Factors that Contribute to Road Rage
Researchers have examined many factors that may contribute to road rage. These potential risk factors can be categorized into three domains: (a) situational and/or environmental conditions, (b) personality or dispositional factors, and (c) demographic variables. These categories are not mutually exclusive, however, for road rage may result from an interaction of all three variables.
Several studies have demonstrated that traffic congestion and travel impedance can negatively affect mood, behavior, and health of commuters. Simply stated, daily driving, particularly in conditions of high traffic congestion, can be a source of annoyance and stress. But do the stress and irritation associated with traffic congestion lead to angry and aggressive driving? The findings have been mixed. Some researchers have found driver anger and aggression to be reported more often in high-congestion conditions than in low-congestion conditions, whereas others have not found any relationship between congestion and reports of driver anger and aggression. Perhaps there is an interaction effect such that some individuals are more predisposed to respond with anger under conditions of congestion or impedance while driving. For example, drivers who are generally prone to getting angry while driving may be particularly anger-prone and aggressive under high impedance conditions. There may also be different reactions of individuals depending on whether they perceive being impeded as a result of another driver (e.g., someone driving too slow) versus other situational conditions (e.g., road construction).
Similar to other forms of aggression, aggressive driving behavior is believed to occur under conditions of anonymity, that is, when drivers are less visible to other drivers. Ellison, Govern, Petri, and Figler conducted a field study of drivers in convertibles, half with their tops up (representing the anonymous condition) and half with their tops down (representing the identifiable condition). The procedure involved having a confederate driver pull in front of the vehicles at a stoplight and remain stationary when the light turned green. Drivers in the anonymous condition were observed to display longer durations of horn-honking and more frequent horn honks than were displayed by drivers in the identifiable condition. These findings suggest that an enclosed vehicle may provide a driver with a sense of anonymity, which in turn may increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior. In a more recent study, Ellison-Potter, Bell, and Deffenbacher randomly assigned college students to anonymous or identifiable driving conditions using a computer-based program that assesses simulated driving behavior. Participants in the anonymous condition were told to imagine driving in a convertible with the top up, while participants in the identifiable condition were instructed to imagine driving in a convertible with the top down. Participants in the anonymous condition displayed significantly greater average speeds, more running of red lights, more collisions, and more hitting of pedestrians than did the participants in the identifiable condition.
Another environmental factor that has been examined as a potential contributor to aggressive driving behavior is aggressive stimuli. In the Ellison-Potter et al. study, the presence of aggressive stimuli was manipulated as a variable in the computer driving simulation program. In the aggressive stimuli condition, participants were exposed to aggressive text displayed on the computer screen in the form of billboards and building signs, whereas neutral text was displayed in the no-aggressive-stimuli condition. The researchers observed more aggressive driving behavior in the participants who were exposed to the aggressive stimuli.
Research has examined dispositional and personality factors that may contribute to aggressive driving. A high level of general stress while driving is one potential factor that may make individuals prone to driving anger and aggression. Hennessy and Wiesenthal found that drivers with a disposition to view driving as generally stressful tend to report engaging in more driving aggression than do drivers who consider driving to be less stressful. This may be the result, in part, of perceptions or appraisals of driving situations. For example, highly stressed drivers may be more likely to perceive other drivers as a source of frustration, thereby increasing their own aggressive behavior. Driving stress may also interact with other factors, such as conditions of high congestion, to produce aggressive driving.
Attribution theory has been used to explain aggressive driving behavior as a function of the attributions individuals make about their own behavior and that of other drivers. For example, when committing a traffic violation, drivers tend to attribute their own behavior to situational factors, but when another driver commits the violation, the behavior is more likely to be attributed to dispositional factors. This attribution bias may be a potential source of aggression because drivers may underestimate the extent to which their own aggressive driving behavior can cause anger in other drivers.
There may also be a tendency in some drivers to interpret the intent of other drivers (who drive aggressively) as hostile and personally vindictive, especially when there is an absence of cues to indicate clear intent. This factor, known as hostile attribution bias, was examined in the context of driving in a study conducted by Matthews and Norris. A sample of drivers were assessed for trait aggression and then given scenarios depicting everyday driving situations that could be construed as benign, malign, or ambiguous in terms of perceived provocation. That is, the other driver's actions were portrayed as unintentional or unavoidable in the benign scenario but as unjustified and attributable to dispositional qualities in the malign scenario. Whether the behavior of the other driver was intentional or not was left unclear in the ambiguous scenario. No differences were observed between participants' attributions in the benign or malign conditions. However, under ambiguous driving conditions, individuals high in trait aggression attributed greater hostility to the other driver than did individuals who were low in trait aggression. Thus, when conditions are unclear (in terms of the other driver's intent), more aggressive individuals may be inclined to perceive the actions of other drivers as hostile, whereas less aggressive individuals may be more inclined to view the actions of others as justifiable or at least accidental.
The question of whether generally aggressive people are also aggressive drivers was examined in a study conducted by Lajunen and Parker. A sample of drivers of varying ages and backgrounds were asked to complete measures of general aggressiveness (physical and verbal) and driving anger. Drivers who reported being verbally aggressive in general responded with more anger to other drivers' reckless driving behavior in comparison with individuals who reported being less verbally aggressive in general. It was also found that the tendency to be physically aggressive increased the likelihood of aggressive driving behavior. Fong, Frost, and Stansfeld reported similar findings.
There is evidence to suggest that some people may have a greater propensity to become angry frequently and intensely while driving, referred to as "trait driving anger." Deffenbacher, Huff Lynch, Oetting, and Salvatore compared high-and low-anger drivers on (a) sources of anger; (b) anger in response to commonly occurring driving situations; (c) anger, aggression, and risky driving in normal everyday driving conditions; and (d) general reports of aggressive and risky driving habits and accidents. Results from several measures of anger and information taken from participant driving logs show that high-anger drivers report more frequent and intense anger in everyday driving, more aggressive and risky driving behavior, and more near and minor accidents. In addition, high-anger drivers were higher on general trait anger and anxiety; anger suppression; and outward, less controlled forms of anger expression.
In a similar study, Deffenbacher, Lynch, Oetting, and Yingling found driving anger to correlate positively with anger in common driving conditions, with frequency of verbal aggression toward passengers riding with the individual as well as other drivers, and with physical aggression directed toward other drivers and the vehicle. Moreover, driving anger was associated with risky driving behaviors, such as reckless driving, and with crash-related conditions, such as loss of concentration, loss of vehicular control, and close calls while driving. It is not likely that these obtained differences between high-and low-anger drivers are due to the amount or frequency of driving.
Age and gender are the two demographic variables that have been examined the most with respect to aggressive driving. The relationship between age and driving behavior is well documented. Compared with older drivers, younger drivers (ages 16-25) tend to display a more risky driving style, drive faster, accept narrower gaps when pulling into traffic, leave shorter distances between cars, and are more likely to violate traffic lights. Violation of safe driving norms, misjudgments, slower recognition of potential road hazards, slower perception of risk, and more dangerous errors and violations are generally more common among younger drivers than older drivers.
In addition to being prone to driving errors and traffic violations, there is also evidence to show that younger drivers are more prone to road rage. Younger drivers have been found to report more irritation and annoyance in traffic jams and to display more aggressive driving behavior when faced with traffic and congestion. Conversely, older drivers have been found to be less likely to react to the inconsiderate and impatient driving of others.
Of course, age may be related to driving experience, thus many of the problematic driving behaviors observed among younger drivers could be attributed to inexperience. Factors other than inexperience, however, may contribute to younger drivers being prone to aggressive driving. For example, younger drivers may be more susceptible to experiencing stress while driving, and as noted earlier, high stress drivers may be prone to driving anger. Another potential yet unexplored factor that may play a role in younger drivers' proneness to aggressive driving behavior is their level of emotional maturity
Several studies have found gender to be a significant factor in aggressive and risky driving. Men have been found to commit more dangerous traffic violations and engage in more risky driving behavior than do women. Male drivers have been observed to react more aggressively than do women to congestion as well as to reckless, inconsiderate, and impatient driving of others. In addition, male drivers may be more prone than women to engage in revengeful and physically aggressive thinking and physical and verbal aggression, particularly men who exhibit high trait driving anger.
Although gender differences were observed in numerous studies, some researchers failed to find any significant differences between men and women in terms of angry or aggressive driving. Indeed, the results of a national survey of self-reported aggressive driving behavior showed that of the drivers who admitted to aggressive driving behavior, 53% were women. According to Deffenbacher et al., despite the observed gender differences in several studies, men and women seem to be more similar than different in their tendencies toward angry and aggressive driving.
- Sharkin, Bruce S., Road rage: risk factors, assessment, and intervention strategies, Journal of Counseling & Development, Spring 2004, Vol. 82, Issue 2.
Reflection Exercise #4
The preceding section contained information
about risk factors of road rage. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
Similar to other forms of aggression, under what conditions does aggressive driving behavior occur? Record the letter of the correct answer