Aggressive driving and road rage are common driving behaviors. They can occur out of nowhere and are a serious safety risk.

It is not uncommon to encounter drivers who are impatient, stressed out or rude. In fact, aggressive drivers have been around as long as motor vehicles have been on the roads. However, today's busy American lifestyle and increasing traffic levels may be contributing to a phenomenon widely known as road rage. Virginia residents should be aware that an aggressive driver or a driver engaging in road rage can change their lives without notice.

Aggressive driving may be more prevalent than people think. According to the American Safety Council, approximately 66 percent of all traffic fatalities are said to stem from some type of aggressive driving. It is important to note, however that there are differences between aggressive driving and true road rage.

Aggressive driving vs. road rage

Aggressive driving can involve any of several driving behaviors that may put others' safety at risk, including speeding, tailgating, abrupt lane changing and cutting other people off. An aggressive driver may also use rude gestures and honk the horn to show his or her anger or impatience. Authorities usually consider aggressive driving to be a traffic offense, although in Virginia, an aggressive driving violation is a misdemeanor charge.

On the other hand, road rage is considered a serious criminal matter, since a driver engaging in road rage is intending to harm someone else. A driver may use a weapon, tool or the vehicle itself to hurt another driver, or he or she may corner another driver and attempt to force a physical confrontation.

Pittsylvania County road rage fatality

An incident that occurred last January in Pittsylvania County illustrates the suddenness and severity of road rage attacks. Reportedly, two vehicles pulled over at a convenience store following an argument on the highway. One man left his vehicle and fatally shot a man in the other car. He has been charged with two felony weapon violations.

There are numerous steps a driver can take to avoid being harmed in a road rage attack, including the following:

· Never drive home, which would let the attacker know where you live.

· Use your cellphone to call 911.

· Stay calm and attempt to safely drive away from the other driver.

· If cornered or run off the road, lock your doors and do not get out of the car.

· Attempt to pull over at a police or fire station.

Over a seven-year period, road rage has been attributed to 218 murders and over 12,600 injuries. Those who have been injured or lost a loved one due to aggressive driving or a road rage attack may wish to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about possible compensation.