Aggressive driving is a major concern of the American public, ranking at or near the top of traffic safety issues in national surveys of motorists. However, the concept of aggressive driving is not well defined, and its overall impact on traffic safety has not been well quantified due to inadequacies and limitation of available data.
This paper reviews published scientific literature on aggressive driving; discusses various definitions of aggressive driving; cites several specific behaviors that are typically associated with aggressive driving; and summarizes past research on the individuals or groups most likely to behave aggressively. Since adequate data to precisely quantify the percentage of fatal crashes that involve aggressive driving do not exist, in this review, we have quantified the number of fatal crashes in which one or more driver actions typically associated with aggressive driving were reported. We found these actions were reported in 56 percent of fatal crashes from 2003 through 2007, with excessive speed being the number one factor. Ideally, an estimate of the prevalence of aggressive driving would include only instances in which such actions were performed intentionally; however, available data on motor vehicle crashes do not contain such information, thus it is important to recognize that this 56 percent may to some degree overestimate the contribution of aggressive driving to fatal crashes. On the other hand, it is likely that aggressive driving contributes to at least some crashes in which it is not reported due to lack of evidence.
Despite the clear limitations associated with our attempt to estimate the contribution of potentially-aggressive driver actions to fatal crashes, it is clear that aggressive driving poses a serious traffic safety threat. In addition, our review further indicated that the “Do as I say, not as I do” culture, previously reported in the Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index, very much applies to aggressive driving.
Americans are very concerned about aggressive driving, at least when it’s done by “the other guy.” A 2005 telephone survey by ABC News and The Washington Post found that when asked which of several potential threats “most endangers your own safety on the road,” 32 percent of respondents identified aggressive drivers as the greatest threat, yielding as many responses as drunk drivers and nearly three times as many responses as any other item that was queried. The overwhelming majority of respondents to a 2002 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported having felt threatened by the behavior of other drivers at least occasionally in the past year, and about one in seven reported feeling threatened by other drivers weekly or more often (2003). In a 2002 telephone survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 58 percent of respondents reported that they often saw “drivers who are aggressive and reckless.”
© 2009, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety