Road Rage: When you just can’t take it Anymore


Report 1


Malia Blumhardt and Sheena Casaquit

PSY 409a, Spring 2008, Generation 27

Dr. Leon James, Instructor

University of Hawaii

Class Home Page:



Section 1: Lecture Contents


Dr. James Leon began the course with an introduction of what driving psychology entails. In his lecture, he provided personal accounts to illustrate what drove him to pursue a career researching the psychology of driving. He went on explaining how he is one of the most educated Psychologists on the topic of driving, specifically aggressive driving. One of the key points he made in his lecture involved the idea that most of the time people are unaware that they are bad drivers, and in fact are quick to point the finger at other drivers.


The most vital piece of information that we discussed was the concept of the three-fold self of the driver. This states that personality is defined in terms of built-up repertoires of basic habits. The acquisition process occurs in three distinct domains: affective, cognitive and sensorimotor, also known as perceptual motor. We can only study our behavior and modify our behavior through the use of the three-fold self of the driver model. This model is represented by a chart with each domain separated from the other. However, the model assumes that all domains are going on simultaneously. Driving behavior occurs in a sequence: affective, cognitive and then ending in sensorimotor. The sensorimotor domain includes sense organs therefore; it is the only part of this model that is subject to legal issues since physical aspects are measurable.


Another important concept that we discussed was the “genetics” of driving behavior and how studies show that parents’ driving style predicts their children’s driving style. It was said that the backseat of a car is a road rage nursery. Social learning is a part of culture. We learn behavior from our environments. So the idea that parents lay the foundation to driving behavior is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.


Section 2: Team Presentation on Readings


Road Rage Chapter 1 pg.21-45: Driving in the Age of Rage

Road Rage: Real or media hype?

In 1996, the media began to write stories about violent highway incidents. The expression “road rage” was introduced to the public via media, however there is no agreed upon definition. A possible definition could be “an extreme state of anger that often precipitates aggressive behavior, sometimes restricted to words and gestures, sometimes as assault and battery.”


Factors influencing increase in Road Rage:

1. Traffic congestion

2. Feeling endangered

3. Being insulted

4. Frustration

5. Time pressure

6. Fatigue

7. Competitiveness

8. Lapses in attention


In the late 1980’s, talk about Road Rage went up, as did aggressive driving. However, the number of deaths due to crashes went down 50,000 per year in the 50s and 60s compared to 40,000 in the 1980s and 90s. This change could be due to: 1.improvements in safety and design, 2. Seat belt and child seat restraint legislation, 3. Improved highway engineering, and 4. Expansion of limited-access divided highways.



Death toll remains at approx. 40,000 year

Crash injuries: 6 million per year

Cost to society: $250 billion per year


Aggressive drivers kill 2-4 times more people than drunk drivers. There is a sort of justification they feel in doing so. This statistic really highlights the aggressive driving being faced in our country, as well as around the world.


Worldwide Phenomenon

Research at University of Southampton in New Zealand:

Out of 526 motorists:


1. Approximately 2 in 3 (64%) said that overall, the behavior of motorists has changed for the worst in recent years.


2. Percent that experienced aggressive driving in the last 12 months:

62% tailgating

59% lights flashed at them in annoyance

48% rude gestures

21% someone deliberately obstructed/prevented them from maneuvering


3. Men received nearly 10% more highway abuse than women. 12% were more likely to experience an aggressive incident.


4. Of the men that admitted to aggressive driving, 45% flashed lights, 22% made rude gestures, 6% tailgated someone, and 5% deliberately obstructed/prevented someone from maneuvering.


5. Younger drivers are more aggressive, 76%, versus 34% of people over 44.


This research suggests that road rage really is on a global scale. It’s interesting to note that men as well as younger drivers are seen as more aggressive. More importantly this research suggests that we really do have a problem that needs to be addressed. Dr. James’ three fold approach could really benefit many drivers.


Culture of disrespect


It’s estimated that “there are billions of road rage exchanges annually among the 177 million U.S. drivers. There are 1,200 road rage assault-and-battery incidents reported each year by the police.”


Each road rage scenarios involve two symptoms: a) feeling of rage accompanied by mental violence, and b) the desire to punish and retaliate.


As the book notes, young men tend to drive more aggressively. They are responding to “their ritual opposition in their struggles for status.” With this mentality, there is an unrealistic expectation of other drivers. As a society, we have to remember that there are many people on the roads: the inexperienced, impaired, and unsure drivers. By respecting others and driving with care, I think a lot of road rage could be avoided.


Aggressive behavior has its roots in an individual’s motives. These motives can be seen as “the sum of the forces that drive an individual to commit a violent act.”


