“Holding on to anger is like grasping a coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
We all know “Road Rage.” As portrayed in the media, it is a potentially deadly, destructive roadway phenomenon. In fact, around the world, violent acts of road rage kill hundreds and injure thousands of people each year, and they cause millions of dollars of damage. These acts include ramming one’s car into another car; getting out of one’s car and assaulting another driver with fists, baseball bats, and tire irons; or attempting murder with weapons such as firearms and knives. However shocking and damaging these acts of violence are, they are extremely rare compared to the millions of safe, uneventful journeys taken each day around the globe.
For many of us, when we think about road rage, we conjure up mental images of other drivers’ anger-fueled expressions and behaviors—like “flipping the bird,” cutting someone off, tail-gating, shaking a fist, honking, and yelling obscenities. Witnessing these offensive displays stirs up intense feelings of shock, disbelief, and anger. When they happen to us, we can feel threatened, vulnerable, and furious.
For a significant number of drivers, it doesn’t take obvious, provocative, aggressive gestures and behaviors by others to set us off. In fact, many drivers report being frustrated, angered, and even enraged merely by what they perceive as incorrect, problematic driving by others. These acts might seem discourteous (e.g. not letting us merge, driving too slow, taking a parking space we wanted, etc.) or dangerous (e.g. speeding, running a red light, weaving, tail-gating, etc.). These and other driving behaviors may trigger feelings of frustration, injustice, or being threatened. Each of these feelings is a common trigger for anger, rage, and aggression.
Yet, these descriptions of road rage are incomplete. They focus on external factors that upset us emotionally yet allow us to maintain a victim stance. Feeling like a victim not only leaves us feeling powerless over our reaction and distress to others’ behavior; it ignores our role in on-road interactions that may anger other drivers. Are you shocked? Ironically, most of us are guilty at one time or another of committing some driving behavior that—often without our self-awareness—causes anger or even rage in other drivers. In my recent study on road rage, located at www.Marin-Psychotherapy.com, participants were surprised to discover they were not simply victims of road rage, but they at times were instigators of road rage. This insight can be helpful in recognizing that we are all responsible for driving safely and with consideration of—and compassion for–other drivers at all times.
What can we do to minimize driving in ways to anger other drivers? What can we do to bring down the volume of anger and rage inside of us while driving? Answers to both questions over-lap. The cycle of road rage isn’t simply one driver angering another. The roadway is a sort of moving community, and we are only one of many who are on our way somewhere to do something that is important to us. Just as we don’t all rush en mass into the local coffee shop and shout out our drink orders without any semblance of order, societal rules, and common courtesy, we truly can all get along and get to our destinations in an orderly, safe, and peaceful manner. Here are some helpful ideas:
Top Ten Ways to Avoid Road Rage (yours and the other guy/gal’s):
10. Think socially rather than selfishly, and try to imagine the other driver’s perspective
(e.g., “I bet he’s late for work like I was yesterday. I’ll let him pass.”)
9. Play it safe and smart (e.g., move to a different lane; pull over and calm down)
8. Don’t be a vigilante (e.g., let the highway patrol, not me, punish dangerous drivers)
7. Practice acceptance (e.g., “Let it go” or FIDO–“Forget it; Drive on”) and don’t take it personally;
6. Use humor (e.g., Tell yourself, “He must be rushing to his driving school class. He
needs it!” or “I bet she has to pee!”);
5. Exercise altruism (e.g., purposely allow others to merge and pass.);
4. Reduce your stress and anger triggers (e.g., practice mindful breathing; listen to
relaxing music instead of aggravating talk radio; put down the phone; etc.).
3. Enjoy the ride (e.g., focus on the scenery; enjoy the company of your passengers, etc.)
2. Leave 10 minutes early, so you won’t be rushed and stressed.
1. Take public transportation or ride a bike!
Give these a try. If you have other tools or tips, drop me an email (DrBob@DrNemerovski.com) so I can share them with my clients and readers. For those of you who are thinking, “These suggestions are great, but they won’t work for me—or my partner or friend—who has ‘serious road rage issues,’” counseling or therapy might be appropriate. In my research and therapy practice, I do encounter people whose anger problems—both in and out of the car—benefit from professional guidance in order to get to the “root” of psychological contributors to excessive or uncontrollable anger and propose more adaptive ways of “being” that don’t involve rage. Unfortunately, many people with road rage or general anger problems won’t seek help until someone in their life suggests it, or until they have something to lose, such as a relationship, job, their freedom, or worse, or someone has been injured or killed. Stay calm out there!
Deffenbacher, J. L., Oetting, E. R., & Lynch, R. S. (1994). Development of a driving anger scale. Psychological Reports, 74(1), 83-91.
Larson, J. A. (1996). Steering clear of highway madness: A driver’s guide to curbing stress and strain. Wilsonville, OR: BookPartners, Inc.
Nemerovski, R. A. (2009). Anger in the car — An examination of the role of perspective-taking in the anger response while driving. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. AAT 3394712)
Links to my publications on Road Rage:
Introduction to Road Rage: “Whose Road Rage is it Anyway?”
My doctoral dissertation on Road Rage: Anger in the car — An examination of the role of perspective-taking in the anger response while driving.
My press appearances and references about Road Rage:
KQED/NPR Forum with Michael Krasney: Honk if You Agree: Road Rage is on the Rise
ABC News / Nightline: Road Rage: Why Drivers Lose Their Cool and How to Prevent It
CBS / KPIX Channel 5: Interview with Ken Sugarman
CBS NEWS 48 Hours: Yancy Noll murder: Road rage turned deadly, or “thrill kill?”
CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio One: Multiple expert appearances on “Up to Speed” news show
Marin Magazine: Love, Marin Style
Real Simple: The Psychology of Road Rage
Street Blog SF: Bike Psych: Can Bay Area Drivers and Cyclists Get Along?
Street Blog SF: Market Street Cyclist Stands up to Road Rager
Livingston Daily (MI): Experts: Do not confront road-rage driver
Arlington Cardinal (IL): Driving Behavior that Leads to Road Rage, and How to Stay Calm When it Does
Lansing State Journal (MI): Accused road rage shooter ‘not prone to violence’
The Pacific Sun (CA): The fast and the furious
San Diego Daily Breeze (CA): Personality more important to road rage than traffic, experts and police say
Marin Independent Journal (CA): Marin psychologist to present findings on road rage
Geico Insurance Website: 7 Ways To Avoid Road Rage
Personal Injury Attorney News (CA): Road Rage: What Determines Whether or Not a Driver Will Act Aggressively?
Pointbusters: Avoid Road Rage
Contact me at 415-272-3282 for a free telephone consultation to discuss your concerns.