Driving behavior and road rage in 2023

Find out what American drivers said is their #1 driving frustration

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Manager, Content Quality

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. As a licensed insurance agent, he specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers…

When you’re driving and someone cuts you off in outrageous fashion just to end up two cars ahead of you in traffic, the thought that likely goes through your head is: what are they thinking? (You might add an expletive in there as well). 

In the interest of learning what drivers in the U.S. are thinking, how they’re behaving behind the wheel and how they perceive the behavior of others — we asked them. We did a similar survey in 2021, so it’s interesting to not only show people’s biggest frustrations in 2023, but also to compare them to the past. In fact, drivers are experiencing less frustration and observing fewer aggressive driving behaviors than they did in two years ago. 

We can’t entirely account for the reason behind this mellowing, other than the post pandemic return-to-the-road (and return-to-traffic) left many with some bad habits they're finally starting to shake.

 

Key takeaways

Here are the most interesting findings from the 2023 driving behavior and road rage survey:

  • The majority of people cited getting cut off as their top frustration.
  • People experience the greatest driving frustration on Mondays and Fridays.
  • Road rage is happening less than in our previous survey, but 92% of people still reported seeing at least one incident of agressive driving in the past year.
  • 34% of respondents reported carrying at least one weaspon in their vehicle.

The surprising top frustration for American drivers

No one likes being cut off, but it turns out it’s people’s most cited driving frustration. In fact, more than half of surveyed drivers considered this their top reason for being irked behind the wheel. This has changed since we asked the same question back in 2021. At that point, distracted driving was the most frustrating behavior to the majority of drivers. Distracted driving did, however, still rank highly, with 42% of respondents citing it as a top frustration.

 Top frustrations for U.S. drivers

There are some interesting differences in what was found to be most frustrating driving behaviors across generations. While getting cut off topped the list for Millennials and Gen Z, for Gen X and Boomers being tailgated was the most frustrating. Gen Z and Millennials are not only more likely to engage in aggressive driving than Gen X and Boomers but also experience more frustration driving. 

This chart shows the most frustrating driving behavior to people in that state and the behavior the greatest number of people reported engaging in. Note: Not all states were included because there wasn’t enough data from those states.

Most frustrating and most engaged in behaviors by state
State Most frustrating behavior Top engaged in behavior
  Alabama Distracted driving / Tailgating (tie) Not signaling
  Arizona Distracted driving Honking in anger
  California Getting cut off Honking in anger
  Colorado Getting cut off / Tailgating (tie) Honking in anger
  Florida Distracted driving Honking in anger
  Georgia Tailgating Honking in anger
  Illinois Getting cut off Honking in anger
  Indiana Tailgating Honking in anger
  Kentucky Getting cut off / Tailgating (tie) Honking in anger / Not signaling (tie)
  Louisiana Getting cut off / Tailgating (tie) Not signaling
  Maryland Getting cut off Honking in anger
  Massachusetts Getting cut off Honking in anger
  Michigan Getting cut off Honking in anger
  Minnesota Getting cut off Honking in anger
  Missouri Getting cut off Honking in anger / Distracted driving (tie)
  New Jersey Traffic jams Honking in anger
  New York Getting cut off Honking in anger
  North Carolina Distracted driving Honking in anger
  Ohio Tailgating / Getting cut off (tie) Honking in anger
  Oklahoma Getting cut off Distracted driving / Making obscene gestures (tie)
  Oregon Driving too slow Honking in anger
  Pennsylvania Tailgating Honking in anger
  South Carolina Traffic jams Tailgating
  Tennessee Tailgating Honking in anger / Making obscene gestures (tie)
  Texas Distracted driving Honking in anger
  Virginia Getting cut off / Tailgating (tie) Honking in anger
  Washington Tailgating Honking in anger
  Wisconsin No turn signals Honking in anger

People experience greater driving frustration on certain days

Where and when people experience frustration behind the wheel varies. While 19% of respondents said any weekday is the worst — which makes sense given those are high-traffic commute days — Mondays and Fridays were tied as the worst days for driving frustration. 

In terms of time of day, the late afternoon slump is real as 38% of respondents cited that as the time of day they are more likely to experience frustration. By contrast, late evening and late night were the times when the fewest people experienced frustration. 

Location also plays a role, with 45% of drivers experiencing their greatest frustration on freeways. Generally, the times and places where a driver is interacting with more vehicles tend to be seen/perceived as the most frustrating.

