Many of us spend hours a day in our cars -- often in a secluded cocoon filled with music, our favorite podcast or the news. When that cocoon is disturbed by a driver who cuts in front of us in bumper-to-bumper traffic or makes a reckless or illegal maneuver, tempers can flare. One thing can lead to another. Drivers may escalate from exchanging rude hand gestures to yelling out the window to intentionally striking a car and even outright physical violence.

What Causes Road Rage?

One thing that almost all road rage incidents have in common is reckless driving by one or more people. Often, they involve a combination of violations, such as tailgating, speeding and suddenly changing lanes.

Some people can shrug off an unsafe or rude driver, as long as no accident or injury occurred. However, others, perhaps already stressed out by personal or work matters, take their anger out on the driver whom they believe disrespected or endangered them. When one or both drivers have a weapon such as a gun, the results can be fatal.

Avoid Becoming a Victim

While you can't control other drivers' behavior or reaction to a situation, there are ways to prevent becoming the victim of someone else's road rage. First, don't engage the angry driver. Keep your distance or change your route, even if it means you'll get where you're going a little late. Don't yell or make hand gestures, no matter what the other person is doing.

If a driver seems to be following you or deliberately trying to harm you, call 911. If the driver has struck you and you don't feel safe getting out of your car to deal with the situation, wait until the police arrive.

Remember that it's not your job to chastise a reckless driver or teach him a lesson. Drivers like this will likely end up getting a citation or worse sooner or later.

Finally, drive safely. If you're following the rules of the road and striving to be courteous to other drivers, they're less likely to find reasons to be angry at you.

If you're involved in a crash that is caused by or escalates into road rage, your first priority is to protect yourself and your passengers. Get the authorities on the scene as soon as possible. When it's all over, you can explore your legal options.