The United States experiences a high number of road rage incidents. And the list of potential provocations is almost endless – tailgating, illegally shouldering, honking, cutting off drivers, shouting, flashing high beams or making obscene gestures. But too often these incidents do not end with an epithet. This week, a New Jersey man was arrested after allegedly hitting a woman multiple times in an alleged road rage incident. And it’s getting worse: In 2021, 45 people were injured and 11 were killed in road rage shootings — in Dallas alone. Across the country, last year was one of the worst years on record for these kinds of deadly explosions.
Across the country, last year was one of the worst years on record for this kind of deadly explosion.
There’s not just one factor at play here, but we know that psychology plays a key role. The more drivers engage in aggressive “angry rumination,” the more upset they become and the more they engage in dangerous driving behaviors. This can cause them to become and stay angry during and after what they perceive as a driving provocation, as well as having more intense thoughts about how to still get.
This psychology intensifies when an individual is already prone to anger. A great deal of research shows that people with a high and long-standing disposition to anger tend to view the poor driving behaviors of others as intentionally aggressive, considering the other driver as a malicious perpetrator. These expressions of road rage are usually not the first time these individuals have committed an aggressive act. Antagonists may view roads as their territory and lack the ability to control their temper. They also tend to be male. Obviously, driving under the influence of alcohol or cannabis increases the risk of aggressive driving.
Over the past few decades, Brad Bushman, a social psychologist and professor at Ohio State University, has studied the causes, consequences, and solutions to human aggression. Bachman told me he believed there were two factors linked to the rise in road rage. The first is frustration. “In 1939, a group of Yale scholars came up with the frustration-aggression hypothesis,” he said. “Frustration is defined as the blocking of goal-directed behavior. The pandemic has blocked many goals for many people.
The second factor is also related to the pandemic, but in a different way. There has been a dramatic increase in arms sales over the past few years. “Although firearms do not directly cause aggression, they greatly increase the likelihood that any situation involving conflict will be fatal,” Bushman notes. It’s logic. We all have a built-in emergency system. This system has likely been inflamed by pandemic-related isolation, misinformation that has spread on social media, and our national access to lethal weapons.
I also spoke with Tara Galovski, one of the co-authors of the book “Road Rage: Assessment and Treatment of the Angry, Aggressive Driver”. She told me that there are often warning signs with this type of behavior. But being in a car can make aggression worse. “Unfortunately bad behavior can be amplified in driving situations because of the anonymity (drivers are not easily identifiable or known to other drivers) and because the car provides a quick getaway,” she said. declared. This makes accountability even more difficult.
“Understanding why someone is driving aggressively can help determine how to change their behavior,” Galovski explained, noting that it is possible to adjust these aggressive or dangerous mindsets. Angry self-aware drivers can try things like planning ahead and allowing more time to get to their destination or enhancing their driving experience by listening to an audiobook or taking a scenic route. It’s also important to keep your own stress levels low and to practice relaxation tricks like deep breathing or counting to 10 – and if that doesn’t work, stop.
“Long term, it’s important to notice your thoughts and understand how they contribute to your anger and angry behaviors,” says Galovski. “If someone thinks drivers are all ‘idiots’, for example, then that person is likely to notice examples of driving that support that thought. A simple intervention is for people to intentionally look for examples that contradict this negative and mistaken belief. A more accurate thought is that most people drive well, some people make mistakes sometimes, and there are a few bad drivers.
To be fair to the United States, road rage is a serious public health problem around the world, including in Australia, Denmark, France, China and India. But what’s unique to the United States — and particularly dangerous — is a phenomenon some researchers call the guns-on-wheels effect, which describes how drivers act and react when they have a gun with them in their car. . The psychology behind this effect was first demonstrated in a seminal 1967 study, which found that students placed in rooms with guns acted more aggressively. What this study tells us is that stimuli associated with aggression can elicit violent responses from those who are already prone to act destructively. This search result has been replicated many times over many years since.
Road rage is both a personal and a collective problem. On the one hand, we need a multifaceted public health approach to prevent these drivers from making life perilous for the rest of us and to raise awareness of red flag behavior. Aggressive drivers need to learn that they don’t “own the roads”, and we can help them better manage their thoughts, feelings and actions. But we also probably need to increase penalties for road rage behavior as well as engage in public education to inform all drivers of the risks. In a civilized society, it should be a national scandal that hundreds of people a year are shot for tailgating. And yet here we are.