Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving is a major factor in U.S. traffic accidents, playing a role not just in well-publicized incidents of road rage, but in a large number of fatal highway collisions each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) defines aggressive driving as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” While aggressive driving is difficult to quantify, a 2009 study by the American Automobile Association attempted to identify behaviors associated with aggressive driving, based on data tracked by NHTSA’s Fatal Accident Report System (FARS). It found that aggressive driving played a role in 56 percent of fatal crashes from 2003 through 2007, with excessive speed being the number one factor. The following driver-related contributing factors in FARS were taken as indications that crashes may have involved aggressive driving:

  • Following improperly
  • Improper or erratic lane changing
  • Illegal driving on road shoulder, in ditch, or on sidewalk or median
  • Passing where prohibited
  • Operating the vehicle in an erratic, reckless, careless, or negligent manner or suddenly changing speeds
  • Failure to yield right of way
  • Failure to obey traffic signs, traffic control devices, or traffic officers, failure to observe safety zone traffic laws
  • Failure to observe warnings or instructions on vehicle displaying them
  • Failure to signal
  • Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted speed limit
  • Racing
  • Making an improper turn

Speeding was the leading driving behavior associated with fatal crashes in 2011, followed by driving under the influence (13.8 percent), according to an analysis by NHTSA. Distracted driving was a factor in 7.1 percent of fatal crashes (Note: NHTSA provide guides, planners and information to law enforcement professionals and prosecutors to assist in the reduction of aggressive driving on its website).


Behavior Number Percent
Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted speed limit 9,080 20.8%
Under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication 6,042 13.8
Failure to keep in proper lane 4,039 9.2
Failure to yield right of way 3,148 7.2
Distracted (phone, talking, eating, etc.) 3,085 7.1
Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless, careless or negligent manner 2,604 6.0
Overcorrecting/oversteering 2,080 4.8
Failure to obey traffic signs, signals or officer 1,826 4.2
Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, other
vehicle, object, nonmotorist in roadway, etc.
1,741 4.0
Vision obscured (rain, snow, glare, lights, buildings, trees, etc.) 1,301 3.0
Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blacked out 1,152 2.6
Driving wrong way in one-way traffic or on wrong side of road 1,082 2.5
Making improper turn 1,015 2.3
Other factors 6,562 15.0
Unknown 4,569 10.5
None reported 13,012 29.8
Total drivers (1) 43,668 100.0%
  1. The sum of percentages is greater than total drivers as more than one factor may be present for the same driver.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Posted 3:25 pm