Category: Psychology
Road Rage

Road rage is relatively an upcoming concept that began in the 1990s after media put more focus on incidents leading to road rage. A number of commentators are of the idea that road rage is more of media invention rather than occurrence of real incidents. However, study researchers have also pointed out that this terminology is associated with lawbreakers who have developed aggression as well as anti-social behaviors while behind the wheel with wide recognition of problems and could cause accidents. At higher scales, road rage causes physical attacks with most manifestation in aggressive driving and verbal abuse. It is likely that a driver could have encountered one form or another of road rage as either a victim or a perpetrator. Moreover, road rage and results of aggressive driving include deaths and other forms of damage amounting to billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, it is likely that more of such problems will arise since vehicle use increases every day. As a result, some countries such as the UK, the USA, and China have started to adopt measures of preventing careless driving, especially, after the acknowledgment that road rage is a real problem. Indeed, a decade ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States pointed out that road rage was the leading problem affecting traffic. Policies aimed at changing or affecting the psychology of a driver as well as policies of reducing external causatives of stress are essential. The main objective of this paper is to examine closely psychological results affiliated to road rage and the means and measures to mitigate the issues with an aim of reducing accidents.

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What is Road Rage?

Road rage is a common term known to many through news reports or a personal experience. Epidemiology data indicates a third of the citizenry reports having been afflicted of committing road rage in time or another of their encounters. Although most incidents are about making gestures or shouts at other users, some of them include direct contact. The factors contributing to these incidents of roads rage are a whole composition of environmental and psychological aspects alongside Axis I and II disorders. Such terminology is used by researchers mostly within the traffic psychology with a major focus on the behaviors of road use. However, although there is no standard definition, generally the concepts are related to a driver’s lack of emotional control, the attempt to cause injury, intimidation or death to road users including pedestrians, passengers, or another driver.

Within the definition of road rage, there ought to be all manner of anti-social behavior and aggressive use of the road. The behaviors affiliated with road rage range from horn beeping and gestures to attempts to resort to physical assault. A much broader definition is used in this scenario since the problems being addressed much bigger than behaviors of the criminal aspect. The British Crime Survey unit indicated 54% of the drivers to have been victims of road rage though just 3% faced the threat of violence, and another 9% had been coerced to pull over. The conceptualization as adopted by American Automobile Association (AAA) for Traffic Safety perceives aggression as having no regard towards other peoples’ safety. According to AAA, aggressive driving is a more common phenomenon than road rage but in most cases, the latter is seen as the extreme extension of aggressive practices. There are four dimensions of road rage, including driving aggressiveness, impatient driving, competition on the road, and punishing kind of driving. The four dimensions have been used by Israel researchers and more than 60% participants admitted to one form or another of aggressive driving.

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Is it a Media Intervention?

Marshall (2000) alludes that road rage is a terminology first applied in the United States with subsequent reports of incidents and the impression that such violence was a new concept. A theory was put forward by Cohen, through which there was high media implication, thereby impacting road rage as a mere media invention (Marshall, 2000). The latter theory postulates that media reports of the ‘deviance’ are the cause of exaggeration of the very behavior and they could be an encouraging factor. Consequently, there grows some moral ‘panic’ within the public and demands political entities to come in with serious pressure to mitigate problems that have less magnitude. The idea of other researchers like Thomas and Nahl is that media reports have an influence on perceptions adopted by the public, although they propose that road rage is merely a label for aggression and criminal behaviors practiced by rogue drivers for ages. For instance, during the 19th century, England had already put in place governing measures of punishing the ‘furious drivers’ of the then horse-driven vehicles.

Contributing Factors of Road Rage

First, environmental aspects work together to make a contribution towards occurrences of road rage. They are inclusive of factors like the context of anonymity and having a rather aggressive environment sensitive stimulus in forms billboards. Secondly, road rage is caused by Axis I and II disorders. The Axis I disorder includes substance abuse, and alcohol is a fundamental contributing factor to road rage. In severe cases of road rage, there are equally severe psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression. Moreover, Axis II or commonly referred to as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is seemingly a harboring prerequisite factor for road rage. In this disorder, there are such symptom as characteristic impulsivity, uncontrollable anger, and paranoid ideation. The consistency of diagnostic questions regarding reckless driving suggests a possible relation with clinical attributes of BPD. As a result, several studies have been done to establish the relationship between recklessness, aggressive driving, and BDP and road rage.