Learned negativity is characteristic of this generation. We have a “get ahead in the world no matter the cost” mentality that stems into our driving habits. The media portrays drivers behaving badly as fun and exhilarating. With no consequences for the recklessness, it’s easy to see why people emulate these bad driving habits.


The Anger Choice


Anger is a habit that can be modified.


“The aggressiveness in road rage is a behavioral strategy used to enforce domination of a stranger-someone who is seen as deserving punishment for having inconvenienced us, or for having placed us in danger out of stupidity, incompetence, or a lack of consideration or caring.” This idea makes complete sense. The car is just an extension of one’s ego. So, for someone who feels there ego has been threatened, it makes sense that they would retaliate.


Although Freud may have argued for venting, today we know that it actually increases stress and depresses the immune system functioning.


If we realize the driver’s prime directive is to stay in control of the vehicle and of the situation, we can see that we give up control by responding in kind.


Developing Emotional Literacy


By understanding Dr. Jame’s three step program involving the affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor skills, drivers can become aware and begin to monitor their emotions and thoughts behind the wheel.


It’s important to realize that road rage injures on many levels. The injury we cause others is threefold:

1. Injury to their cars and bodies

2. Injury to their mental state and happiness

3. Injury to the nation by contributing to social conflict and disunity


Personality Tests


Your Road Rage Tendency” and “Winning and Losing in the Driving Game” quizzes can help someone see if they have road rage tendencies. However, the results can be biased because the test taker may see himself or herself as a good driver.


Driving Lessons Chapter 3 pg.21-49: Dealing with Stress, Aggression, and Pressure in the Vehicle

Two Conflicting structural Components:


  1. Predictability- maintaining steady speed creates safety, security and escape from disaster.
  2. Unpredictability- impulsive lane changing creates danger, stress and frequently crashes.

Both predictability and unpredictability are present all of time. Driving is a highly dramatic activity that many perform on a daily basis. The drama stems from high risk and unpredictability.


15 Aspects of Driving that Act as Stressors:


1. Immobility- tension tends to rise because the body remains still and passive

2. Constriction- restriction to street lanes and narrow bands of highway

3. Regulation- driving controlled by government agencies and law enforcement officers

4. Lack of Control- traffic follows the laws that govern flow patterns

5. Being Put in Danger- close calls and hostile incidents

6. Territoriality- symbolic portrayal tied to individual freedom and self-esteem that promotes a defensive attitude

7. Diversity- drivers vary in experience, knowledge, ability, style and purpose

8. Multi-Tasking- increase in dashboard complexity and in-car activities

9. Denying our Mistakes- automatic, unconscious habits acquired over years

10. Cynicism- constant criticism from others

11. Loss of Objectivity- someone is always thought to be at fault

12. Venting- reciting details of other people’s objectionable behavior

13. Unpredictability- environment of drama, danger and uncertainty

14. Ambiguity- lack of clear communication

15. Lack of Emotional Intelligence- untrained, or under-trained, in cognitive and affective skills


Road Rage and Aggressive Driving


The roadway environment has become more hostile and dangerous over the years, which in turn leads to an increase in traffic and transportation regulations. Media and the World Wide Web have proven that there is evidence of aggressive driving. Activists groups promote the involvement of citizens in promoting and reporting license plates of aggressive drivers.


However, personal research done by Dr. Leon James indicates that rather than deviant behavior, aggressive driving is a culture norm. Much of our driving behavior is acquired from our parents. The backseats of cars act as the classroom for driving behavior.


Surveys found that men drive more aggressively than women and manifest road-rage symptoms more regularly. However, popular surveys show that a growing number of women are engaging in aggressive driving behavior and are involved in a higher rate of non-fatal collisions than men. Women in the workplace and having to make more ‘stops’ are attributed to the rise of aggressiveness in women’s driving behavior.


People’s unwillingness to scrutinize their own conduct and preference to put blame on other drivers is one of the major reasons that highways have become unsafe. This egocentric phenomenon can be seen in specific forms of aggressive behavior. The denial for the need of improvement is part of being an aggressive driver.


Driver Self-Witnessing


This technique was done to obtain reliable data on events in the private world of drivers. Since people report on the activities and mental focus in their daily lives, this method is meaningful. Much discrimination takes place when drivers spontaneously monitor themselves in different dimensions. Interviews and self-assessments yield retrospective data in which the respondents’ recollection of facts is mixed with their self-image as drivers. By contrast, self-witnessing reports yield data that are present, on going and concurrent.


