When you get your driver's license, it can feel like the world expands. The ability to drive may grant you more opportunities to see friends, explore new locations, and discover independence. However, while cars and other vehicles may offer freedom, they can also be dangerous. Many car accidents involve a form of unsafe driving behavior, including aggressive driving and "road rage."
Anger and rage-motivated unsafe behaviors on the road can be serious concerns, so it can be critical to take action to keep yourself and others safe while driving. To learn more about anger on the road, you may first learn what causes these feelings and then how to address them if you or someone you love lives with these challenges.
What Is Road Rage?
Road rage refers to aggressive or confrontational behavior while driving, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Anger or rage on the road may be caused by another driver's actual or imagined transgression and can include hostile verbal exchanges, unsafe driving, and interpersonal violence.
While road rage is not a recognized mental illness, it is associated with hostile, aggressive thinking, which may be a symptom of a mental health condition. "High-anger" drivers often experience more anger, anxiety, and impulsiveness than low-anger drivers.
Road rage may be most apparent when drivers are behind the wheel, but research suggests that mental health concerns and high amounts of stress can contribute to these behaviors. Left unaddressed, a person's challenges "off the road" may lead to aggression, risky maneuvers, and other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel.
Road Rage Vs. Aggressive Driving
Note: Any below information about laws is not legal advice and is meant solely for research purposes.
While "road rage" and "aggressive driving" are sometimes used interchangeably, there are legal distinctions between the terms, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The NHTSA distinguishes road rage from aggressive driving with the following legal definitions:
- Aggressive driving: A traffic violation that occurs when an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses that endanger other people or property.
- Road rage: A criminal offense often resulting from aggressive driving that escalates into an assault with a vehicle or other dangerous weapon.
Aggressive driving and road rage are often unsafe, independent of their legal consequences. In high-pressure driving situations, it can be normal to feel upset or overwhelmed as a driver or passenger. However, if these feelings are impacting public safety or reaching the point of rage, it may be beneficial to take a step back and receive support in becoming a safe, considerate driver.
How To Manage And Prevent Road Rage
If you experience road rage, there are a few ways to manage and prevent your anger on the road, including the following.
Try To Identify A Cause
While driving, it might feel like your rage occurs for no reason. One minute, you may be driving peacefully, and when someone cuts you off in traffic, you might suddenly feel unexpected fury. Anger is often a rapidly occurring emotion, and reflecting on your day and the events leading up to it may help you understand its cause.
It could be possible that other events are amplifying your anger or temper. You may be commuting after an intense day at work, experiencing family dysfunction, living with mental health challenges, or experiencing chronic stress.
While you might not be able to change some systemic life circumstances, you may consider how they influence your driving behavior. If you can make a connection between stressful events and aggressive driving, you can develop a plan to slow down, reflect, and calm your mind before driving.
Give Yourself Time Before And During The Commute
One way to reduce road rage is by adhering to the speed limit and slowing down before driving. If you're feeling rushed, you might want to speed up and could feel frustrated with being late or approaching slower drivers. To prevent this, try to plan for long trips, travel during rush hour, or other commutes that often make you feel overwhelmed.
You could also try to schedule a stop at your favorite convenience store or give yourself five minutes in the car before driving to gather your emotions. Whatever strategy you use, try to allow time to be your friend and use it as a tool to keep road rage at bay.
Establish A Driving Routine
For many people, driving can be stressful. Factors like a past car accident, a daily commute through a busy area, or a dislike of driving can lead to anger. In the face of any stressful situation, calming rituals might be beneficial. Your personalized driving routine could include a soothing playlist, guided meditation, or air freshener that helps you feel alert and calm while driving.
Regardless of what your system looks like, try to be predictable with your routine and driving behaviors. As part of your standard routine, check your blind spots, use your signals, and strive to be a consistent and thoughtful driver.
Try Not To Use Your Horn
If you have a history of aggressive driving, you may use your car's horn often during a driving trip. However, road safety organizations like AAA state that the horn is meant primarily as a safety device to use in case of emergency.
Your horn is a fundamental pillar of safe, defensive driving. When appropriately used, horns can alert another driver that they might hit your car, warn a pedestrian in danger, or alert another car of a traffic signal. If you're regularly honking to express anger or frustration, consider reminding yourself not to press the horn by adding a sticker or another visual cue to prompt you to think twice.
Try A Support Group
Learning how to manage road rage may take time, reflection, or a break from driving. If you're feeling alone in this process, you might be able to connect with others struggling with anger to help you return to the road safely.
An anger management class or support group can be beneficial for some people. These communities may help you reflect on your driving behaviors and connect to others with similar challenges. You could also find a general anger management group or community focusing specifically on road rage and aggressive or angry driving.
Talk To A Professional
If you find that road rage negatively impacts your life or puts others in danger, you might benefit from reaching out to a professional. While some people prefer traditional, in-person therapy, online therapy may help you avoid driving to and from appointments, which could cause more stress.