Anger and Stress

Like other forms of anger, road rage may result from stress and anger. Stress is usually a result of ‘stressors’, which are occurrences that cause a disturbance in the equilibrium demanding some adaptive responses. Stress, as a factor, causes physical changes to a body and stimulates one’s either a flight or fight response. In such a case, the biological reactions happening in one’s body tend to increase the strength by reducing the supply of blood to extremities and, hence boosting the potential to aggression. In the event of driving, the flight option is not realistic and, therefore, the predominant response if ‘fight’. It is argued that driving in congested areas is a major factor contributing towards stress with even people who are slow to becoming angry lose control quickly. In such environments, the drivers are exposed to numerous stressors such as the noise pollution, congestion, and very disturbing temperatures. There are a number of triggering factors of stress such as immobility and inability to take control of situations. While listening to recorded tapes and analysis of messages collected from thousands of drivers, James a researcher, has found out that drivers are in the constant encounter of anger and frustrations even when doing short trips. As in the effect of Jekyll and Hyde, even the very ordinary, amicable, and big-hearted persons tend to be excessively intolerant and adopt anti-social behaviors the soonest they sit behind the driving wheel. It seems like the driver’s personality faces a rapid transmission to being emotionally unintelligent from their previous status of being polite and very tolerant.

Who are the Most Susceptible People?

The cognitive appraisal theory dictates that for one to identify something as being stressful, it is dependent on the situation and scenario prevailing at that particular time. For instance, during a slow moving traffic, stress is likely to build up much faster if someone is getting late to catch a plane as compared to no accruing consequences of lateness. Similarly, people who have had a stressful day’s events are more likely to react to something when driving home. More to say, some persons are more reactive than others. Considering Type A/B groups, those from Type A group are very competitive while expressing aggression, impatience, hostility, and sense time urgency. Another measure of personality is rated upon which people are grouped into scales that characterize their personality traits like the Zuckerman-Kuhlman personality test that ideally identifies five fundamental traits such as sensation-seeking and aggressive hostile behavior. From this test, Zuckerman found an association between careless driving and high magnitude sensation-seeking with risk takers scoring high on aggressive-hostility.

Further analysis of these aspects is geared towards demonstrating that anger is greatly dependent on individual’s sex, cultural background, and surrounding circumstances. However, not all individuals who feel angered or frustrated while driving lash out at fellow road users. Therefore, doctors have raised concern that while driving, anger affects the driver’s health, although it may not necessarily result in incidences of road rage. The relationship between stress and the driver’s health is a crucial aspect because chronic stress is a depressant of the immune system, and it causes illness.

Other researchers attribute road rage to being a symptom of societal violence that is an inhibitor to anger for numerous situations not just driving. Studies by Smart and Mann (2006) show a large number of young people who become reckless often under the influence of alcohol or facing psychiatric problems. This evidenced in the interviews or observations for individuals who face prosecution for assault or aggressive driving. Therefore, the sample of people involved is small and biased as studies are only possible for those who end up in courts compromising on the generalization of road rage. Aggression in different contexts is evident as linking road rage with aggression. In a fifth of all fatal accidents recorded in a certain study, the drivers had been involved a form of aggression in the prior six hours. According to Marshall (2000), in another study at Colorado State University, 153 sampled students were subjected to a driving anger test. It was then found that angry drivers were prone to accidents and other forms of confrontations with road users. However, such examinations could be biased now that the participants are fully aware of the objective; hence, they are likely to give responses that please the researcher.

Another team of researchers suggests that angry moods alone cannot cause road rage. They ought to be provoked by other bad behaviors such as defiance to traffic rules and traffic congestion. Deffenbancher conducted a computer simulation study on a number of students who identified themselves as high anger and found that they had a high likelihood of being angry before they got into the car than low anger drivers as they dove on unimpeded road. He had found that anger was never a chronic experience relating to high anger persons but rather an aspect triggered by diverse road events.

Gender Stereotyping

There is a perception that driving is a male-oriented activity that comes along with the power to control machines while taking risks on speed. Zuckerman supports this idea with the notion that males are higher risk takers as compared to females. Even though male drivers are more likely to be competitive, females, on the other hand, tend to be careful and rarely take chances. While women are considerate of road users and they respect traffic rules, men are rude and they have little self-control. Moreover, the response to stress is different for women as pointed out by Taylor (2008). While the men are more drifted towards ‘fights’, women adopt a ‘tend and befriend’ reaction. As a result, women are better drivers compared to men since they are more concerned about welfare. In fact, women are charged lower premiums by the insurance companies because they have a lower probability to causing accidents. On the contrary, James, a traffic psychologist, observes that as of recently, women have become more aggressive drivers just like their fellow men in emotional reactions. He argues that what matters most is the power of the car rather than muscles.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

According to the online journal Psychology Today, a number of psychologists have regarded road rage as another form of the psychological disorder known as Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) (“Intermittent Explosive Disorder”, 2014). One major characteristic of IED is a sudden unpremeditated burst of anger with actions like breaking things and causing harm to others. Indeed, the fourth edition of Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-IV) classifies IED as an impulse disorder ranging in the same category as pyromania and diverse impulse personality disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). In the latter case, individuals find it hard to resist the impulses for doing things even if they are seemingly harmful. Despite IED attaining success in the legal defense of cases on road rage in the USA, it has not been accepted as an excuse for the same. The reason is that IED could only be diagnosed when other cases like the personality disorders or other forms of mental illnesses cannot be applied, hence causing doubts whether it is an actual disorder or not. Generally, what is the point that qualifies a behavior to become a mental disorder and not merely some unjustifiable reactions towards stimuli?

