"Outta My Way!" Narcissism Is Linked to Aggressive Driving
Research shows a link between narcissism, age, gender, and dangerous driving.
Posted Jan 25, 2019
As most people probably know, by definition narcissists are entitled, lack empathy, and believe the normal rules don’t apply to them—on the road, or elsewhere. When narcissists feel their needs aren’t met, when they feel shamed or criticized, or feel other’s behaviors impose on them in some way, this can trigger what is referred to as “narcissistic rage.”
Although most of the research on narcissism has focused on its manifestations in interpersonal relationships, recent research has drawn the connection between narcissism and aggressive driving.
What Constitutes Aggressive Driving?
Aggressive driving, which is different from road rage (the latter is a criminal offense), includes behaviors such as speeding, tailgating, blocking other drivers, swearing at or making obscene gestures at other motorists, horn honking, flashing one’s lights, driving off the road, running stop signs and red lights, and yelling at other drivers. Beyond causing distress to their passengers and others on the road, aggressive drivers pose a significant safety hazard. Specifically, approximately 50% of driving fatalities are linked to aggressive driving.
Although all of us can become frustrated or angry when sitting in traffic, or when we’re in a hurry and someone is driving too slowly in front of us, for most people the frustration is temporary. It’s also unaccompanied by the need to punish those around us. And despite temporary anger or frustration, most people care enough about their passengers to place their safety above the thirst for vengeance. Not so for narcissistic drivers, however.
“Jean” knew that her boyfriend “Brett” didn’t respond well to any feedback that wasn’t positive, particularly when driving. Brett, who drove a high-performance vehicle, drove nearly double the speed limit in some areas, particularly when he was late or annoyed. He tailgated and slammed on his brakes. Brett also cursed at and flipped off other drivers, sometimes passing them on the shoulder. Despite Brett’s professed love for Jean, he became defensive and irate when she pleaded with him to slow down, stop tailgating, or stay in his lane.
“He just says things like, ‘I’ve got it under control!’ or, ‘You’re a nervous passenger — you’re the problem!’ or ‘Stop criticizing me!’ We’ve been together 10 years and nothing has changed. He’s convinced he’s never problem.” Brett’s driving improved only slightly once their infant son was born and became a passenger in their car. “Basically, Brett told me I can either ‘learn to relax’ or find another way to get places.’”
Brett’s attitude and behavior are not unique, as recent research shows.
Narcissism and Aggressive Driving
In their article, Bushman and colleagues (2018) describe three studies looking at the relationship between narcissism and aggressive driving. In the first study, 139 motorists ranging from age 19-86 completed questionnaires assessing narcissism and driving behavior. In the second study, 100 motorists ranging in age from 18-74 completed the same measures as in study 1. In the third study, participants’ driving behavior was assessed while they were in a driving simulator.
The results of Study 1 found that narcissism was significantly correlated with aggressive driving, even after controlling for gender and age. There was also a significant relationship between younger age and more aggressive driving. Men were more likely to be aggressive drivers, but this did not quite reach the level of statistical significance in Study 1.
Study 2 sought to replicate the findings of Study 1, and in fact, these results also showed a significant relationship between narcissism and aggressive driving. The more narcissistic the participants were, the angrier and more aggressively their driving was. Again, younger age was significantly correlated with aggressive driving, and in this study, men were significantly more aggressive drivers than women were.
In Study 3, 60 participants’ driving behavior was observed while they were in a driving simulator. As in the first two studies, participants completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventor and the Questionnaire on Aggressive Traffic Behavior. For Study 3, they also completed the Aggression Questionnaire, a measure of trait aggression.
In this study, the researchers tracked simulated aggressive driving, including behaviors like tailgating, speeding, and driving off the road, driving on the shoulder, and cursing at other drivers. They also looked at road rage, as indicated by colliding with other vehicles.
The results of Study 3 found a significant relationship between narcissism and tailgating, even after controlling for gender and trait aggressiveness. A combined measure of aggressive driving that included off-road driving, verbal aggression, and aggressive gestures found a significant positive relationship between narcissism and aggressive driving. With regard to road rage, 3 of the 60 participants collided with other drivers. These 3 participants scored significantly higher on narcissism than those who did not collide with other drivers.
To summarize, in all three studies described here, higher levels of narcissism were associated with more aggressive driving. In general, narcissists lack empathy, are entitled, and believe that they are not bound by the normal rules; these qualities extend to narcissists’ driving behavior. Specifically, narcissists are more likely to drive aggressively and engage in dangerous driving behaviors.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 2017 Traffic Safety Culture Index. Retrieved from https://aaafoundation.org/2017-traffic-safety-culture-index/ on January 24, 2019.
Bushman, B. J., Steffgen, G., Kerwin, T., Whitlock, T., & Weisenberger, J. M. (2018). “Don’t you know I own the road?” The link between narcissism and aggressive driving. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour, 52, 14-20.