The Driver’s Threefold Self


Personality defined in terms of built-up repertoires of basic habits. Skills and errors that can be modified through further learning. The acquisition process occurs in three distinct domains:

  1. Affective- driver’s motivation, character, and conscience; good/bad will
  2. Cognitive- driver’s rationality and understanding
  3. Sensorimotor (perceptual-motor)- driver’s performance efficiency, sensory awareness and overt verbalizations

All skills at any level of expertise contain all dimensions.


Three Stages of Internalization


  1. Driving obedience- learning of external compliance in all three domains
  2. Driving identification- learning to conform to appropriate forms of driving
  3. Driving internalization- learning altruistic concerns for others and taking responsibility


The Mental Health of Drivers


Negative reactions routinely mentioned in self-witnessing reports:

*      Extreme Physiological Reactions- heart pounding, shortness of breath, muscle spasms

*      Extreme Emotional Reactions- outbursts of anger, yelling, aggressive gestures

*      Extreme Irrational Thought Sequences- paranoiac thinking that one is being followed or inspected


Article 1


Article 1 focused on bad driving behavior seen on TV, movies, cartoons, music videos, and car commercials. A list of shows is presented and then rated using the DBB ratings which was developed by students of Dr. James. From this article, the hope is that people will see the danger of these shows’ activities.


We found this article very interesting. Many people fail to realize the impact media has on their lives. Most importantly, it’s necessary to separate the fictitious world from the real one.


Section 3: Team Presentation on Exercises


a) Main ideas

The Threefold-Self including:

*      Aggressive driving behaviors in the three domains:


            Affective= hostile feelings

            Cognitive= biased thoughts

            Sensorimotor=aggressive actions


*      Driver behavior as skills and errors in the three domains:








I've got to be careful here. Don't want to cut anybody off.

This person looks like he's in a hurry to get in. I better let him in.

(Waving and smiling) Go ahead







I wish I could give that guy a piece of my mind.

I don't think people like that should be allowed on the road

(Yelling) "You stupid idiot, why don't you watch where you're going!"



How do Americans define aggressive driving?


Global Strategy Group between June 29 and July 2, 1999 conducted a nationally representative telephone survey of 998 adult licensed drivers in order to determine how Americans define aggressive driving behavior.


Top five answers:

            1. Tailgating                                                                              88%

            2. Making rude gestures                                                            86%

            3. Passing on shoulder                                                              83%

            4. Failing to yield to merging traffic                                83%

            5. Pulling into a space someone else is waiting for          80%


            Driving 10mph or slower under the speed limit               26%


115 People die each day from traffic crashes

About 115 people die each day from traffic crashes in the United States. Nearly 42,000 people die each year from traffic crashes, sending 4 million more to the emergency room and hospitalizing 400,000, half of which are left with permanent disabilities.





Motorists, Non-motorists Killed in Crashes









Pct. Change






Passenger Vehicles





Passenger Cars





Light Trucks





Large Trucks






























Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration





Motorists, Non-motorists Injured in Crashes









Pct. Change






Passenger Vehicles





Passenger Cars





Light Trucks





Large Trucks






























Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration









These statistics above indicate people who have been killed or injured in motorist and non-motorist crashes during the years of 2005 and 2006. This data suggests that there was a positive change in motorcycle incidents. What the number suggests to me is that there is a need for speed in our society. Though there may be some sign of improvement on the roadways, there are still many people being affected by road rage.


b) Procedure and Interpretation

This exercise called for educating ourselves with all the information provided on DrDriving’s Page of Facts at Statistics that were found to be the most important and entertaining were selected to be presented to the class. Each set of facts presented was dissected into various psychological factors that may have been involved in order to find out why those things were happening. Each statistic was tied to the threefold self of the driver and how each dimension (affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor) could have produced these statistics.


c) Better justification of ideas

More allotted time to present would have allowed us to have a wider window to go into detail on the main ideas that were included in our exercise. Due to the time constraint, we were not able to go into detail on a lot of the information that we had originally planned on. However, having visual aids on both the chalkboard and handouts were found to be effective in getting our points across. Since we had a great deal of information to share with the class, we felt that breaking it down into various sections and having it up for the class to go along decreased the anxiety of taking it in all at once.


d) Success of approach

Choosing the most important and entertaining information and statistics on DrDriving’s Page of Facts to present to the class was successful because it prevented the class from becoming overwhelmed with useless information. We broke down the information in order for the class to have a better grasp on understanding the main ideas. As a team, we focused on various psychological factors that may have been involved in the production of these statistics. Another success to our approach was creating a short verbal quiz for the class to participate in. This gave the class a chance to get involved with the presentation and hopefully gave them a better understanding of what was being presented.