Road rage is happening, but less

According to our survey, 92% of people said they had observed at least one incident of road rage or aggressive driving in the past year, and 89% said they had been on the receiving end of it. While that’s obviously the vast majority of people, it was down 3% from when the survey was conducted in 2021. Additionally, when looking at the individual behaviors, almost all of them were down many percentage points from the previous survey. 

For example, the most frequently witnessed incidence of bad driving was changing lanes without signaling at 60%; however that was 31% lower than the previous survey. Distracted driving (58%) was also down 32% from the previous survey. When it comes to more serious road rage like getting into a physical altercation with another driver, only 6% had witnessed this behavior in the last year.

 Top behaviors admitted to

The amount of self-reported bad driving behavior was also down from the past survey. 58% of people admitted to engaging in at least one negative behavior (down 10% from the previous survey). The most common behavior drivers admitted to was honking out of anger. Interestingly, the rates of which bad or aggressive driving behavior is witnessed is always much higher than the percent of people who report doing it. We do have to account for the personal bias of human nature. We, as people are more apt to notice bad behavior in others than in ourselves.

The state whose residents are most likely to be packing

One of the things many people worry about when it comes to road rage is the potential for weapons to be involved. And it’s a reasonable concern. According to analysis by Everytown Research & Policy in 2023, the number of road rage injuries and deaths involving guns has increased every year since 2018[1]

According to our survey, 34% of respondents keep at least one weapon in their vehicle, the most common being pepper spray (13%), a gun (10%) or a knife (10%). 

The states with the highest number of respondents having weapons are Michigan and South Carolina, where more than half of respondents said they had at least one weapon in their vehicle. In many states it is perfectly legal to have a gun in your car either with a permit or without (depending on the state)[2]. Some states like Louisiana require you to announce it to an office if pulled over or make it visible, as in Delaware. 

This chart shows some of the states that were outliers for respondents reporting carrying specific weapons well above the national average.

 Weapons carried in cars by state

Drivers on their best behavior

In addition to asking drivers about negative behaviors, we also asked about what positive driving behaviors people engaged in. The most frequently adhered to (and also the one most people felt is the most important) was wearing a seatbelt. Adhering to traffic signals and yielding to pedestrians were also high on the list. 

Washington state not only has the largest percentage of drivers who participate in positive driving behaviors but is also a state with the least amount of frustrated drivers on the road. Interestingly, drivers in this state also observe aggressive behaviors at higher rates than drivers in other states, suggesting that they are highly aware of how others are driving. 

Conversely, Louisiana has the worst behaved drivers overall and one of the larger percentages of frustrated drivers on the road. However, drivers in this state rank low on self-reported aggressive driving and are the least likely to report road rage. Drivers in this state also observe aggressive behaviors at lower rates than drivers in other states, suggesting that they are not paying as much attention to how others are driving.

Here are some of the top driving behaviors and the percentage of people who reported adhering to them.

Always / almost always Very frequent / often Sometimes Rarely / never
  Wearing your seatbelt 89% 7% 2% 2%
  Adhering to traffic   signals 88% 9% 2% 1%
  Yielding to pedestrians   and cyclists 86% 10% 2% 1%
  Using turn signals when   changing lanes 86% 11% 2% 1%
  Yielding to the right of   way 86% 11% 2% 1%
  Not blocking   intersections 86% 10% 2% 2%
  Coming to a complete   stop at stop signs 80% 15% 4% 1%
  Maintaining a safe   following distance 78% 18% 3% 1%
  Avoiding distracted   driving 77% 17% 4% 2%
  Driving in the right or   middle lane and passing   in the left 71% 18% 6% 4%
  Slowing down at yellow   lights 69% 22% 7% 2%
  Letting other drivers in   when they're changing   lanes or merging 68% 25% 6% 1%
  Adhering to speed limits 63% 24% 10% 3%

In conclusion

Based on our research, people seem to be less frustrated when driving compared to two years ago. They are both witnessing and participating in fewer incidents of aggressive or poor driving. And good driving behaviors are also high. 

Why is this? It’s possible this is because two years ago, people were just returning to the roads after COVID shutdowns reduced traffic and commuting significantly. The stark change in traffic  and some bad habits developed during periods of low driving frequency could have increased frustration. As things return to normal two years later, these behaviors may have slowed down both in terms of bad behaviors and in people's frustration in response to them. 

So while dashboard camera videos of people behaving badly are not few and far between, on a whole, we as a driving nation seem to be doing okay.

Methodology

This report shares the results of an online survey conducted by panel partner Maru Blue using the survey platform Qualtrics from May 19, 2023 to June 9, 2023. There were 2,388 respondents balanced to reflect census representation in the U.S.