Road rage shootings: Is North Texas heat causing people to become more violent?

The number of road rage incidents has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say, and we may be seeing even more with the extreme heat in Texas.

On June 23, a road rage incident in Fort Worth led to gun violence near Southwest Loop 820. Then a few weeks later, on July 10, a woman was shot and killed in a road rage incident in Hurst after a car almost hit the minivan she was riding in. The next day, on July 11, a man was shot in the hand during a road rage incident along Interstate 35W, according to Fort Worth police.

“Summer becomes more complicated for some, more schedules to accommodate causing more life stress. Life stress affects our physical and mental health and makes us more vulnerable to what is in our environment,” said Leigh Richardson, founder and clinical director of The Brain Performance Center in Dallas.

The Dallas Police Department recorded 807 road rage incidents in 2022 and 868 in 2021. The Fort Worth Police Department reported 154 road rage incidents in 2022 and 184 in 2021.

Aggressive behaviors when behind the wheel are extremely common among U.S. drivers. Nearly 80% of American drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the previous month, according to AAA.

Aggressive driving can be deadly, with at least 70 people killed in U.S. road rage shootings in 2018. By 2022, that number doubled to 141, per Everytown Research & Policy.

What’s causing road rage incidents to spike in North Texas?

There are two contributing components, Richardson says. The first is aggressive driving or perceived aggressive driving and the second is the reaction of other drivers. About 50% of fatal car crashes are caused by road rage, according to the AAA.

“North Texas roads have become a lot more crowed with the influx of corporations moving to the North Texas area and it wasn’t that long ago during the Covid-19 pandemic that the roads were less crowded and there was more freedom on the road. People did not have to be considerate drivers and now they do,” Richardson said. “The uncertainty that is all around us, Ukraine, the upcoming election, the economic state, price of gas going up and down daily, the price of eggs up 137%, this all affects our bodies fight-flight-freeze response. We are more impulsive and more reactive when our limbic system starts making emotional decisions instead of logical ones.”

Can heat increase road rage incidents?

Heat can contribute to road rage incidents, Richardson says. When heat taxes people’s bodies, their performance on various tasks and overall coping mechanisms also suffer, studies show. Extreme heat is linked to increased aggression, lower cognitive ability and lower productivity, according to a report from ScienceNews.

Researchers analyzed more than 116,000 shootings in 100 cities, finding that nearly 7% could be attributed to days with above-average temperatures, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“You get into a car that is 108 degrees and that accelerates the fight-flight-or freeze reaction in the body and brain,” Richardson said. “Running late is recognized as a contributor to aggressive driving and if you have to wait five minutes for the car to cool down, you are getting behind the wheel in an agitated state.”

Tips to prevent aggressive driving

Think about how you react to an aggressive driver, Richardson suggests. If someone cuts you off, ask yourself, “does it really matter?” Assume that it’s not personal.

“Maybe they have had a bad day, or a bad week. Show them some kindness, not anger, because what goes around comes around. We all need to experience grace and kindness in our life,” Richardson said.

AAA offers these tips to help prevent aggressive driving.

Following the rules of the road:

  • Maintain adequate following distance.

  • Use turn signals.

  • Allow others to merge.

  • Use your high beams responsibly.

  • Tap your horn if you must (but no long blasts with accompanying hand gestures).

  • Be considerate in parking lots. Park in one spot, not across multiple spaces. Be careful not to hit cars next to you with your door.

  • Never cause another driver to change their speed or direction. That means not forcing another driver to use their brakes, or turn the steering wheel in response to something you have done.

Dealing with confrontation:

  • Avoid eye contact with angry drivers and don’t make gestures.

  • Don’t respond to aggression with aggression.

  • If you feel you are at risk, drive to a public place such as a police station, hospital or fire station.

  • Maintain space around your car. When you park, allow room so you can pull out safely if someone approaches you aggressively.

  • Use your horn to attract attention but remain in your locked vehicle.

  • If you are confronted, stay as calm and courteous as possible.

  • If you feel threatened, call 9-1-1.