So-called "road rage" runs the gamut from cranky commuters laying on the horn to full-on assault with a deadly weapon. And yet "road rage" is a relatively new term. Could the use of it be reckless in itself?
By some accounts, up to 90% of us will encounter road rage, either as a victim or as a witness, at one time or another in any given year. But law enforcement officials and experts in public safety emphasize the importance of making a distinction between aggressive driving and road rage.
What is the difference between road rage and aggressive driving?
There is no scientific definition for road rage, but many road safety experts agree that it is a criminal matter, not a threat to road safety. It occurs when a traffic incident escalates, resulting in a far more serious situation, such as if someone overreacts to an event and retaliates with violence. In some locations, road rage is illegal and linked to assault in the penal code. So, the term should be used to classify intentional acts of violence and assault that happen in the context of driving. In other words, assault is assault no matter where it takes place.
Aggressive driving, on the other hand, is a whole cluster of bad or inconsiderate driving behaviours. These are the more commonplace, but negligent, driving habits, including rude gestures, horn-honking, speeding, tailgating, failing to signal, driving on the shoulder to pass other cars, and unsafe lane changes.
Of course, any of these behaviours could also result in a situation where retaliation turns violent. But more often, no physical harm is done. Often it is a case of stressed, frustrated drivers taking a mistake too personally and reacting without thought to consequence. Could that be called "rage"? Perhaps, but calling it thus could fuel fears and undermine the seriousness of those confrontations that turn into assault.
What are the characteristics of a likely "road-rager"?
On a statistical level, men under 30 are most often the offenders and the victims of road rage. But anyone could be struck by road rage. The difference is that most people are able to suppress urges to react.
In psychological terms, road rage is sometimes associated with impulse control disorders, including compulsive gambling and stealing. Psychologist Jerry Deffenbacher contends that "high-anger" drivers tend to be more aggressive drivers. They're apt to be more vocal with insults and comments about other drivers, and more vengeful and quick to anger.
What can I do about my own road anger or frustrations?
- Don't get into the driver's seat angry. Deffenbacher's "high-anger" drivers share a habit of taking their everyday aggressions into the car. Avoid this recipe for rage by planning ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you're going. Steer clear of high-traffic routes, or pull off the road for a break when you feel angry or overwhelmed. Notice if certain conditions – rainy or snowy days, construction obstacles – seem to trigger your temper and dodge them when you can.
- Pass on judging other drivers. Unless a fellow driver puts you in imminent danger, why would you expend any mental effort condemning their driving skills? Does it really matter if that guy forgot to signal his turn or that some lady slows down to get a closer look at a street sign? Give the benefit of the doubt; it's not always an inconsiderate driver, just a momentarily distracted one. And remember that we all make mistakes now and then.
- Remember, it's usually nothing personal. People prone to road rage are often more sensitive to perceived attacks on their self-esteem. They may see bad driving as disrespectful or as a personal insult. But keep in mind that your fellow drivers have their own problems, their own worries, and their own agendas that have nothing to do with you.
- Seek treatment. Be proactive about handling your anger and frustration, and you could save yourself a court-sanctioned trip to anger-management classes, a suspended licence, possible fines and jail time, or worse – injury to yourself and to others. Training in relaxation and coping skills have helped some people deal with anger and impulse control. You might also try a course in driving instruction to pick up some tips and tricks for dealing with tense moments on the road.
- Set a good example for children. If you have children in the car with you, consider everything you do a possible example of how to act behind the wheel. This includes your negative reactions to other drivers and the comments and gestures you make. Wouldn't you prefer a future of alert yet level-headed drivers on the highways to one filled with irate cranks flipping each other the finger?
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