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Road Rage: What Do Drivers Get Angry At?

Driver anger is exacerbated by roads that are crowded with more than double the number of cars of 20 years ago. Construction projects and road repairs, rush-hour commuting, large articulated vehicles and road collisions hamper driving and increase frustration. Nonetheless, the major responsibility for driver anger rests with the driver not with the road conditions.

Statistics indicate that drivers are most likely to actually take action and harm one another following incidents involving speeding, following too closely, cutting in and not giving way to traffic with priority. The following ten reasons were given by at least 25 different drivers in highway disputes in the US where their behaviour resulted in the death of or serious injury to another driver:

You may be shocked by the relatively trivial nature of the reasons given. They do not sound like justification for actually harming or killing someone. Yet they are no different to the reasons given by the 20% of aggressive drivers who have said they felt a momentary urge to kill but did not. In other words, ordinary drivers like any of us. It is easy to imagine how, when fuelled by over-reactive anger, trivial traffic incidents can escalate into full-blown road rage by one or both drivers involved.

If someone cuts in front of you, do you escalate the event into a war or do you let it go? The extent of your reaction is your responsibility. How far will you go to address a perceived "wrong"? Will you behave "out-of-character", i.e. in a way that you would most certainly not behave if you were not driving a vehicle on the road. How angry can you get?

There is something about driving a motor vehicle on a road that puts people in a completely different frame of mind to that which they would be in if they were walking down the street, meeting in a restaurant or standing in a queue in a bank.

Almost all violence on the road begins when one driver feels wronged by some aggressive or risky driving behaviour by another driver and decides to retaliate in some manner. The first driver perceives this retaliation as an assault and retaliates in turn, thus escalating the conflict. Once engaged, each driver refuses to stop for fear of losing face.

There are three groupings of individuals who are prone to violence and likely to escalate a minor road incident until it becomes violent:

However, there are certain characteristics of road-ragers that emerge to distinguish them from perpetrators of other kinds of violence:

Research consistently shows that about 20% of all drivers on the road are very angry drivers. You can therefore estimate how many people will act "out-of-character" given provocative road incidents. If you challenge one of them, you are likely to become involved in a road rage incident too.

Whether or not you choose to challenge a rude, aggressive driver depends on how you derive your self-esteem.

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Acknowledgement: The content of this training is based on Road Rage to Road Wise by John Larson, MD (Tom Doherty, 1999 paperback) 
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This page last modified on: 26 November 2010
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