Everyone knows about road rage. It has been featured on TV shows, in Hollywood movies, and even in video games, but what’s really the psychology behind the road rage phenomenon and what causes road rage and aggressive driving?
Dr. Leon James, professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii, believes that a predisposition to road rage is cultivated as early as childhood.
“Drivers grow up being socialized into a highway of hostility rather than mutual support and peace,” James says. “The back seat of the car is what I call road rage nursery. From childhood in the car and [from watching] television, we are prepared for competitive hard-nosed driving.”
Aggressive Driving and Road Rage Laws
This competitive, and at times, aggressive and dangerous driving is visible in all 50 states, but most do not have specific laws that target drivers with road rage.
“Legally, road rage is not recognized in most states,” James says. “There are some laws that have been enacted by about 20 states on ‘aggressive driving.’ Still, the majority of states have no laws that mention either road rage or aggressive driving and prefer to handle driving enforcement through existing laws that specify violations.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website explains why this is the case on its website. “Aggressive driving is a traffic offense; road rage is a criminal offense.”
NHTSA defines aggressive driving as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” It says that road rage is “an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway.”
James contends that this distinction is unnecessary, and that the term road rage should be used to describe the dangerous emotions and actions of more angry motorists.
“Any emotion of violence while driving can be called road rage or driver fury, which it is,” James says.
Stopping Aggressive Driving at the Source
The source of the aggression and rage that result in road rage could have many causes, and although some of them are unavoidable, there are some ways to avoid letting road irritation turn to full blown road rage.
“Immediately make loud funny noises or wailing, or if you prefer, burst out singing in a loud voice,” James says are ways drivers can distract themselves from feelings of road rage. “After a few seconds start talking to yourself. Give yourself all the rational reasons for not doing anything and to just forget the situation counting yourself lucky. Convince yourself you are more of a human being if you forgive, forget, and live to get to your destination without a side stop at the hospital or police station.”
James believes proper education from a young age can also help alleviate the problem.
“It means starting driver ed. in kindergarten – when they ride in the back seat – going on in upper years – when they walk in parking lots and malls and streets – going on with teenagers with hands-on simulators and courses on traffic emotions control, and after licensing, lifelong improvements as part of license renewal,” James says.
Avoidance techniques and proper education should work to help most drivers avoid road rage, but James is convinced that as long as there are drivers on the roads, there will always be people who let their emotions get the better of them, which can be a real danger to the other drivers.
“Aggressive driving by one driver is dangerous to hundreds of other drivers, so if half of the drivers are aggressive, the roads become killing fields,” James says.
Author: Brendan Purves