Most of us have experienced the heightened anger and frustration that comes from heavy traffic and thoughtless drivers. I have, on more than one occasion, allowed a few choice words to spill out when being cut off in traffic. However, my “road rage” has improved considerably since moving to this large city. I hear on a daily basis, though, how angry and full of rage people get while driving here. So, I decided to do a little investigating and see what causes road rage and aggressive driving.
First, what do we consider “road rage”? The Department of Motor Vehicles defines road rage as- “aggressive or violent behavior stemming from a driver’s uncontrolled anger at the actions of another motorist”.
• Hitting their vehicle with your car.
• Running them off the road.
• Pulling over, getting out, and engaging in a physical confrontation.
• Inciting your passenger(s) to fight the other driver.
• Using any sort of weapon to inflict harm on another driver or vehicle.
Although most of us don’t engage in what the DMV considers road rage-most of us are guilty of what they refer to as “aggressive driving” which often escalates to road rage. Aggressive driving is “an accumulation of illegal driving maneuvers, often resulting from emotional distress”.
• Cutting others off.
• Not using turn signals.
• Mentally or verbally cursing other drivers.
• Flashing your headlights.
• Brake checking.
As much as I hate to admit it, I know I am guilty of most of the items on that list. I can remember commuting at my previous job and tailgating cars. I would be so angry that the person in front of me was going so slow! So what causes this thinking and behavior on the road?
There appear to be multiple contributing factors to road rage. Some studies show the increase in number of cars on the road are a big part of the “road rage” phenomenon. It is suggested that when we are crowded we tend to “thingify” the people around us. Essentially, the other drivers cease being human beings with families and lives of their own. Additionally, some studies have shown that cars provide a sense of anonymity for us. They shield us from feeling the embarrassment or shame we may feel if we were to treat someone poorly face to face. Those two factors combined, not seeing drivers as people and anonymity, give us a great deal of emotional room to act out. The consequences seem far away, so we are more likely to act on impulse.
Other contributing factors are our innate fight or flight response and our natural “drive”. If we are cut off in traffic, for example, our bodies respond with a kick of adrenaline and we go into fight or flight mode-since we can’t very easily run-we fight by becoming angry and aggressive. Our drive system is our natural motivation to achieve, to succeed. When someone slows us down, blocks us or gets in our way, we tend to respond with anger and a determination to push through.
Obviously, we don’t have to be victims of our body’s innate responses. There are numerous ways to control road rage and aggressive driving tendencies. Anger management, mindfulness and other skills are just a few. If you’re having trouble controlling your anger while driving a licensed mental health professional may be able to help. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando counselors.