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Road Rage

  • By Fabio Martinez

Traffic congestion, distracted drivers, running late for something, being angry about something else, and being in no mood for courtesy, all boils down to a potent recipe for rage and aggressive behavior. Road rage is a growing problem. Aggressive driving accounts for more than half of all traffic fatalities.  So what causes it and what should you do if you’re the victim of road rage?

Behind the wheel, you’re stripped of the ability to communicate in all but the most primitive ways (honking, inappropriate gestures, flashing high beams).  According to psychologist Jamie Madigan, part of the problem has to do with a loss of self-awareness and individual accountability.  Take for example online games, message boards, and chat rooms, they leave people more open to being influenced by real or perceived conditions.  While anonymity doesn’t automatically make drivers prone to antisocial behavior, it can lead to more aggressive and less inhibited actions. Also, what used to be a largely male problem has now crossed gender lines.  Women may not get into roadside fistfights or point guns at others, but they can drive just as dangerously. The AAA Foundation for Traffic analyzed over 10,000 police reports and newspaper articles and found that between 1990 and 1996, road rage contributed to 218 deaths and 12,610 injuries.  While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that aggressive driving causes about a third of all crashes and about two-thirds of automobile fatalities.  Aggressive Drivers need to focus their attention on safe driving, rethink anger-provoking situations in less negative ways, and use calming or deflecting behaviors such as turning on the radio.  Jerry Deffenbacher, PhD, has outlined the 5 major characteristics of an aggressive driver, which may help you or someone you know realize they have a problem.


  1. Person engages in hostile and aggressive thinking. (Fantasizes about doing harm to another)
  2. Person takes more risks on the road. (Unsafe turns, running red lights)
  3. Person becomes angry faster and behaves more aggressively. (violent thoughts snowball)
  4. Person has more accidents. (fender bender, minor/major collisions, speeding tickets)
  5. Person experiences more anxiety, anger, and impulsiveness.


  • If another driver cuts you off or races by, program your response to, “be my guest.” Instead of making good time, make time good!
  • If you’re tempted to retaliate against another driver, think: “Would I want to fly on an airplane whose pilot was acting like this?”
  • Instead of judging the other driver, try to imagine why he or she is driving that way.
  • Get sufficient rest. Lack of sleep leads to loss of control.
  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol can make you angrier not to mention impair your driving.
  • Leave earlier for your destinations. That 10-second wait won’t bug you as much.
  • Play soothing music.
  • Be aware of your driving. Leon James, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii and author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare, recommends watching yourself. What makes you angry? How long do it take you to calm down? Tell yourself, “It was not their fault — it was the guy in front of them.”
  • Put pictures of your loved ones on the dashboard — you want to come home to them.
  • Remember, this behavior can cost you in more ways than one. “People don’t think about that,” Markell says. “This can have a high price tag even if no one is hurt or killed — tickets, lawyers, court costs, damage to vehicles, insurance

In certain circumstances, you may feel like you lose self-esteem or status by giving in and allowing a demanding driver to get his/her way. If the driver continues in the attempt to pass or cut you off, a situation may occur. Anger results when this type of behavior persists, escalates or if he succeeds.  Aggressive drivers are highly unpredictable and can be blinded by rage so it’s up to the victim to control the situation. If you are being tailgated, change lanes.

  1. If someone wants to pass, slow down and let them.
  2. Don’t return gestures.
  3. Stay behind the person who is angry at all costs. (They can do less damage if you are behind them)
  4. If necessary, pull off the road or take an exit and let them go on by.

You will be much happier if you learn to enjoy the relaxation of the journey instead of letting yourself grow angry over petty road behavior. Be relaxed, listen to some soothing music, or have a nice conversation with your passengers. When you think of driving, whether it is to work every day or on vacation, don’t think of it as wasted time until you reach your destination. Instead, relax and think of driving as worthwhile and pleasurable.

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