Digital platforms like BetterHelp can connect individuals to licensed therapists within 48 hours. With these platforms, you can choose between phone, video, or chat sessions and meet from any location with an internet connection. If you often feel calmer at home, talking to someone online can allow you to address road rage before you drive.
In addition, current studies suggest that online therapy can be as effective as face-to-face options for various mental health concerns. One 2022 study of post-9/11 US veterans found that an online cognitive-behavioral group workshop was as effective as in-person mental health treatments. The online group felt more manageable and convenient for most participants, and the program effectively addressed various challenges, including anger, PTSD, mood changes, and difficulties with daily responsibilities.
If you struggle with aggressive driving or road rage, consider checking in with your emotions or consulting a therapist for professional support. With guidance, you may gain the tools, strategies, and self-awareness to plan your next trip or keep calm on your daily commute.
What does “road rage” mean?
Road rage refers to the angry and violent behaviors that occur at the most extreme end of the aggressive driving spectrum. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as “The operation of a motor vehicle that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.”
Aggressive driving and road rage have been studied extensively since the 1990s when a surge of road rage incidents began to appear on news broadcasts. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed more than 10,000 cases of road rage and found a 51% increase in serious incidents between 1990 and 1996.
What is the cause of road rage?
Several factors cause road rage. There are often immediate triggers, like being slowed down by other drivers, reckless behavior from others on the road, or perceived slights, like rude gestures. These situations can spark intense reactions, including physical assault, especially if they interfere with a driver’s ability to reach their destination, drive safely, or otherwise treat the driver unfairly.
There are also likely significant underlying causes. Psychological factors, such as a tendency to direct anger onto others or excessive stress, probably play a role. Environmental aspects also typically contribute, such as heavy traffic causing extreme frustration. Additionally, certain personality traits, like impulsivity or mental health conditions like borderline personality disorder (BPD) or antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), can increase the likelihood of road rage.
How does road rage work?
Road rage likely occurs when a trigger, like perceived rudeness, excessive traffic, or reckless behavior from another driver, combines with underlying factors that make it difficult to control behavior. For example, impulsive people are more likely to experience road rage than those who are more restrained. Impulsivity is also associated with a reduced ability to restrain oneself from engaging in conflict, such as if another driver makes obscene gestures. It is likely possible that a minor road rage incident escalates into a major one if the person who feels slighted has trouble managing their emotions.
Is road rage an emotion?
Road rage is not an emotion but an expression of one. Anger is the driving force behind road rage, and many instances of road rage occur because a person feels they have been treated unfairly. It is also closely linked to other emotional experiences. Evidence suggests that road rage often occurs as a response to increased stress loads and feelings associated with a loss of control over one’s life. Angry drivers are more likely to get into a car accident, and the best advice may be to avoid driving when upset.
How is road rage bad?
Road ragers substantially increase the risk of serious physical and psychological injuries while driving. Evidence suggests that 67% of crashes that resulted in fatalities involved aggressive drivers. In addition to the risk of injury, there are substantial costs associated with car accidents. In a 2020 report, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that medical expenses and productivity losses associated with traffic crashes exceeded $75 billion.
Road rage likely considerably increases the risk of a serious accident. Even if a person avoids physical injury, the chances of developing conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are significant. One study found that over 20% of car crash survivors met criteria for PTSD.
What type of personality has road rage?
Evidence suggests that several psychological factors might contribute to road rage. Personality factors like a tendency to displace anger and a willingness to blame others are likely the most significant. Evidence also suggests that personality disorders may play a role in road rage, most notably borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD has many of the hallmark dysfunctions necessary for road rage, such as impulsivity, sudden mood swings, inappropriate anger, and paranoid ideation.
How should you react to road rage?
Likely, the most important part of reacting to road rage is to keep your own temper in check. Don’t engage with the other driver or escalate the conflict; just focus on driving as safely as possible. If you think the vehicle is following you, continue to pay attention to your driving and call the police from your vehicle.
If you must stop, such as at a traffic light, try to leave space for you to maneuver your vehicle forward around other road users if necessary. Separate yourself from the driver when possible by moving to the slow lane or turning onto a side street. Do not exit the vehicle or lower your window if an aggressive driver stops when you do. It is also helpful to try to stop near a public space, like a hospital or police station.
Is road rage a mental illness?
Road rage is not a mental illness, but mental health conditions may contribute to aggressive driving. Evidence suggests that those with personality disorders like borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder are more likely to become involved in road rage incidents, both as a perpetrator and victim. Any mental illness that increases impulsivity and lowers emotional management is likely to increase the risk of aggressive driving behaviors.
Who is most prone to road rage?
Researchers have noted that while the risk of road rage is higher in some populations, every person could potentially lose control of their anger while driving. Extreme stress or adversity in a person’s daily life can lower their emotional management threshold, potentially leading to an increased risk of losing control. The best piece of advice is likely to avoid driving angry, especially if you are at high risk of aggression.
Evidence suggests that those with borderline personality disorder or other mental health conditions that increase impulsivity and lower emotional management are likely the most prone to road rage. Still, that doesn’t mean someone with a personality disorder is guaranteed to be aggressive.
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