Potential Surge in Aggressive Driving Could Dampen Holiday Cheer

Holiday and pandemic-related stress could add to already poor driving habits

BOISE – With fewer Idahoans taking kids to school and commuting to work, some drivers are dashing all the way to their destinations, tempted by reduced traffic congestion to travel at high speeds that put themselves and other road users at risk.

But AAA warns that a few more names could end up on Santa’s naughty list this year, as the stress of the holiday season and the current pandemic threaten to amplify some of the dangerous driving behavior that the motoring association has identified in previous research.

“We’ve learned that many Americans have a tendency to speed, run red lights, make angry gestures, tailgate, and weave in and out of traffic in the course of their regular driving activities.  But people are under extra pressure right now, and if bad habits get worse, it will certainly spell trouble for everyone on the road,” says AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde.  “We’re asking drivers to keep their cool.  Nobody wants to spend the holidays with their car in a repair shop.”

Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that nearly 8 in 10 drivers demonstrate at least one form of aggressive behavior when behind the wheel.  According to the Idaho Transportation Department’s 2019 crash report, aggressive driving was a contributing factor in half of all crashes on Gem State roads and resulted in 66 deaths.

While younger males are the most likely to display acts of aggression while driving, females aren’t far behind, based on responses they provided for a AAA survey:

 

Aggressive Driving Behaviors among Male and Female U.S. Drivers (2019) –

courtesy AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

  Male Female
Drove 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway 52.0% 44.6%
Followed the vehicle in front closely to prevent another vehicle from merging 37.8% 29.3%
Made rude gesture/honked at another driver 35.4% 28%
Drove through a red light 32.2% 30.0%
Drove aggressively by switching lanes quickly and/or very close behind another car 31.5% 21.4%

 

Defusing an aggressive driving situation

  • Don’t offend. Every time you force someone to change direction or slam on their brakes, it adds to an already stressful situation.  Allow people to safely merge, and use your turn signals to further reduce confusion and frustration for other drivers.  If you can’t get where you want to go safely, maintain your present course, and double back if necessary.

“It’s never a good idea to make an unfriendly gesture, but if you must, you should keep your hands out of sight while you’re doing it,” Conde suggested.  “While we emphasize courtesy on the roads, we’re also in the middle of the holiday shopping season, so please be kind in parking lots, too.”

  • Forgive quickly. Don’t take someone else’s aggressive driving personally.  Give the other driver the benefit of the doubt and move on.
  • Do not respond. One of the worst things you can do is escalate the situation by reacting to someone else’s angry or dangerous behavior.  Avoid eye contact, don’t shout or honk your horn, and don’t retaliate by tailgating or cutting them off.  If the situation continues to escalate, you may need to call 9-1-1.
  • Build in extra time. When you’re not in a huge hurry, you’re less likely to drive aggressively, and more likely to be tolerant of others.

 

“As we head into the dark, cold days of winter, road conditions will be pretty challenging, even for engaged drivers,” Conde said.  “But if you’re upset or frustrated, that could lead to situational blindness and the possibility of a devastating crash.  We hope everyone will agree that it’s pretty selfish to put personal convenience over safety.  That type of behavior just doesn’t match the spirit of the season.”