Road Rage Factors


Potential causes of road rage can be categorized into three broad categories : (a) situational and/or environmental conditions, (b) personality or dispositional factors, and (c) demographic variables (Sharkin, 2004).

2.1 Situational/Environmental Conditions

Several studies have demonstrated that traffic congestion and travel impedance (i.e factors/conditions etc. that interferes adversely with ones journey) can negatively affect mood, thinking behavior, and health of commuters. Simply stated, daily driving, particularly in conditions of high traffic congestion, can be a source of annoyance and stress (Sharkin, 2004 ; Lawton, e.a 2002).

There seems to be evidence that driver anger and aggression are more prevalent during high-congestion conditions than during low-congestion conditions.  Drivers who are generally prone to getting angry while driving may be specifically anger-prone and aggressive under high impedance conditions.

Another interesting fact emerging from research is that drivers who are/believe they are more anonymous e.g smoked windows are more prone to and exhibit longer and more intense anger behaviours e.g longer and more aggressive honking, swearing, staring, etc.

Aggressive stimuli in the environment e.g billboards with aggressive wording, images on them have also been found to increase the likelihood of anger level increase.

One could speculate that in the S.A urban situation, overcrowding of roads, high influx of daily commuters, inadequate road infra structure, increase in taxi/bus transport , increase in heavy duty vehicle volumes could all be situational/environmental factors that increase the probability of the stress-anger-rage response chain.

2.2  Personality/Dispositional Factors

No S.A based study could be found that addresses these issues.  I therefore utilize research primarily done in the U.S.A and lavishly and hopefully scientifically reference the work of Sharkin, Deffenbacher and others, with full acknowledgement of their scholarly efforts.

The reader should at least attempt to draw comparisons and possible differences between the U.S.A and S.A situations.
Anger and its mismanagement seems to be the major cause of road rage incidents.  Lawton e.a (2002) indicate that driver aggression differs from aggression provoked in other life situations and that driver aggression will be more easily and overtly vented, possibly because people feel more anonymous in a car.  They will therefore tend to yell, honk the hooter, etc. more easily.

The question of whether generally aggressive people are also aggressive drivers was examined in a study conducted by Lajunen and Parker (2001).   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.

Research also found that the tendency to be physically aggressive increased the likelihood of aggressive driving behavior.

Some people may have a greater propensity to become angry frequently and intensely while driving, referred to as "trait driving anger” (Sharkin, 2004).

This view is supported by Deffenbacher, e.a (2001) who found that driving anger 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 (Deffenbacher, et al., 2003).

Larson (1996) as discussed in Sharkin (2004),  has identified five common anger-inducing beliefs that could produce loss of anger control and subsequent road rage:

• "Make good time," is the belief 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.

• "Be number one," belief 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.

•  "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).

• "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.

A high level of general stress while driving is another potential factor that may make individuals prone to driving anger and aggression (Sharkin, 2004).

Research findings support the view that drivers with a disposition to view driving as generally stressful tend to engage in more driving aggression than do drivers who consider driving to be less stressful, especially if the situation is exacerbated by adverse environmental conditions such as high levels of congestion (Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 1999).

This stress experience may also be brought on by a person’s perceptions or appraisals of driving situations e.g, highly stressed drivers may be more likely to perceive other drivers as a source of frustration, thereby increasing their own aggressive behavior.

Some drivers, when committing a traffic violation, tend to attribute their own behavior to situational factors i.e not their fault, but when another driver commits the same violation, the behavior is more likely to be attributed to that driver’s incompetence, carelessness, etc. (adapted from : Baxter, e.a. , 1990).
Research have also shown that 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.

Various studies support the view that specific personality factors contribute to “accident proneness”, aggression and the resultant predisposition of the person to road rage behaviour :

• Manipulative
• Irresponsible
• Immature
• Self assertive
• Hostile intent/inclination
• Anti-social
• Irritable
• Tense
• Driven
• Domineering
• Substance abuse inclined ((Yu, e.a : 2004)
• Etc.

2.3  Demographic Variables

Most research in this area is about age and gender.

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 (Summala, 1987).

Studies have also shown that 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.

Many of the problematic driving behaviors observed among younger drivers could be attributed to inexperience, immaturity, external locus of control.

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 (Ellison-Potter et al.,

In addition, male drivers may be more prone than women to engage in revengeful and physically aggressive thinking (Deffenbacher, e.a, 2003) and physical and verbal aggression (Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 2001), particularly men who exhibit high trait driving anger (Deffenbacher et al., 2000).

An interesting piece of research however, has shown that of self-reported aggressive driving behavior of  drivers who admitted to aggressive driving behavior, 53% were women (Sarpolus, as cited in Matthews & Norris, 2002 and quoted in Sharkin 2004).

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, 2004).  This is supported by Chatterjee (1999) who found that women moving up the corporate ladder exhibit the same, if not more tendency than men to engage in road rage behaviour.