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Honk, yell or gesture if you’re a Sonoma County aggressive driver

Eight aggressive driving behaviors

More than 78 percent of U.S. drivers reported having engaged in at least one aggressive driving behavior at least once in the past year, according to according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The most common behaviors exhibited are:

Tailgate 50.8 percent

Yell 46.6 percent

Honk 44.5 percent

Gesture 32.5 percent

Lane block 24.2 percent

Cut off 11.9 percent

Confront 3.7 percent

Bump/ram 2.8 percent

For more information:

http://bit.ly/2am8GMO

When it comes to aggressive driving in Sonoma County, the sign of the times may just be the middle finger.

A recent nationwide study on bad driving behavior suggests nearly 80 percent of drivers showed some form of hostility over the past year, including honking at another driver to show annoyance, deliberately tailgating them or getting out at a stoplight to confront them.

Researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said such incidents are becoming more common as relatively cheap gas puts more people on the road, adding to congestion and fueling tempers.

That’s a problem because two-thirds of all fatal crashes involve some type of aggressive driving behavior, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Cheaper gas prices are motivating people to drive more,” said AAA Foundation spokesman Michael Green. “With more people on the road, there’s an increased level of traffic and more opportunities for people to get mad at each other.”

The just-released study was conducted in 2014. It did not offer specific numbers on Sonoma County or the Bay Area.

The foundation polled 2,700 motorists across the country, asking them if they engaged in any of eight specified behaviors, including two defined as road rage.

More than three out of four responded “yes” to one or more behaviors. The most common was tailgating, done by about half the respondents, followed by yelling, honking and gesturing. Blocking other drivers from changing lanes and cutting people off were also popular. A smaller group admitted deliberately bumping or ramming another car to show displeasure.

Male drivers were more likely than female drivers to be aggressive while those in the 25- to 39-year-old range admitted the most hostility.

Northeastern drivers did the most honking, yelling and gesturing while drivers in the West were leaders in blocking and cutting off.

Local traffic officers said the study’s conclusions sound about right.

Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chad Heiser said aggressive driving is more noticeable today than when he started 22 years ago. Complaints of road rage are steady, he said.

“People just get irritated out there and take it out on other drivers,” Heiser said.

CHP Officer Jon Sloat also has seen it. He was off-duty, driving through Windsor in his own car, when he honked at a driver who ran a stop sign.

She flipped him the bird as she sailed through the intersection, a small child in the back seat, he said.

“Having done this for a while, nothing surprises me,” Sloat said. “There’s another fine example.”

When it comes to area freeways, Sloat said aggressive lane-changing without signals is the most common aggressive act next to tailgating.

Also, more passive-aggressive behavior like deliberate braking and driving slow in the fast lane to control other drivers occurs frequently, Sloat said.

“We don’t approve of that, either,” Sloat said.

Psychologists say aggressive, behind-the-wheel behavior is borne of stress, and benefits from the false belief there are no consequences for acting out in one’s car.

Sonoma State University psychology professor Glenn S. Brassington said it’s often touched off by perceived roadway slights, such as waiting too long to leave a traffic signal or changing lanes too soon. Aggressive drivers will feel compelled to address the “injustice” in ways that would be otherwise inappropriate, he said.

“If you decided the person is out to get you, you’re going to want to punish them,” Brassington said. “It could be as simple as someone looking at their cellphone. They didn’t start off right away when the light turned green. They delayed you. Humans are amazing at making up these incredible stories of injustice.”

Despite a common belief that venting is good, it isn’t. Things often get worse. There could be consequences, whether in the short term like a ticket or later stress-related health problems, he said.

“It’s better to count to 10,” Brassington said. “Take a few breaths. Don’t act out. There are very few times when you are aggressive with someone and it makes things better.”

The AAA Foundation study explored other areas as well, including how careful drivers felt they were compared to others and whether they exceeded the speed limit in the past month.

A stunning one-third of all respondents admitting running a red light in the prior 30 days and about 40 percent said they’d driven 15 mph over the speed limit on the freeway.

The bottom line, Sloat said, is inconsiderate behavior is often dangerous and illegal - and not a smart way to deal with congestion.

“Just about every time it does not get you anywhere,” said Sloat. “You’ll get to a stoplight and find the same person right next to you.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter ?@ppayne.

Eight aggressive driving behaviors

More than 78 percent of U.S. drivers reported having engaged in at least one aggressive driving behavior at least once in the past year, according to according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The most common behaviors exhibited are:

Tailgate 50.8 percent

Yell 46.6 percent

Honk 44.5 percent

Gesture 32.5 percent

Lane block 24.2 percent

Cut off 11.9 percent

Confront 3.7 percent

Bump/ram 2.8 percent

For more information:

http://bit.ly/2am8GMO

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