Driving Pathology

The need for excitement is different among persons, and the differences in the levels of stimulation involve a personality attribute referred to as sensational seeking. Sensation-seeking is a recognizable trait that promotes aggression and risky driving. For instance, Australia’s learner drivers are supposed to do a Zuckerman test that prepares them on ways of reducing risks on the road. Psychological researchers have found links between the levels of adaptation process that is a concept of the brain recording certain sensations that are felt through a number of activities. For instance, the brain is able to record sensations felt at a given speed when driving. This allows the brain to control acceleration as it creates sensations for the driver to maintain a certain speed. The drivers who are in constant seeking of rush are always in the temptation to push the limits. Those who do not experience a rush may alter their modes of driving like changing lanes every now and then causing a dangerous drive. They adapt to certain levels of risk that they have a perception of being normal and depending on them while on the wheel. In the case of slowed traffic, they become very angry since that speed is the levels that they are used to.

Another element defining incidents of road rage involves actor-observer attribution bias. In this scenario, drivers normally rationalize their unpleasant personal acts that are dictated by an event that justifies their response to behaviors of others. They have a higher preference for situational cases defining their behaviors, although they make rather reckless and inconsiderate attributions regarding the actions of others. A typical case is when a perpetrator seeks revenge over another driver who does something wrong. It could also be the result of one driver failing to thank the other for courteous deeds resulting from verbal abuse.

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Solutions to Road Rage

The majority of solutions adopted for tackling road rage take a cognitive approach by concentrating on instilling lessons on road users regarding how to take control of their anger and arousal in the event of stress. According to Stosny (2006), domestic abusers should be subjected to ‘compassion training’ as it has realized massive effects on the reduction of road rage. As indicated by in a research, it was found that before the training there were 410 cases of conviction out of 500 offenders and after compassion training, the convictions reduced to 13. Deffenbancer on studying the psychology of students observed that therapy calmed drivers who would otherwise become aggressive. Having assigned them a relaxation therapy as well as both aspects of cognitive as well as relation therapy, the psychologists achieved the result that was a reduction in stress. These two therapies have an effect on reducing frequency and magnitude of anger. The problem with the study is that it can be affected by factors of demand since the researcher uses psychology students who have insights into this study. They must be made admit to being aggressive while driving. Drivers suffering from these behaviors hardly perceive themselves as aggressive, and voluntary attendance to such sessions is not easy.

The suggestion by Smart and Mann (2006) is that new upcoming drivers ought to be thoroughly screened in a bid to note all potential road rage incidents like by utilizing the IED. Those seen as a road rage will then be subjected to additional training sessions where they can learn to manage anger alongside non-aggressive practices. It would also be recommended to have a mandatory Zuckerman sensation test with highest scorers being taken to specialized training sessions. However, there are some unethical things because they sample out persons without any history of road rage incidents.

Numerous European countries have stipulated legal directives for all drivers to pursue courses warning them of effects of aggression driving. It is quite unlikely that sensation-seeking individuals could be influenced by such sessions than by healthy warnings for drugs or other forms of stimulants. Finally, some vehicles have a sensor placed in the front area to enable detection of distances from the vehicles in front, which would allow the drivers adjusting the speed accordingly. Moreover, the traffic psychologists have tabled technical solutions all geared towards the reduction of road rage by making new car designs that prevent rogue drivers from irresponsible flashing of headlights or horn hooting.


From the above discussion, it is evident that most drivers have had encounters with some forms of road rage whereby in some instances is less serious, while other times could be fatal. Even though there is no defined cause of road rage, the different definitions can be summarized into two categories. The drivers must bear the results of risk and aggressive driving as well as defining an association with environmental factors alongside stressors that drive a rather stressful encounter. Therefore, it is of most importance to address the means of stress and anger management and to advocate for careful driving behaviors. Adoption of cognitive therapy is realistic to an individual but it proves a difficult endeavor to apply to road rage susceptible drivers. Some unethical aspects have been attributed to screening drivers for sensational elements and, therefore, the need for more research on the effectiveness of screening in mitigating bad driving habits.

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