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Road Rage is Increasing. What Does That Mean for Motorcyclists?

An image of a motorcyclist filtering through traffic.

YouTube is a gold mine for videos involving some form of road rage. While it’s sometimes even amusing to see a stranger so aggravated by another motorist, these incidents can often have dire consequences. As a motorcyclist, you’re incredibly vulnerable, and getting involved in an altercation with someone in a car or any larger vehicle is something you should try and avoid.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do to avoid confrontation, and if you ride often, you’re bound to cross paths with an aggressive driver at some point. If you’re a motorcyclist or know someone who is, this article will talk you through how you can do your part in keeping the public roads a safer place to be on.

What Do the Numbers Say about Road Rage?

By definition, road rage is the aggressive or angry behavior exhibited by motorists. Meanwhile, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) explains aggressive driving: “The operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.”

A report from a few years ago mentioned that an important distinction is that aggressive driving is a traffic violation, while road rage can be a criminal offense. If you drive or ride long enough, you will be involved in a road rage incident. In fact, a 2016 survey by the AAA Foundation found that nearly 80 percent of drivers experienced aggression while driving that year.

An image of a van driver and a motorcyclist arguing.

That’s a significant percentage of people and the incidents that escalated dramatically resulted in regrettable circumstances. Over a seven-year period, road rage incidents were the cause of 218 murders and 12,610 injuries.

Now, compared to the 42,915 deaths that occurred in motor vehicle crashes in just 2021, that number might not seem as severe. However, there is an irrefutable difference between a death caused by an accident and one that occurs with the intent to cause harm.

Why Has There Been an Increase in Road Rage?

Some common precursors to road rage are traffic jams, delays, aggressive driving like cutting someone off, and behavioral or psychological issues. Every year, the number of vehicles on the road only increases, and the likelihood of being involved in an altercation rises proportionally.

A recent Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund report found that 2021 was one of the worst years on record concerning road rage deaths involving guns. Last year, a person was shot and either injured or killed in a road rage incident every 17 hours, on average. Their study found that this was double the pre-pandemic average, suggesting that COVID-19, the ensuing lockdowns, and several restrictions may have increased stress and anger levels amongst motorists.

The pandemic also saw a record increase in gun sales, and their accessibility has only made things more problematic in a road rage scenario.

An image of a rider knocking on a car's window.

How to Avoid Road Rage

As we mentioned above, if you spend long enough on the road, you will be involved in a road rage situation and one that could potentially be dangerous. To be honest, the only way to altogether avoid it would be to stay off a motorcycle, but why would you resort to that?

Here are some steps you can take to reduce the chances of ending up in a potentially dangerous situation:

If You’re the Victim

  • Abide by the rules of the road. You might be on a motorcycle, but drivers can be peeved if you choose to lane filter (even if done safely) in a state that does not allow it. Similarly, if you tailgate or cut someone off, it may aggravate them.
  • Don’t reciprocate in a situation that might be harmful to you. If someone is being aggressive to you, remain calm and try to avoid escalating the issue.
  • Stop only when necessary. If a driver is aggravated and pulls up next to you, the safest thing to do would be to try and create as much distance as possible. Stopping could lead to further confrontation.
  • Lastly, wear your riding gear. If God forbid, someone in a car tries to run you off the road, wearing protective gear will increase the likelihood of you escaping with less severe injuries.
An image of a rider kicking the side of a car on the highway.

If You’re the Instigator

There are lots of ideas on how to deal with road rage, so we won’t write a novella. If you’re the one raging, consider:

  • Leaving to your destination a little earlier. Several road rage incidents are caused because the aggressive driver is running late and has to be elsewhere urgently. Accounting for traffic and leaving earlier will help you avoid the stress of being late.
  • Stay calm. If someone does something to annoy you, take a deep breath and try to relax. There’s no need to reciprocate their actions.
  • Let minor incidents slide. Avoid honking or gesturing aggressively if another driver or rider cuts you off without inconveniencing you too much.
  • Don’t get out of your vehicle. Approaching someone in a road rage situation can force them to get defensive, leading to dangerous yet avoidable outcomes.
  1. I feel road rage, especially against such things as motorcyclists legally filtering in traffic, is another facet of a general trend towards “entitlement” in our society. There’s no reason for anger towards a motorcyclist doing the right thing, be it doing the posted speed limit at roadworks, giving way correctly at roundabouts, lane filtering or legally using the bicycle holding area at traffic lights. I’ve been harassed and abused for all of these because, I’m assuming, the abuser either is suffering from the “if I can’t have it neither should you” every child gets a prize syndrome, or just outright rage at being held up in a situation they themselves would have just sped through. It has taken a lot of the joy out of riding (and driving) for me.

  2. Too many SUV and 4×4 drivers are in one of two demographics:

    1. I’m bigger and heavier than you so you must give way to me.

    2. I’m in a bigger and heavier vehicle than you so I’m less likely
    to be hurt than you are in a collision… so you are an idiot…
    besides, there are more (absurd) large vehicles on the road
    now than ever before (despite the matter of the shorter than ever amount
    of finite resources), so I’m with the majority (of brainwashed ignorant marionettes),
    so must I be right… so… “I’m alright Jack; f@#k you”.

    Of course towing a large boat, or a horse float etc, are legitimate reasons for
    using a larger heavier vehicle; however the VAST majority of the 4×4/SUV
    absurdities I observe on (made) roads are towing nothing, and containing
    nothing but the imbecile driving it.

    Those imbeciles should be taxed mercilessly and those funds should
    be subsidised to drivers/riders; on a pro rata rate based on size and weight.
    With the median size/weight, being a Ford Crown Vic in the US
    and a Ford Falcon down here in Australia.

    And speaking of subsidies; motorcyclists pose far less potential danger
    to other road users (than the imbeciles in SUV/4x4s), so we should be
    heavily subsidised and given medals for our contribution to humanity imho!

    1. Erratum in my post above:

      It should read in the final line of “Demographic 2”: “so I must be right…” not “so must I be right…”

  3. I live and ride in India. In big cities road rage has increased at alarming levels and bikes are victims because we are soft targets. Knowing fully well that two wheels don’t stand a chance even in a brief encounter car drivers bully. Also, more possibility that if there is a scuffle more than one guy will get out of the car. Defensive riding at all times is a must, that’s all one can say to survive.

  4. Some good advice in this article. I try to remember that while I cannot control the behavior of others, I have absolute control of my own actions and responses to said behavior. Deep breaths are sometimes necessary, but trying to remember this is more helpful than one might think.

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