Driving Psychology (Psy409a); September 24, 2006

Aggressive Driving

By: Kasey Vanderhoof


Instructions for this activity are found at:


Instructor: Dr. Leon James



Leon James and Diane Nahl (2000). Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering

Clear of Highway Warfare. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books). Reviewing pages 46

To 83.


  1. Denial and Semantics of Aggressive Driving
    1. In April of 1998, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its update of a longitudinal study of aggressive driving patterns

                                                              i.      The study was done on 64 miles of roadway surrounding Washington D.C.

                                                            ii.      Normal, aggressive, and commercial drivers participated

                                                          iii.      Aggressive drivers    

1.      More likely to engage in risky behaviors

2.      Reported feeling competitive with other drivers constantly

3.      Wants minimum speed limits, not maximum speed limits

4.      When they feel provoked, which is often, they go out of their way to get back at the other driver

    1. Most acts considered aggressive by law enforcement is not considered aggressive by the majority of people


  1. Drivers Behaving Badly on TV
    1. A crucial question

                                                              i.      Why has road rage exploded in the 1990’s?

1.      Traffic congestion has existed since the 1950’s and has worsened since the 1970’s

2.      It is culturally accepted to be angry and aggressive

3.      Psychiatrist John Larson says the main reason is because of television

a.      There was a debate about this

                                                                                                                                      i.      Some say it’s just entertainment and everyone knows the difference between fantasy and reality

                                                                                                                                    ii.      Research done in the 1980’s has persuaded many people to except the opposite view

1.      Watching violence makes people less sensitive to it


  1. Players Behaving Badly with Road Rage Video Games
    1. Games are becoming more and more realistic

                                                              i.      They have better graphics and are more intense in nature

    1. The most popular games are the ones that have a lot of blood
    2. Most video game players are males between the ages of 18 and 25

                                                              i.      This group also has the highest number of traffic fatalities

    1. In the 1990’s many games came out using road rage scenarios to entertain
    2. There are games out there where the object is run over and kill things including old ladies
    3. There is also a game where the object is to run people off the road or to shoot them down with weapons
    4. “Practicing Acts of murder and torture, especially with graphic multimedia effects, can weaken inherent inhibitions against performing acts of violence.” (P52)


  1. Why Driving Arouses Anger
    1. Driving often involves events and incidents

                                                              i.      These are sources of psychological forces capable of producing powerful feelings and irrational thoughts

    1. Unpredictability while driving creates danger, stress, and crashes
    2. Drivers often lack the emotional intelligence coping skills needed, including how to

                                                              i.      Cool off when angered or frustrated

                                                            ii.      Retain focus when multitasking

                                                          iii.      Cooperate with the traffic flow and not hinder it

                                                          iv.      Allow enough time for the trip

                                                            v.      Feeling responsible for obeying traffic regulations

                                                          vi.      Be a supportive, noncompetitive, compassionate driver

    1. Road rage cannot be predicted based on a persons personality
    2. Roland Maiuro, M.D., director of an anger management program at the University of Washington School of Medicine gives three sets of factors that contribute to aggressive driving

                                                              i.      Socioenviromental factors: ex: faulty highway engineering

                                                            ii.      Mental illness factors: anger disorders that can be triggered by the pressures of driving

                                                          iii.      Cultural habit factors: ex: faulty attitudes and inadequate driving skills


  1. The Gender Effect
    1. There are differences in some behaviors and similarities in others concerning the driving behaviors of men and women
    2. Women report more positive emotions while driving whereas men drive more aggressively and manifest road rage more often
    3. Women are becoming more aggressive though

                                                              i.      May be due to the fact that there are more women on the roads nowadays then there used to be

                                                            ii.      Also may be due to women having more stops to make

1.      For example: picking up and dropping off the kids, shopping, running errands, going to work, etc.


  1. Driving Impaired
    1. This includes driving while tired, under the influence of a chemical substance, or under the influence of a strong emotion

                                                              i.      Considered aggressive because the driver chose to operate the vehicle while under this condition

    1. It is estimated that 15,000 people die each year due to crashes caused by drug-impaired driving
    2. Dark tinted windows are not only illegal because police officers cannot see in but also because it makes people more anonymous which leads to more aggressive driving


