American Judges Association


Date of this Version

December 2004


Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 40:3-4 (2004), pp. 34-41. Copyright © 2004 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at


Aggressive driving usually refers to a disregard for others on the road and is distinguished from the more extreme “road rage,” which involves violent, criminal acts. Nevertheless, with an 1,800 reported incidents of violent road behavior involving the use of an automobile in the United States in 1996, it is a national problem requiring attention. Aggressive driving is responsible for more than 27,000 fatalities per year as well as over 3,000,000 injuries, costing over $150 billion dollars.

A survey of 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 60% of the drivers interviewed believed that unsafe driving by others is a major personal threat to them and their families. A December 2, 2003 AAA survey found aggressive driving to be the top threat on Washington, D.C. area roads. Forty-three percent of the respondents said that aggressive driving was more of a danger than traffic congestion and road conditions, and even impaired driving. Moreover, AAA notes that aggressive driving has been increasing 7% per year since 1990.

The incidents that trigger aggressive driving in the average driver are usually simple matters of discourtesy—hand and facial gestures, loud music, overuse of the horn, tailgating, speeding, and failure to signal when changing lanes. These driving behaviors are just the trigger points, while the actual causes of aggressive driving can be traced back to all forms of stress in an individual’s daily life. “Road warriors” are the result of a flashpoint of all the accumulated stresses in life. Like driving under the influence, aggressive driving is not a simple action, but a behavioral choice drivers make.

NHTSA defines aggressive driving as follows: “when individuals commit a combination of many traffic offenses as to endanger persons or property.” A more specific definition is “the operation of a motor vehicle involving three or more moving violations as part of a single, continuous sequence of driving acts which is likely to endanger any person or property.” Driving acts are ones you would expect: running stop signs, disobeying red lights, speeding, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the right, unsafe lane changes, going around railroad gates, flashing lights and blowing horns, facial and hand gestures.

Although some states have enacted laws specifically directed at aggressive driving, many do not distinguish aggressive driving from other traffic offenses. A national study of 2,858 cases showed that exceeding the posted speed limit was the most frequently used indicator of aggressive driving cases (914) and that improper lane changes (512) and driving too closely (233) were other common offenses that indicated aggressive driving.

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