Road Rage Revisited
Even more anger and violence behind the wheel.
Posted Jan 09, 2017
One of the first blogs I wrote for Psychology Today back in January 2013 was on road rage. It has become the most popular subject I’ve ever posted, not based on the number of page views, but on its attraction to the U.S. and international media. After three years, not a week doesn’t go by when I don’t get a call or an email from a radio or TV producer or a newspaper reporter, here and abroad, who wants to interview me about what they all call the “new phenomenon of road rage.”
To name a few, I’ve given interviews to TV and radio stations in Singapore, Sydney, Seoul, and South Africa. I’ve talked about it on stations and for newspapers in Salt Lake City, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Houston (apparently one of the most prevalent U.S. cities for road rage), Portland, Detroit, and New York. I have Canada completely covered on the issue, with radio interviews in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, and for the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
Every media interview starts the same way: first a horrible story of road rage in that city or country, which ended with either serious injuries or deaths (of course, always of the non-aggressive participants), arrests, police chases, vehicle damage, and public outrage. Then secondly, the sudden media interest. The first question I always get is just as predictable: why?
The answers are many, as I said on this site in 2013 and now: the ability to be anonymously aggressive, testosterone or estrogen poisoning (both men and women can exhibit road rage, though certainly not in equal proportions), no concern for consequences (at least in the moment), the desire to exert unnecessary and stupid influence over what they perceive as “their territory” on the road or highway, and “lizard-brain thinking,” as opposed to “big-brain thinking.”
This “amygdala hijacking” drives some people (no pun intended) to do things under the hazy rage of uncontrolled anger that they often regret later, but simply cannot see at the time they’re trapped in the event. Based on my work as a cop back in the day, I’m certain there are many people who got arrested for hitting someone on the side of the road with their fists, or smashing into their car, or using a baseball bat, knife, or gun and doing something that causes them to sit in their jail cell and wish they hadn’t done it. It is often in those “too late now” moments that insight rears its ugly, knowing head, too late to have stopped the person from ruining their lives and the lives of others.
Who is in charge of this issue, nationally, besides the responding cops or state troopers? Do we need a “Road Rage Czar” in this country, someone who works at a high level for the Department of Transportation, the National Highway Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, our state Governors, our Attorneys General, or even the bloody local AAA auto club?
And speaking of the Auto Club, here are some facts and figures from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s July 2016 report on road rage:
- Car crashes are among the leading causes of death in the U.S.
- Nearly two of every three drivers believe “aggressive driving” is a bigger problem today than three years ago, and nine out of ten drivers believe it’s a threat to their personal safety.
- 78 percent of drivers (out of their sample size of 2,705 licensed U.S. drivers) have engaged in at least one aggressive driving behavior in the past year, which is defined as “purposefully tailgating,” "yelling at another driver," or “honking their horn to show annoyance or anger.”
- One-third said they had made an “angry gesture at another driver.”
- One in four said they had “purposely tried to block another driver from changing lanes.”
- 12 percent said they had “cut off another vehicle on purpose.”
- 3 percent said they had “bumped or rammed another vehicle on purpose.”
- “Male drivers were more likely than female drivers to report these aggressive driving behaviors.”
- “Drivers may underreport engaging in aggressive driving behaviors due to their negative social connotation, and thus the true prevalence may be higher than the estimates reported."
Is anyone shocked by these numbers? They seem low to me. Kudos to the people who had the courage to confess, but they probably aren’t our worst offenders.
Shouldn’t our insurance companies care more about this issue, since they have to pay the damage and injury claims? Can’t insurers collectively start a national media campaign about the dangers of road rage, like we’ve seen them do for baby car seats, seat belts, or not driving drunk? How about adding more drivers’ test questions about the signs or perils of road rage at the DMV office, so new drivers realize the dangers and consequences? And that should start with our private driving schools, where new drivers should hear more — in classroom lectures and behind the wheel with an instructor — about how not to get caught up in road rage, as either a perpetrator or a victim.
What about pubic service announcements from the American Medical Association? The American Academy of Emergency Physicians? The National Association of EMS Physicians? Don’t doctors and other healthcare professionals get tired of seeing patients coming into their ERs who have been victimized by road rage situations?
