Seeing red: four fifths of motorists feel intimidated behind the wheel

Car traffic in the city

...with ‘tailgating’ ranking top as the main driver behind stress and worry.

  • Almost four fifths of motorists (79%) admit to feeling intimidated by other motorists when behind the wheel1
  • Despite this, over three in five (62%) confess to being intimidating on the road themselves2
  • Actions of fellow drivers leave almost two in five (38%) feeling stressed, with over a quarter (28%) feeling worried
  • Reasons behind intimidation include ‘tailgating’, being overtaken at high speeds,  undertaken on the inside, and receiving rude gestures  

As Road Safety Week 2023 gets underway (19-25 November), new research by Aviva reveals that the majority (79%) of drivers are intimidated by other motorists while on the road. This rises to almost nine out of 10 (89%) new drivers or learners aged 17-24.

This behaviour leads to a wealth of unwelcome emotions with half of intimidated drivers (50%) left feeling annoyed and 38% becoming stressed as a result. A further 33% report being angry, while 28% of people affected are worried by these driving habits.

When looking at why drivers feel intimidated, more than half (51%) reported ‘tailgating’ to be the main cause, followed by being overtaken at high speeds (37%) and undertaken on the inside (27%).  A further one in five (23%) also cite rude gestures and honking aggressively as intimidating behaviours.

Tailgating - deliberately driving too close to the vehicle in front - falls under the careless driving offence, meaning that drivers could face a fine and points on their licence3. Despite this, three in ten (30%) of those surveyed are either unsure or don’t believe that drivers could get fined for doing so.

Although the majority experience intimidation on the road, more than half (62%) of motorists admit to intimidating behaviour themselves. In fact, one in six (18%) drivers admit to flashing headlights and although well-intentioned in most cases, flashing headlights unnecessarily is against the Highway Code which states: ‘Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users’4.

Table: The top 10 actions/behaviours drivers felt intimidated by:

When comparing age groups, the data shows that younger drivers surveyed were most likely to feel worried with a third (33%) of 17-24 year-olds reporting this, compared to almost a quarter (24%) of those aged 65-74. However, younger generations were the least likely to feel angry (25%) compared to a third of those aged 74-84 (33%) and those aged 65-74 (34%). These two age groups also reported the highest levels of annoyance at 60% and 61% respectively.

While we can’t control the actions of other drivers, one thing we can control is how we respond to instances of road rage and intimidation.

Martin Smith, Motor Claims Manager at Aviva, comments: “Tailgating is dangerous, intimidating and can cause accidents, especially during periods of wet weather and icy conditions. By keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front, it enables you to have enough time to stop if necessary and prevent a potential collision.

“It’s equally important to consider the manner in which you use your headlights and horn. Though a useful way to warn other road users of your presence, using either too aggressively can be viewed as an ‘intimidating behaviour’ and could potentially land you with a fine, points on your licence and in some instances, a driving ban.

“While we can’t control the actions of other drivers, one thing we can control is how we respond to instances of road rage and intimidation. Try to keep calm, ignore them and if another driver is too close for comfort,  consider letting them past – it pays to be cautious when encountering unpredictable drivers on the roads. Most intimidation is momentary, however if it persists and you are in a position to safely and legally do so, call the Police for assistance.”



Research was conducted by Censuswide with 1287 17+ Polling UK Drivers between 23.10.2023 - 25.10.2023.

1. This is a combination of ‘Yes frequently’ and ‘Yes, occasionally’ answer statements
2. Stat found by taking away the volume of respondents who ticked 'no negative actions in particular' and 'other' away from the overall figure of those surveyed (1,287)
3. Highway Code penalty table
4. Rule 110 of the Highway Code


Amy Penn

General Insurance

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