A closer look into road rage: How and why it happens

As we were discussing driving the other day, I noticed that almost everyone raised their hand when Dr. Rettinger asked whether we had been driving for more than five years. This leads me to assume that at some point within those five years we have all, at least once, been the victim of road rage or have been the source of someone else’s road rage. In simple terms, rage road is angry or aggressive behavior displayed by a driver as a result of something that negatively impacted their driving experience. Road rage can simply be an unkind hand gesture, insult, or even physical violence.

In an attempt to better understand why road rage exists, Dr. Reidbord looked our perception. Perception, another important topic with have discussed in class, essentially describes our mental interpretation and representation of the stimuli we perceive.  What Dr. Reidbord found is that the cause of road rage is almost never the actual offensive that the victim experiences. In other words, road rage is rarely the result of being cut off, slow drivers, or almost crashing. Instead, it is the interpretation of our perception of the offensive that causes road rage. To exemplify this, when you get passed on I-95 and the driver almost hits your car as he passes, you immediately view that driver as having no respect for you. One assumes that the other driver just views his or her own time as being more valuable and that they do not care about anyone else’s wellbeing. It turns out this mindset is very commonly the cause of road rage.

One factor that furthers our road rage is that there is no easy way to communicate with the aggressive driver. There is no easy way to tell whether the driver that just cut us off did so because they are a terrible human being or because they are trying to rush to the hospital. Since we tent to paint the actions of other drivers as being intentional and malicious, it’s rather easy to see how most road rage is a self-product of our own mind.  This knowledge of our tendency to assume the worst of other drivers can help us control our road rage. It is research like that of Dr. Reidbord and many others that are actually influencing how driver’s education courses are being taught.

A couple summers ago, I had to take a driver’s improvement course for a speeding ticket I received. One of the things I vividly remember the instructor discussing in the course was the different methods for reducing road rage. The first tip was to change how we perceive the actions of others. This program urged drivers to shift from an accusatory mindset to one that gives other drivers the benefit of the doubt. This goes back to the idea of being able to find positive reasoning for the actions of other drivers.

I think the influence of perception is very interesting. Much like Dr. Reidbord states, further examining our perception can also help us understand why we get angry when someone brings more than 15 items into the 15 items or less lane at Walmart. Overall, I believe that by devoting more time to studying perception we can advance our understanding with regards to why human beings respond to the world around them in the way that they do.




4 thoughts on “A closer look into road rage: How and why it happens

  1. jcarey

    This was interesting to read! I don’t really have horrible road rage, but when I do get cut off on I-95 it’s hard not to call someone a few choice words. What we don’t consider, though, is how the person who cut us off may have not seen us or may actually be in a rush. We just automatically assume that they are a malicious person. It’s interesting that our minds automatically resort to assuming that another person’s intent was to make us angry, even though we have no way of knowing for sure. Road rage could be solved so easily if we all just tried to take the other person’s perspective.

  2. ldanby

    I enjoyed reading your post! I personally do struggle with road rage (and being a commuter doesn’t exactly help). But now I will practice more restraint with my road rage by thinking through the situation more; they could be having an emergency or they simply didn’t see me. This will definitely help make my commutes a little less stressful!

  3. pcrickma

    I personally don’t suffer from road rage very often, but because it happens to me so rarely, I can really get a sense for what causes it in me. What I have found is that I often give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. I myself am an extremely defensive driver, so it is rare that someone endangers my life by their driving. I have found that I get particularly angry at completely incompetent drivers, which is more than you would hope is on the road. Merging into 70 mph traffic at 30 mph is endangering far more than just my life, and there is absolutely no reason to think that is the best way to merge. Of course, we all want people to experience the world just as we are, especially when driving, but unfortunately (or fortunately) this is not the case. We all have entirely different perceptions of what is going on around us, and I think you brought up some solid points in your post about limiting the amount of road rage we have, especially when we aren’t considering the other person’s point of view first.

  4. mshifflett4

    I found this to be really interesting. I don’t necessarily suffer from too much road rage, considering I am from a small town with not a lot of traffic. However, since moving to the city for school and dealing with all of the I-95 traffic, I would have to say my road rage is more evident now than ever before in the past. I also would have to agree with the statements saying how we take personal offense when someone does something bad when driving, rather than realizing they simply made a mistake or maybe didn’t see you. My immediate thought when someone cuts me off is, “what a jerk” or “hello, did you not see my huge 60 mph car coming beside you?!” The same goes for when I’m stuck behind a slow car and my immediate thoughts are “could this person possibly go any slower?” or “are they trying to ruin my whole day?” In reality, these people are not out to get me. They could truly have made a mistake and just not even realized it. I think in the future I will really try to stay calm and put myself in the other person’s shoes.

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