What is Road Rage?
Road rage is the term given to aggressive behaviour by a driver of a motor vehicle. The term was first used by local news readers during coverage of a spate shootings by angry drivers in the 1987 in Los Angeles, California.
The term Road rage is now widely used throughout the world to describe behaviour including assault, abusive gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner and making threats. Road rage has, in many cases, led to violence, and even death.
In New Zealand, for example, Road rage is not classified as an offence. But in New South Wales, Australia, someone committing road rage may be charged with ‘predatory driving’, resulting with disqualification from driving, up to a 5 year prison sentence and a AU$100,000 fine. If the Road rage incident results in a physical assault or damage, the penalties can be even more severe.
UK law determines that road rage is a criminal act incurring penalties for personal assault, GBH (grievous bodily harm) or ABH (actual bodily harm) where applicable. The Public Order Act 1986 can be applied to Road rage. Sections 4A and 5 of the 1986 Act prohibit public acts likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Section 4 also prohibits threatening, abusive or offensive words and behaviour with intent to cause a victim to feel a threat of violence. Where damage is inflicted on public or private property the act is also prosecuted under criminal law.
Why is Road Rage so serious?
A vehicle can be used as a weapon. It therefore stands to reason that a person who is in charge of a vehicle while angry is potentially as deadly as an angry person with a gun.
Is a person safely in control of a vehicle if they are not in control of their emotions? The truth is that we are likely to make an unsafe decision if we are angry. But there are a number of different levels of anger that can all be perceived as road rage.
This is a level of aggression that is often persistent as a personality trait, known by psychologists as dispositional anger. It is not necessarily explosive aggression and usually manifests itself as begrudging hostility. Passive aggression is often perceived by others as unpleasant but not threatening and sometimes even comical.
This aggression is a result of what psychologists refer to as “settled and deliberate” anger and is a reaction to perceived deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. It is the kind of anger you are likely to feel if you believe that you are a victim of somebody else’s bad driving. This kind of anger can lead to reactive aggression.
Like a coiled spring a person is prone to ‘hasty and sudden’ anger. This is often the result of high levels of stress. Such stress can have many causes and is usually attributed to more than one source. Levels of stress increase with the number of causes. A driver may be anxious about work, a hectic family life, money problems, being late and bad traffic. Smaller individual problems add up to contribute to a state of mind that is poised to violently react to the smallest provocation resulting in Flash rage.
Rage is an intense feeling of anger. It is associated with the Fight-or-flight response and is likely to be activated in response to an external cue.
Everyone feels rage at some point. It is a perfectly natural emotion that can be seen in infants younger than 18 months.
Rage can be categorised either as prolonged rage or flash rage. Prolonged rage can be the natural response to something such as unfairly losing a job or being a victim of crime. Flash rage tends to take us out of surprise. This is usually the emotion we encounter as Road rage and can be uncharacteristic for the individual. Both can motivate vengeful feelings and hatred towards another person.
Road rage is particularly interesting because the emotion can be directed towards a vehicle instead of a person.
Factors influencing Road Rage are:
We all exist in a bubble of self awareness which encompasses a physical space around us. The amount of space we consider to be our personal space varies with the situation we find ourselves in. On a packed train with standing room only we accept that our personal space is reduced and that the boundary to our personal space will be infringed upon. We may not like standing up against someone but we tolerate it. But the boundaries to our personal space expand in an empty train. We would feel uncomfortable if a stranger sat next to us with a choice of any seat.
This principle applies in our vehicle also. Our personal space expands to surround our vehicle and we are upset when another vehicle infringes on that. The difference is that we feel cocooned from the other person in our vehicle. Most of us feel protected enough to react in a way that we wouldn’t necessarily react if we were face to face. It is an interesting fact that some private pilots feel rage in much the same way when other private pilots make mistakes many miles away!
Road rage is sometimes also a response that helps preserve self esteem, especially when we are with a partner or passenger. In this case there is often, rightly or wrongly, an assumption that we are in the right, usually with the exclamation, “did you see what that idiot did just then!?” (Perhaps with a few additional expletives). After all, most of us are proud of our driving and like to impress with our driving skills, therefore it will always be the other persons fault.
The danger of rage
Expression of rage can be very intense, often distinguished by distorted facial expressions and intimidating body language inferring a threat of physical attack. Most people exhibiting Road rage would never actually attack another person. But when rage is felt by individuals who experience psycho-pathological issues this can lead to actual physical violence resulting in serious injury or death. A normal person who exhibits rage could trigger such a response from someone who prone to enraged violent behaviour. This violent behaviour has no place in a vehicle that could be used effectively as a weapon. Unfortunately violence and rage occur simultaneously in people who are affected in this way and cannot be brought under control.
Dealing with road rage
Whether you are prone to outbursts of road rage or feel a victim of road rage it is important to know how to deal with it.
If you encounter road rage the ideal thing to do is to carry on without causing any antagonism. Don’t rise to it. Simply continue on your way and avoid prolonged direct eye contact. If you see people making rude gestures in your rear view mirror drive on and at the next convenient opportunity let them pass without any expression of anger or annoyance. They will soon find somebody else to be angry at. The important thing is not to antagonise someone.
If you are someone who finds yourself becoming wound up by other drivers then there are some measures you could take to make your journey road rage free.
Give plenty of time for the journey.
Just an extra five minutes can make a journey less stressful.
When running late for an appointment just your phone to let them know about the bad traffic. Obviously you mustn’t use a mobile phone while driving. As soon as it is safe, stop and give them a call. It only adds a minute to the journey time. Most people will be sympathetic and will appreciate being told so they can spend their time waiting usefully.
Give yourself thinking time.
Driving too close to another vehicle is not only dangerous but can add to our stress levels because we have to react to every twitch of the driver in front. Just leave a little more space. This also reduces ‘stop start’ traffic flow at busy times. The overall effect is even less stress.
Listen to music.
Music influences our mood and driving style, so avoid listening to aggressive music especially when driving on busy urban roads.
Mutter to yourself.
If you are alone no one will know! But muttering some people find muttering about bad drivers is actually a slow release of frustration and prevents an outburst of pent up anger.
Take the high ground.
If another driver does something that is obviously wrong or dangerous we can feel better that knowing that we are in the right. There’s no need to scream and shout about it, a wry smile is actually more effective at making someone feel in the wrong. Flying off the handle can actually just look a bit silly.
Taking long deep breaths balances the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in our blood. It helps overcome the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome which is key in maintaining control of our emotions. Taking a few breaths also gives a natural pause between incident and reaction which helps us put everything into perspective before we react.
Stay in control.
Remember that adopting an almost psychotic calmness in adverse situations is far more impressive than losing it. If emergency professionals, airline pilots and surgeons can remain incredibly calm in their high stress environments then we should be able to cope with driving.
Providing it is safe, take a note of the number/licence plate and make a report about the vehicle to Regtex. It only takes a minute online and it feels very satisfying knowing that you can do something positive to improve driving standards. Regtex is fast becoming the industry standard VOSS (Vehicle Operating Score System) that is used to assess how well a vehicle has been operated. A badly operated vehicle may incur higher insurance premiums.
We can all contribute to making the roads safer. Driving with care and consideration is the only solution to many of the problems on our roads. In this way we can all do our bit. And for those that don’t – there’s always Regtex.
Happy driving and stay safe.