is being driven by a computer, not a human? Will aggressive drivers behave themselves around self-driving cars because they understand that a human driver isn’t in control—or will they drive more dangerously out of frustration?
One strange side effect of the road rage epidemic: Google is now teaching its cars to honk if they spot an angry or negligent driver performing a dangerous maneuver like drifting into their lane.