- Young men are most likely to engage in road-rage behaviors.
- Crowded roads, displaced anger, stress, and drug misuse play a role in road rage.
- Efforts at educating the public, as well as individual therapy, may decrease the frequency of road rage.
Road rage is at the center of many high-profile media accounts. Its frequency, however, remains low. Although one-third of drivers experience it, less than 2% report engaging in any serious threats or violent behaviors. Young men are the most common offenders, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
“Psychologists are studying what makes some people more prone to road rage and how to keep them from becoming a danger on the road,” per the APA. “Understanding what fuels this dangerous behavior may help psychologists to curb it.”
In a bid to better understand the essence of road rage, here are 10 findings on the phenomenon.
- Factors such as crowded roads, displaced anger, and stress, as well as the misuse of alcohol and drugs, can contribute to road rage. Sensation and impulse seeking may also play a role.
- Social maladjustment theory and personal maladjustment theory posit that road rage is rooted in anti-social personality disorders or increased levels of anger, stress, or negativism.
- Road rage is distinct from discourteous driving, with examples of the latter phenomenon including actively obstructing drivers from merging and following other drivers closely.
- The opposite of both road rage and discourteous driving is courteous driving, This term reflects behaviors, attitudes, and driver habits that adhere to socially acceptable rules and norms. Moreover, it refers to kindness, politeness, conscientiousness, and self-sacrifice. The reciprocity of self-sacrifice keeps everyone safe.
- High-anger drivers engage in dangerous behaviors such as hitting or nearly hitting other vehicles, speeding, swerving through lanes, tailgating, and running red lights. They scream, swear, express disbelief at the driving skills of others, and honk incessantly.
- High-anger drivers experience more anger throughout the day, as well as anxiety and impulsiveness. Due to stress at home or at work, they often enter the car angry and then express this anger by impulsively acting on the road.
- High-anger drivers report more near-accidents and more speeding tickets. In the United States, nearly 400,000 people die each year in motor vehicle accidents. According to the American Automobile Association, between 2003 and 2007, 56% of fatal crashes in the U.S. were linked to aggressive driving behaviors.
- The intensity of aggressive responses hinges on perception. A greater response can be elicited if the high-anger driver feels that others are deliberately aggressive, with resulting retaliation felt as justified. Of course, such perceptions are prone to attribution error and observer bias. When motives for other driver’s behavior are more opaque, or the high-anger driver perceives that others are careless or poor drivers, responses can be milder and include hand waving or attempts to criticize or teach other drivers "a lesson."
- In a study involving 1,102 U.S. veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Veterans Affairs researchers found that PTSD with or without traumatic brain injury (TBI) was linked to road rage.
- In the study of veterans, the authors noted that being enlisted and exposed to combat trauma greatly increased the risk of aggressive driving. “This is consistent with previous findings that enlisted status and higher rates of deployment-related traumatic events are associated with higher levels of risky driving behavior and greater risk of involvement in motor vehicle accidents. As such, post-deployment education aimed at helping military personnel transition from battle mind-style aggressive driving behaviors to the more defensive approach appropriate to civilian settings may be warranted.”
What can be done?
Nobody wants to be the victim of road rage. One way to combat this scourge is for intervention efforts to promote driving courtesy. Such programs could foster emotional capacity to cope with stressful circumstances as they arise.
Finally, the APA recommends that cognitive and behavioral strategies that target individual drivers with road-rage issues may help prevent tragedy.
Jones KD, Young T, Leppma M. Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Returning Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans: Implications for Assessment and Diagnosis. Journal of Counseling & Development. 2010;88(3):372-376. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00036.x
Krahé B, Fenske I. Predicting aggressive driving behavior: The role of macho personality, age, and power of car. Aggressive Behavior. 2001;28(1):21-29. doi:10.1002/ab.90003
Scott-Parker B, Jones CM, Rune K, Tucker J. A qualitative exploration of driving stress and driving discourtesy. Accident Analysis & Prevention. 2018;118:38-53. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2018.03.009
The Fast and the Furious. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/action/resources/research-in-action/rage. Accessed June 27, 2021.