  1. Emotional Self Control Behind the Wheel
    1. Regulating emotions is a learned skill with two main components

                                                              i.      Accurate self-appraisal

                                                            ii.      Effective self-regulation

    1. Negative emotions

                                                              i.      Keep rational alternatives out of awareness

                                                            ii.      Leads us down the path of impulsive, inappropriate, and often dangerous behaviors

    1. There are three mental control techniques used to control aggression

                                                              i.      Postponing the immediate satisfaction you intensely desire

                                                            ii.      Avoiding savoring the victory and the pleasurable anticipation of punishing and taking revenge

                                                          iii.      Redirecting negative scenarios of justifications that give you permission to engage in hostile acts


  1. Defensive Driving
    1. In the United States in 1996

                                                              i.      Drivers caused five million accidents, forty thousand deaths, and $150 billion in health and related costs

    1. Aggressive driving continues to increase in frequency and seriousness around the world despite the attempts to stop it
    2. It is better to expect the worse and not have it happen than it is to ignore the worse and have it occur

                                                              i.      This defensive driving technique is logical and it saves drivers from some accidents

                                                            ii.      It also has unintended consequences that can increase rather than decrease risk in driving

1.      Can create suspicion and can encourage people to see other drivers as the enemy

    1. Has been promoted as the key to survival on the road
    2. Can be a form of offensive driving when it creates suspicion


  1. Stressful Congestion
    1. A universal problem
    2. Not enough miles of road for the number of vehicles in use
    3. Increases the number of crashes due to aggressive driving because it inconviences, delays, and frustrates drivers
    4. Can cost people up to $1,200 a year on wasted gas due to sitting in traffic

                                                              i.      This causes frustration, anger, and stress


  1. Peer Pressure
    1. A lot of drivers feel pressured into doing things they do not want to do

                                                              i.      Going faster than what is safe because of fear of disapproval

                                                            ii.      Some report feeling embarrassed to make a complete stop at a stop sign when there are no other cars around

    1. Drivers need to be equipped with the inner tools to ignore perceived peer pressure which increases risk and stress
    2. Going with the flow of traffic is a form of peer pressure that can result in getting a ticket
  1. Automotive Vigilantism
    1. There are two types of drivers in the United States and in Canada

                                                              i.      Those who drive “tough minded” vehicles

1.      SUV’s, sports cars, and light trucks

2.      These people participate in more frequent and more severe aggressive driving behaviors

                                                            ii.      Those who drive “soft” vehicles

1.      Family and economy cars and minivans


  1. Trigger Theory of Road Rage
    1. Raging aggressively is a way of striving for control, attempting to coerce, and imposing our will on others
    2. Habitual aggressive driving is a strategy for gaining supremacy over others

                                                              i.      It is a mental state of learned aggressiveness justified by feeling contempt for other drivers, or the compulsion to rage about road events and participants

    1. A sure sign that someone has road rage is their strong desire to let the other person know how they feel
    2. Our pet peeves on the road seem to act like triggers

                                                              i.      This in an illusion

                                                            ii.      In reality we are our own trigger and emotional amplifier

1.      We let ourselves get angry


  1. Caution-Venting is Harmful to Your Health
    1. Makes people sick by weakening the cardiovascular and immune systems due to the constant state of being angry

                                                              i.      Each anger episode sets up a fight-or-flight response that makes the heart beat faster and the blood thicken

    1. People who vent become more aggressive when they are done venting




Related Links:

1.      Venting Anger


This website talks about the popular belief that venting is good.  It also gives reasons why venting is, in reality, bad for you.

2.      Driving Impaired


This website give some statistics and facts on drunk driving.  It tells you who is most          

risk for becoming a drunk driver.  It also gives different ways of preventing drunk driving.

3.      Driving While Tired


      This website gives some facts about driving tired.  It includes how many people drive

      this state of mind.  It talks about how bad it can get and what is being done to prevent





My homepage: http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leon/409af2006/vanderhoof/vanderhoof-home.htm

Class Homepage: http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy25/classhome-g25.htm