Whose Road Rage Is It Anyway?
-By Robert Nemerovski, Psy.D.
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
(Robert@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)