Why are there not more court-mandated, road rage-specific anger management classes, like we do with domestic violence perpetrators? Why don’t the state legislators create more consequences in state traffic laws, with felony enabling sections that add more days in jail or years in prison to drivers who use their cars as a weapon or attack people on the roadside? Our new national slogan ought to be “Use a Car, Go to Jail” for those drivers who cannot control themselves when someone accidentally cuts them off, drifts over into their lane, or otherwise drives in a way they cannot tolerate without a violent response.
Here are some tips if you’re an actual or potential road rager:
- Road rage is all about uncontrolled anger. Get some help with anger mastery (a better phrase, I think, than “anger management”) from a local therapist, which you can find on this blog site.
- Realize the consequences of your actions. Do you want to end up injured, dead, or in jail or prison, because someone cut you off?
- Road rage is probably affecting your life in more ways than you know. If you get furious behind the wheel, I’m guessing you have issues with other relationships in your life when you lose your temper, including bad times with your spouse, children, bosses, or co-workers. If you think everyone around you is a jackass, the jackass is you.
- Realize your impact on others. Road ragers scare people besides the driver they target: other nearby drivers, highway workers who see cars barreling at them as they work on the roadside, and your kids, who see that your solution to a small life issue is to use cursing, threats, retaliation, or violence. Where do you think they learn to become aggressive behind the wheel later in their own lives?
- The time to recognize you’re a road rager is before you get behind the wheel. Learn to meditate, which will help you control your breathing, which will keep you out of that flight-or-flight modality, which so often leads to horrible highway decisions.
Here are some tips to keep you from becoming a road rage victim:
- Drive carefully, with full concentration and defensive awareness. Pay attention to your driving, and just drive. Don’t text, mess with your phone, tinker with your navigation system, engage in life-changing conversations with passengers. Just drive, with both eyes on the road, on your lane position, on the merging cars around you, on your speed, on their speed, and when you need to prepare to get off the highway. Don’t give ragers an excuse to contact you because of your poor driving skills.
- Don’t engage with a rager. This means no eye contact, no retaliatory finger-flipping, lane change swerves, mutual tailgating, or slamming on your brakes to “teach him a lesson.” Tint your surrounding rear and passenger windows to give yourself some privacy. Many road ragers seem to go after people they think they can fight and win. Don’t allow them to target you.
- Work on your own stress-management skills. When challenged by a road rager, let them pass by and breathe, breathe, and breathe some more. Don’t let these people ruin your day or night. Rise above their primitive responses with your adult ones.
- Call 9-1-1 and be a professional witness. No consequences for this behavior? Then we know it will continue. Like drunk drivers who get arrested for the first time, they most likely have been getting away with it for many years before they were caught. For road ragers, you are not their first target. The dents in their cars tell us the whole story. Call 9-1-1 and describe the car, the driver, and any other information that will help the cops, the state police, or the highway patrol to catch them. Getting a license plate is critical. If you can take cell phone video without putting yourself or your driving controls at risk, do so.
- Save your life. If the road rager gets ahead of you, change lanes and take the next off-ramp and get away. If you’re on surface streets, and the situation is getting out of control, dial 9-1-1, stay on the line, and drive to an occupied fire station or a police station in your neighborhood. Don’t ever get out of your car, even if the road rager has hit your car. Keep your windows up and be ready to drive away, even if your car is damaged. Be ready to file an accident report or a hit-and-run report with the police.
As a subject for a seminar trainer or a workplace consultant like me, becoming “Mr. Road Rage Media Expert” has never and probably will never put a dime in my pocket. It makes no sense to write a book about the issue; who would read it? I can’t make road rage perpetrators come to a workshop about it, because I can’t mandate their attendance, like a judge can. Would you pay for a video about road rage? Probably not, especially since you can watch a lot of news footage about it for free on YouTube. So if there is no money to be made, why do I keep going on these TV and radio news shows and talking about it with newspaper, magazine, and blog reporters? Because maybe, just maybe, I can make a small difference with my words and save one person from going crazy behind the wheel and ruining his or her life or the lives of others. And maybe, just maybe, I can give innocent people some tips about avoiding the road rager altogether and making it home alive.
Dr. Steve Albrecht is a keynote speaker, trainer, and author on high-risk HR and security issues. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first books on workplace violence prevention. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration, an M.A. in Security Management, a B.S. in Psychology, and a B.A. in English. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 17 books on business, HR, and criminal justice subjects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht