Interventions for Reducing Road Rage
As the research reviewed earlier in this article suggests, some individuals may be more predisposed than others to experience maladaptive levels of anger while driving, which can place them at greater risk for involvement in road rage incidents and associated consequences (e.g., loss of concentration, near accidents, hostile interactions with other drivers). Because counseling has been demonstrated to be effective in helping people manage maladaptive anger in a general sense, counseling is likely to be effective in helping individuals manage driving anger and road rage tendencies. When choosing interventions, the counselor should take into account the unique aspects of the driving situation, for instance, the inability to communicate directly with other drivers and the risk of serious accident or injury if driving safety is compromised. Counseling interventions can be implemented with individuals who are at risk for road rage based on what is known about potential risk factors as well as adapting effective strategies for anger management to the context of driving. In addition, researchers have evaluated cognitive-behavioral interventions for treatment of high anger drivers.
Stress and Time Management
Numerous strategies can be implemented to help individuals cope more effectively with driver stress, which has been linked to driving anger and aggression. Relaxation techniques can be practiced while driving, especially when drivers are caught in slow moving traffic or when experiencing other forms of impeded travel. These techniques may include simple breathing and mild stretching exercises that can be done while seated in a motor vehicle. Prerecorded relaxation tapes may be particularly well suited for use while driving, and audiotapes are currently available that specifically target driving-related stress and anger. Listening to soothing music or audiobooks, drinking herbal tea (as opposed to beverages with caffeine), aromatherapy, and other ways to promote relaxation while driving could be encouraged for clients who are prone to driving stress. It may also be important to try to minimize any aggression-arousing stimuli such as loud music or talk radio programs that involve argumentative or hostile behavior. Of course, stress-reducing strategies must not inadvertently induce drowsiness or divert too much of the individual's attention from the task of driving. For some drivers, it may be necessary to practice relaxation techniques just before getting into the vehicle.
Time management strategies may be helpful in countering driver stress and anger in individuals who do not manage their time well. Some individuals may continually place themselves at risk because they typically feel rushed and pressured in their driving. Thus, for these individuals it may be necessary to work on allowing for more time when driving and perhaps reevaluate the amount of time spent driving to and from work and/or other reasons for driving. How much driving is really necessary? Can alternatives such as carpooling or public transportation be used, at least on some occasions?
Cognitive-behavioral interventions that have been shown to be effective for anger management in general have been applied to the problem of driving anger. Deffenbacher et al. evaluated two treatments for the reduction of driving anger: self-managed relaxation coping skills (RCS) and a combination of cognitive and relaxation coping skills (CRCS). The RCS intervention consisted of an eight-session treatment protocol for lowering driving anger through application of progressive relaxation, relaxation imagery, and breathing-cued relaxation. The eight-session CRCS intervention involved a combination of relaxation (similar to the RCS group) and cognitive restructuring to counter cognitive distortions and biases (e.g., overgeneralization and misattributions) while driving.
Deffenbacher et al. randomly assigned 57 high-anger drivers to the RCS, the CRCS, or a no treatment control condition. Compared with the no treatment control condition, both the RCS and CRCS interventions reduced driving anger, based on significantly lower DAS scores at post-treatment and 1-month follow-up. The researchers did note differential treatment effects, however, in that the RCS intervention resulted in greater driving anger reduction on three specific DAS subscales (Illegal Driving, Police Presence, and Traffic Obstruction), whereas the CRCS intervention resulted in greater reduction of risky driving behavior. Neither of the interventions had an influence on trait anger, anxiety, or general anger expression scores.
Deffenbacher and his coresearchers recently conducted another study, similar to Deffenbacher et al., except that they slightly modified the CRCS condition by incorporating explorative, Socratic style questions and behavioral experiments and tryouts adapted from Beck's cognitive therapy. As part of the cognitive restructuring process, for example, participants would be asked questions such as "What's another way of thinking about that situation?" (Socratic question) and "Can we identify a situation in which you can check that out?" (behavioral experiment and tryout). As in the previous study, a no-treatment control condition was included as a comparison group. Based on the responses from a sample of 55 high-anger drivers, both the RCS and CRCS interventions were found to reduce indices of driving anger, aggressive forms of anger expression while driving, and trait anger scores. Both interventions also increased adaptive and constructive ways of expressing anger while driving. Similar to the previous study, the CRCS intervention resulted in lower risky driving behavior.
Although the findings of both of the Deffenbacher studies are somewhat limited in their generalizability because they were done with college students and relied primarily on self-report data, they nonetheless demonstrate that relaxation and a combination of relaxation and cognitive restructuring interventions can be used to reduce driving anger. On a practical level, these interventions are fairly easy to learn and implement with individuals or small groups. Although the skills obtained may not necessarily generalize to sources of anger other than driving anger, cognitive-behavioral interventions can be effective in as few as four sessions, with court-referred as well as self-referred drivers, and can have relatively enduring effects.
Modification of Anger-Inducing Beliefs
Larson has identified five common anger-inducing beliefs that he believes can and should be modified to reduce one's risk for road rage. The first belief, referred to as "Make good time," is that it is necessary to drive to one's destination as fast as possible within a certain self-prescribed amount of time. Other motorists may be perceived more as obstacles than as people. Anger results when the rate of speed or the time schedule cannot be accomplished. The second belief, "Be number one," is based on a sense of competition and conviction that self-esteem and status can be attained by beating another driver in some self-created contest, such as racing at a high speed. Anger results when it seems as if the other driver is winning or actually does win the contest. "Try and make me" is a passive-aggressive type of belief in which an individual thinks that he or she will lose a sense of self-esteem or status by giving in and allowing a demanding driver to have his or her way. When the other driver persists or succeeds in achieving his or her objective (e.g., to pass, merge, drive faster, cut in front), anger is likely to result. The fourth belief, "They shouldn't allow it," is a narcissistic view that any driver or driving behavior that fails to measure up to one's self-created standards should be banned from the road. Anger results from any perceived violation of one's standards (e.g., speed, lane changing, age and/or gender of driver, make of car). Finally, "Teach them a lesson" is the belief that one needs to punish other drivers who threaten, annoy, inconvenience, or fail to measure up to one's self-created standards. Anger is already likely to be present in those who hold this belief, but the anger can escalate when an infraction occurs. Punishment of other drivers can take on many common forms of road rage, including swearing and making obscene gestures, scowling, blocking another vehicle, and running another vehicle off the road.
Larson proposed that these five beliefs should be changed and substituted with less anger-producing ones. For example, it might be helpful to think of driving as worthwhile and pleasurable rather than viewing it as wasted time until arriving at one's destination. Rather than thinking about driving as a form of competition with a winner and a loser, it might be less anger-arousing to think about driving as a shared experience in which everyone must try to cooperate with one another to keep the roads safe. Larson also suggested that it can be helpful for angry drivers to admit that they have no power to control other drivers and that they should not feel a sense of entitlement when driving. He also pointed out that anger can be aroused if an individual becomes too focused on, and hypervigilant about, the habits of other drivers. An alternative way of thinking is that it is not worth the time and energy to look for things that one does not like.
The last three beliefs that Larson proposed should be modified are all based to some extent on "hostile attribution bias" described earlier in this article. Problems may arise when individuals misinterpret a situation and assume that another driver does something to them intentionally. Larson believed that it is important for anger-prone drivers who have a tendency to attribute hostile intentions to other drivers to remind themselves that bad drivers are not necessarily bad people and that the motives for bad driving are not always malicious. He suggested that instead of thinking that another driver is purposely aggravating or threatening, it can help to consider other possibilities, for example, that they may have good reason to be in a hurry. In general, it may be best to assume that there is always a good reason for the behavior of other drivers and not to assume that the driving behaviors of others are personally hostile.
Much like Larson's notion of changing anger-arousing driving beliefs, James and Nahl proposed that angry and aggressive drivers should unlearn adversarial attitudes associated with driving and learn to adopt a philosophy of "supportive driving." In contrast to an oppositional or overly defensive driving attitude that engenders suspiciousness and negative expectations of other drivers, a supportive driving philosophy promotes tolerance, mutual support, accommodation, and acceptance of diversity in drivers and driving styles. In many respects, individuals may benefit from applying the principles of Eastern philosophy to the experience of daily driving, such as those described in Berger's book Zen Driving.
- Sharkin, Bruce S., Road rage: risk factors, assessment, and intervention strategies, Journal of Counseling & Development, Spring 2004, Vol. 82, Issue 2.
Reflection Exercise #12
The preceding section contained information
about intervention strategies for road rage. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
According to Larson, what are five common anger-inducing beliefs? Record the letter of the correct answer