Psychology 409a - January 23, 2006
The Outrageous World of Driving and the Search for More Peaceful Travels
By Aaron Kenna Reich

Leon James and Diane Nahl (2000). Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare. (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books) pp 32-43

Instructions for this activity are found at:
Instructor: Dr. Leon James

Outline for second half of Chapter 1: Driving in the Age of Rage

I. The Outrageous World of Driving

  • This chapter informs the reader that road rage is a very real and culturally universal phenomenon; it is not simply the product of media hype nor is it limited to just the United States. Driving has become increasingly dangerous since its invention, which is the result of several factors, including: the rise of competiveness in the contemporary world, depictions of anger and violence on television and in video games, and the growing population of motorists. As the world becomes more populated, also do the road ways.
  • Media in cultures across the world recognize the growing threat of road rage. For example, England still uses the term "furious driving" in the Dangerous Driving Road Traffic Act of 1988.
  • Aggressive driving is a growing concern and currently kills two to four times more people than drunk driving. This is a very startling statistic for most people unfamiliar with the topic of road rage.
  • Negative thoughts have maladaptive physiological effects on people, such as stress, higher blood pressure, frustration, pessimism, and less effective mental productivity. For most people, driving generates negative thoughts and these subsequent symptoms. In other words, this worldwide aggressive pattern of driving is simply NOT HEALTHY.
  • Rage behavior is not limited to the driving arena. Aggressive behaviors have also been documented in other locations of high demand, such as surf spots, sidewalks, shopping malls, and parking lots.
  • II. The Search for More Peaceful Travels

  • Anger is a choice, not an instinct or an obligation. Darwin theorized that human aggression is biologically programmed and is no different from the rage reflex of animals when they are attacked. Researcher Carol Tavris thinks this model is too simplistic for humans, and instead, human beings have a choice in becoming angry or not. Thus, anger is not a triggered response but a learned habit.
  • The aggressiveness in road rage behavior is a behavioral strategy used to enforce domination of a stranger - someone who is seen as deserving punishment for having inconvenienced us, or having placed us in danger out of stupidity, or lack of caring.
  • Expressing anger through hostility behind the wheel can increase stress and decrease immune system functioning. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population maintains the belief that venting anger is healthy and this misconception serves to justify road rage behavior.
  • As a driver it is important to be emotionally intelligent behind the wheel; that is, to transform immediate impulses to kill other drivers to a cool-headed response from the higher parts of the brain. Acting with rage and aggression is a very primitive way to handle any situation and it relies on the older structures of the brain, whereas a more compassionate response utilizes the new, cortical brain. The conscious recognition and transformation of an aggressive thought is essential for cultivating a safe and supportive driving personality.
  • This chapter ends with a discussion about emotional literacy, that is, the ability to understand and control one's own emotions and the emotions of other people. To improve one's emotional literacy, he or she must become aware of and monitor the sequence of their emotions and thoughts behind the wheel. Without emotional literacy, a person is not able to recognize aggressiveness. The shift from aggressive driver to supportive driver comes through developing a positive emotional disposition while driving.
  • III. Related Links

    1. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety - Here you can find an online quiz to measure your level of aggressiveness on the road. Remember, this is the first step to becoming a better driver! As the chapter in Dr. James' book specifies, emotional literacy is a requirement to become a supportive driver.

    2. Techniques to Prevent Road Rage - This link offers excellent techniques to prevent road rage occurances. The primary technique of this link is to make a "sorry" gesture to other drivers, which involves letting go of one's pride. At times, even when one is not at fault, it is better to apologize and avoid an incident of road rage.

    3. Emotional Intelligence - This is a link to a wealth of information on the topic of emotional intelligence. As these outlines progress, there will most likely be more specific aspects of emotional intelligence that will be addressed. For now, this is an overview of the topic, a topic that is very related to driving psychology, and a topic that could some day save your life.

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