- Road rage is fairly common, but sometimes it can get out of control, as evidenced a road-rage shooting last year
- Without treatment, road rage can also spill over into other aspects of your life, according to experts
- Here are a few ways to get your road rage under control
I'm not a violent man. I shun physical confrontations. But on the road, with a couple tons of steel and glass around me?I rage. Some days, the rage sets off a spray of abusive language. Other days, Ive done stupid, unforgivable, criminal things. Ive cut off other motorists, brake-tested them. I even leapt from my car once. This behavior is nuts, but statistics suggest that you probably relate.
Ragers are everywhere on the road, and likely inside your own car. Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly 80 percent of Americans admit to being aggressive when driving. The most recent National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration data suggests that between 2008 and 2017, the number of fatal crashes a year involving aggressive driving climbed from 105 to 432. According to Auto Insurance Center, the highest number-54 percent-of aggressive-driving accidents and fatalities were caused by millennials.
And its happening everywhere, even where youd least expect it. Indiana may take the lead for highest percentage of road-rage/aggressive-driving-related fatalities in the country, but Colorado, home of Rocky Mountain highs and the kindest of buds, is only a few slots behind in fourth place. Colorado state trooper Gary Cutler says the special state-patrol hotline gets thousands of road-rage calls each month. He suspects the surge has a lot to do with increased population and traffic density. Psychologists say theres more to it than that: A huge contributor is how our minds work.
Why Do We Rage?
If being annoyed is on the low end of our temper thermometers, says Robert Nemerovski, Psy.D., of California, anger is somewhere in the middle and rage is all the way at the top. Nemerovski describes this spectrum as a kindling process. We each accumulate small amounts of annoyance or irritation throughout the day (or throughout our lives). This load can build and then ignite with the addition of just one irritable match-like someone cutting us off in traffic. Then we rage.
Or sometimes, a combination of things happen on the road that trip the rage response even without any kindling. Nemerovski has determined that almost any anger episode can be mapped back to some combination of threat, injustice, and frustration. (He calls it TIF.)
On the road, physical threats can sit side by side with attacks on our egos (cars pass-ing us because were too slow), which leave us with the perception that weve been slighted (injustice). When we drive, we want to go somewhere, and we want to get there on time. The driver cutting us off in traffic becomes the jerk keeping us from getting where we want to go, which leads to frustration. Any mashup of these triggers creates the perfect conditions for rage.
Remorse doesnt necessarily follow; ragers often see their actions as appropriate responses. Research by LaurenShaw, Ph.D., an assistant lecturer at Monash University, found that when people perceived another driver as being discourteous or not following the rules, they wanted to teach the other driver a lesson. Even in the cold light of several days later, most people think the road rage was justified and that the recipient deserved it, she says.
What Raging Looks Like
As you can imagine, when two people who feel the need to teach everyone else a lesson encounter each other on the road, things can spiral out of control. Aggression-following too closely, making dangerous lane changes, honking, flash-ing lights-often leads to retaliation,Cutler says. He remembers pulling over two motorists when he saw one suddenly change lanes, ticking off the driver behind and leading him to aggressively pass the other. Brakes were slammed, swerving occurred-all in front of Cutlers patrol car. He says the reactionary motorist had been trying to prove a point, but the initial merger had simply misjudged his distance. That merger also had a permit to carry a handgun.
The driver didnt use a weapon that time, but plenty of people do. Road-rage incidents involving firearms more than doubled in the U. S. between 2014 and 2016, when 136 motorists were killed. Cutler recounts an incident that took place just last year when Colorado police arrested a driver who tailed a woman and her three children after she had accidentally merged in front of him. He then followed the family to their dentists office, opened fire on them and a bystander, and killed one of the children. (The trial is set for this month.)
Many confrontational incidents on the road, however, arent predatory like that one was, and escalate only after both parties engage in rage.
How to Reduce the Rage
But what if the other person really is driving like an idiot? In the future, your car may be able to help you out with that. At the Consumer Electronics Show this January, auto company Kia announced that its working on technology to assess a drivers emotional state and automatically alter the cabin environment based on that. For now, its DIY. Learn your warning signs, says Nemerovski. Those might include grinding teeth, balling hands into fists, and swearing. Pull over and:
TAKE A STEP BACK
Try not to take things personally. What you perceive as a personal slight may just be an error on the other motorists part.Give them the benefit of the doubt.
INHALE. EXHALE. REPEAT.
Not only will this help short-circuit an angry, adrenaline-driven response, but the act itself is calming. Try taking five long, deep breaths while relaxing your arms and face.
TALK YOURSELF DOWN.
Turn off the political talk radio thats on your last nerve and ask yourself, Would I really gain anything from becoming angry? What does getting even accomplish? Then tell yourself things like Im not going to let this get to me.
As a rager, I have to say that speaking to all these experts has been a kind of therapy. I now recognize that what Im really reacting to is a sort of social snub, and that raging about it is as absurd as punching a stranger for stepping onto an escalator before you.
I wouldnt say Im cured, because when the rage comes, it comes too fast for things like rational thought to get a look in. Ill do my best. But if you see me trying to pull over to stop and breathe, please let me merge.
This story was adapted from a piece in Men's Health U.K.