Research

Despite fewer miles driven, 1 in 5 drivers are more frustrated with other drivers on the road

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We’ve all gotten a little…frustrated while driving. Maybe you’ve yelled through your window at a driver who cut you off or shot them a non-PG-rated hand gesture. 

Aggressive driving and road rage is more common than we think. (Search “road rage” in Google News for proof). And it can be pretty dangerous. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), aggressive driving is “The operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property,” while road rage is "an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle or precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway." 

Both behaviors can have significant consequences. According to a 2009 study by the Insurance Information Institute, aggressive driving played a role in 56% of fatal crashes, and the AAA Foundation discovered that more than 200 murders and 12,000 injuries were attributed to road rage in a seven-year time period. 

However, as we know, the world has changed significantly in the last couple of years and so too have the ways people drive. We wanted to learn more about what drivers have witnessed and how they have experienced road rage during the pandemic. Our new road rage study examines the aggressive driving behaviors motorists are observing — and what they’re doing themselves.

 

Key findings

  • 35% of people are driving less today, but 1 in 5 drivers experience more frustration while driving compared to before the pandemic
  • Distracted driving is the #1 source of anger or frustration
  • 95% of drivers observed road rage or aggressive driving in the past year, but only 64% of drivers admitted to doing it
  • 1 in 4 drivers keep a weapon or safety device in their vehicle

Now let's dig into these findings a little more. 

35% of people are driving less today, but 1 in 5 drivers experience more frustration while driving

With the past two years causing a shift to work-from-home life, it makes sense that people are driving differently. Nearly half of the drivers we surveyed told us that they’ve changed their driving habits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 35% of drivers said they now drive less (and in California, 43% of drivers said they’re behind the wheel less!).

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But, while people may be driving less, they’re getting more frustrated with other drivers on the road than ever before. 1 in 5 drivers say they experience more frustration behind the wheel. 

More than half of drivers (56%) said the highway/freeway is where they are most likely to experience frustration. Other top locations include streets, traffic lights or intersections or around a shopping center. (After all, have you ever felt totally zen while looking for a parking spot in a crowded shopping center?).

Why is this happening? Some drivers think that they’re getting more frustrated because other drivers have been more reckless with fewer people on the road. Other drivers mentioned that due to the pandemic, an influx of people has moved to their rural areas, causing more traffic. Also, general anxiety over COVID-19 has caused drivers to just be tenser behind the wheel these past few years. 

About 60% of drivers said they deal with this frustration by listening to music. Other top tactics include yelling or cursing, waiting until the feeling goes away, or driving a different route.

 

60% of drivers deal with driving frustration by listening to music.

Distracted driving is the #1 source of anger or frustration

When we performed this study in 2019, 42% of drivers said distracted driving makes them the angriest. In 2021, that number went way up. 63% of drivers said distracted drivers cause them the most anger or frustration while on the road. 

Texting is one of the most common examples of distracted driving, but the NHTSA defines the term as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” Distracted driving also includes behaviors like eating, drinking, finding a new song on the radio or Spotify, putting on makeup, entering info into your navigation system and more. In 2019, 3,142 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers.

We found that when it comes to speeding, drivers are actually more frustrated by people going “too slow” drivers (46%) than going “too fast” (34%). 

Overall, drivers in 2021 are more triggered by others’ driving behaviors than they were in 2019. In the chart below, the green arrows and numbers beneath them show how many percentage points of increase compared to the previous survey. As you can see, all have gone up, and in many cases significantly.  

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95% of drivers observed road rage or aggressive driving, but only 64% of drivers admitted to doing it

95% of drivers told us that they observed road rage or aggressive driving in the past year. Changing lanes without signaling was the most commonly observed aggressive behavior, with 82% of drivers saying they witnessed it. About 80% of drivers witnessed distracted driving, and three out of four observed other dangerous behaviors involving traffic, like speeding and weaving in and out.

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What do people do when they see these road rage incidents? About 1 in 5 drivers have reported a road rage incident to the police, but the majority of drivers have never reported a road rage or aggressive driving incident to the police (of the ones who have, half have done so within the past year). Interestingly, drivers in New York were twice as likely to report incidents. 

While an overwhelming majority of drivers say they witnessed aggressive driving or road rage behavior, only 64% of drivers admitted to doing it in the past year (this large discrepancy makes us sense some dishonesty among these drivers…). Honking to show anger or frustration is the most common self-reported driving behavior, with 37% of drivers saying they do it. Other common self-reported behaviors included yelling or cursing (24%) and distracted driving (19%).

“They ran me off the road and tried to run me over. Police did nothing. Insurance fixed the damage because I reported it though." - A 52-year-old male from Tennessee

1 in 4 drivers keep a weapon or safety device in their vehicle

27% of drivers told us they keep a weapon or safety device in their car, the most common being pepper spray, followed by knives and guns. Other devices drivers mention they’ve carried are flares, fire extinguishers and tire irons.

In Florida, 35% of drivers said they keep a weapon or safety device in their vehicle compared to 34% of California drivers and 28% of Texas drivers. In Florida the most carried weapon is a gun versus pepper spray in Texas and a knife in California.

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Consequences of road rage and aggressive driving

Aggressive driving and road rage can have legal ramifications, especially when it comes to car insurance. A reckless driving citation can lead drivers to pay an average of $906 more for car insurance per year. Aggressive driving behaviors, like speeding or running a red light, can also increase premiums for three years after the violation.

Suppose you as a driver find yourself on the verge of road rage. In that case, AAA recommends that you focus on managing your behavior and responses to other drivers by not taking anything personally while on the road. It also recommends following the rules of the road and having common courtesy, like keeping a proper following distance, allowing other cars to merge and using turn signals to reduce the risk of involvement in a road rage incident.

Methodology

The Zebra’s report presents the findings of an anonymous online survey of 979 drivers from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., ages 17-85 who drive at least monthly. The survey was conducted by independent research firm SurveyGizmo from Sept. 27-Oct. 9, 2021, and the results were reviewed for quality control. 

For the purposes of this survey, road road and aggressive driving include the following behaviors:  

Aggressive driving 

  • Speeding in heavy traffic
  • Tailgating
  • Cutting off another driver on purpose
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Changing lanes without signaling
  • Blocking other cars from passing or changing lanes
  • Running a red light or disobeying a traffic signal on purpose
  • Honking to show anger or frustration

Road rage

  • Making angry or obscene gestures (middle finger)
  • Yelling or cursing at another driver or pedestrian
  • Throwing objects
  • Bumping or ramming another vehicle on purpose
  • Sideswiping another vehicle
  • Forcing another driver off the road
  • Getting out of the vehicle to confront another driver
  • Getting in a physical fight with another driver

 

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