e) Improvements

The instructions on the procedure of this exercise were straightforward. However, there were parts that seemed to be a bit ambiguous. Depending on an individual, various interpretations of the instructions could have been made. For example, we were to select statistics that were found to be most important for people to know about. This was a little vague because of ‘importance’ in terms of what exactly? Importance in terms of social norms? Importance in terms of traffic reduction? Importance in terms of individual knowledge and growth? In sum, the instructions to this exercise could have been explained more specifically.


f) Limitations of exercises

The most crucial limitation of this exercise was having all the data located on DrDriving’s Page of Facts. Considering the fact that there was a mass amount of facts and statistics provided, it was difficult to consume it all at once. We believe that having hard copies (print outs or textbooks) could have lessened the anxiety.


g) What happened when we performed the exercises?

Since this was our group presentation we had to really master the data and formulate a plan to present the information to the class. It was a bit challenging at first because this was our very first presentation of the semester but as time went on we got the hang of it. Having to learn all the information online was difficult but printing out the most essential information proved to be much more helpful in putting everything together in the end.


Section 4: Annotated Web Links


Strategies for Aggressive Driver Enforcement

This site is a collaboration of various enforcement agencies, including The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Included on this site is the identification of the problem, goals and objectives to reduce the amount of aggressive driving accidents, suggestions, examples, and media activities that all relate to this growing problem in society today.


Personality Factors as Predictors of Persistent Risky Behavior and Crash Involvement

The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between personality factors assessed during adolescence and persistent risky driving behavior and traffic crash involvement among young adults. The results of this study suggest that road-safety interventions seeking to deter young adult males from persistent risky driving behavior need to be directed at those who do not endorse traditional views, are aggressive, and feel alienated from the rest of society.

This site provides tons of information on driving, everything from driver safety to where your state DMV is located. I found the driving statistics to be the most interesting because it really shows you how poor driving is impacting our country.


Are You a Dangerous Driver?

This article supports the conclusion that men are more likely to be aggressive drivers. The title of the piece is called “Are you a dangerous driver?” In the article, he mentions different types of reckless driving such as tailgating and then offers statistics to support his conclusions.


Road Rage is More Common Than You Think

This site offers road rage advice and tips on how to avoid road rage, statistics, road rage articles, road rage tests, and even causes to road rage. There are a few outside related links dealing with this phenomenon. What we found most interesting on this site was the ability to file a report on dangerous drivers and have their information posted in the site for others to see. Having a discussion board also helps people become more involved by speaking their minds and reading in on the minds of others.

This site includes various topics related to road rage some of which include behavior dealing with aggressive driving and behavior dealing with speeding. Other driver’s topics that are included are autos, behavior, driving, enforcement, environment, licensing, safety, technology, etc. All of these topics relate to our lecture in some way. So this site has everything included on one site.


How to Avoid Aggressive Driving

This site includes information on how to avoid aggressive driving. It contains three different sections including “don’t offend,” “don’t engage,” and “adjust your attitude.”  We believe that these three topics are essential in the fight against aggressive driving. People think that they know enough to cope with the situation but things are much more complicated than it seems. This site is short and to the point.


Influences on youthful driving behavior and their potential for guiding interventions to reduce crashes

This site is an organized, comprehensive view of the factors known to influence young drivers’ behavior and how those factors might inform interventions to reduce crashes. A framework of six categories of influences on youthful driving behavior was developed, including the following elements: driving ability, developmental factors, personality factors, demographics, the perceived environment, and the driving environment. It is apparent that a complex set of many different factors influences young drivers’ behavior. To reduce crashes, comprehensive, multilevel interventions are needed that target those factors in the framework that are amenable to change.


Teen Safe Driver

In this lecture we learned a lot about how parents are the main influences on how driving behavior is formed. We learned that the backseat of a car that is driven by our parents acts as the classroom for how we end up driving as adults. We found this site to be helpful in a sense that it provides useful information on teen driving. This site presents the fact that teens are 9 times more likely to be involved in accidents.  The Teen Safe Driver Program provides American Family Insurance customers a proven approach to help new teen drivers improve their driving.


The “genetics” of driving behavior: Parents’ driving style predicts their children’s driving style

Children inherit their parents’ driving habits both through genetic disposition and model learning. Due to life style and other exposure factors, studies show that parents and their children’s traffic convictions and accidents correlate one another. This study aimed at investigating the relationships between parents’ and their children’s self-reported driving behavior. We found this site to be helpful in a sense that it really goes into detail on the genetics of driving behavior and where aggressive driving really starts.