A Review of:

Dr. Leon James and Diane Nahl

Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare

Prometheus Books, 2000

By Bryce Dechert, May 7 2003

Instructions for this report


1. The Book’s Overall Content

Topic 1: Road Rage and Aggressive Driving (Chapter 1, p. 22–27)

These two terms are often used interchangeably, yet they define two different aspects of driving. There is no universal definition of road rage, though the phrase can be generally be defined as:

“…an extreme state of anger that often precipitates aggressive behavior, sometimes restricted to gestures, sometimes in assault and battery.” (p. 22)

Road rage has become increasingly prevalent in our society, possibly due to the increase in various factors including ”…traffic congestion, feeling endangered, being insulted, frustration, time pressure, fatigue, competitiveness, and lapses in attention” (p. 22).

Aggressive driving refers to:

“…reckless behavior, such as running red lights or giving someone a ‘brake job’, as well as to speeding, tailgating, and lane hopping.” (p. 23)

Aggressive driving is a serious problem that is especially dangerous to our society due to the fact that it is not readily acknowledged by divisions of our society; it is often claimed to be “…merely media mayhem” (p. 22). Drunk Driving is often seen as the more serious phenomenon, yet it is aggressive drivers that kill “… two to four times more people than drunk drivers.” (p. 25)

Topic 2: The Different Types of Road Rage (Chapter 4, p. 84–97)

Dr. James mentions at the beginning of this chapter that many people have the tendency to undergo a drastic personality change when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle, the “Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome” (p. 84) The most common manifestations of this syndrome are apparent in three classifications of aggressive driving rage: passive-aggressive road rage, verbal road rage, and epic road rage

Passive-aggressive road rage is defined as:

“…a reactionary protest against feeling thwarted, coerced, mistreated, or repeatedly wronged, characterized by feelings of rancor and resentment against other drivers” (p. 85)

This form of road rage includes such tendencies as the “left-lane bandit” (p. 86), one who has the tendency to be stubborn and contrary behind the wheel, manifested by the tendency to drive slowly in the left “fast” lane, to the despair and annoyance of other drivers on the road.

Verbal road rage is likely the most common form of road rage, simply because it us the most easily expressed The driver who expresses verbal road rage can often do so without fear of retaliation by his fellow drivers as he/she commonly expresses the verbal rage in the confines of his/her vehicle. Verbal rage is defined as:

“…the habit of constantly complaining about the traffic, keeping up a stream of mental or spoken attacks against drivers, passengers, law enforcement officials, road workers, pedestrians, speed limits, and road signs” (p. 89)

Epic road rage is the most serious and fatal of these road rage types. Drivers often progress from the milder forms of road rage, as verbal road rage, to this confrontational and often violent rage. Epic road rage is defined as:

“the habit of fantasizing comic-book roles and extreme punitive measures against another driver, such as chasing, beating up, ramming, dragging, shooting, and killing, sometimes to the point of acting on it” (p. 91-92)

Topic 3: The Four types of Aggressive Drivers (p. 97-106)

Among those of us who can be considered aggressive drivers; we can usually be categorized as one of four types: automotive vigilante, rushing maniac, aggressive competitor, and scofflaw. Of these four I can most associate with the rushing maniac; I always have a need to get to my particular destination as fast as possible.

The automotive vigilante is one who is an aggressor against other motorists; he/she picks his target at random or for a specific reason, and directs a stream of “…verbal abuse, offensive gestures, and threatening maneuvers with the vehicle, sometimes going to the extreme of physical violence.” (p. 97-98). This vigilante will usually deny responsibility for his/her actions when confronted by law enforcement.

The most common type of aggressive driver is the rushing maniac. This type of driver usually has two elements: “…an extraordinary need to avoid slowing down.” and “…a consequent anger against anyone who causes a slow down.” (p. 100). The most frequent causes of urban crashes result from this rushing maniac, often in his/her attempt to run red lights, or ignore stop signs.

Competition is highly encouraged in America, so it is no surprise that many of us turn school or workplace competition into dangerous driving competition. Some competitive drivers greatly increase the danger of driving through such attitudes as a “…need to be in the lead at all times, and feel a sense of anxiety if another car passes them.” (p. 103).

Some drivers have the tendency to disregard many traffic regulations, laws, and signs. They forget that these laws exist primarily for their safety; they place them selves above the law in many situations. This type of driver is known as a scofflaw. I am guilty of this tendency occasionally, as I usually fail to stop completely at stop signs, I feel there is no need.

Topic 4: Levels of Emotional Intelligence (p.117-120)

Level One – Oppositional Driving: At this lowest level of emotional intelligence the driver’s thought process is irrational. Most drivers will operate at this level for at least some of the time, and some drivers will operate at this level most of the time. The types of actions displayed by those drivers include being selfish, reckless, impulsive, and hostile. This driver constantly expresses criticism and often feels insulted and insecure.

Level Two – Defensive Driving: Drivers at the second level of emotional intelligence usually have a logical thought process, yet are still moderately competitive on the road. The types of actions exhibited by these drivers include being suspicious, wary, and competitive. They are prudent and restrained, and often express worries and complaints.

Level Three – Supportive Driving: Supportive drivers incorporate others into their driving tendencies in a positive manner. These drivers have prosocial thought patterns, which “…promote helpful actions and a benign demeanor.”(p. 118). These drivers attempt to understand other drivers on the road; they do not lash out with aggressiveness when a driver makes a mistake, rather, they realize that everyone makes mistakes, and they are tolerant of others mistakes.

Topic 5: The Three-Step Driver Self-Improvement Program (p. 133-147)

Step One: Acknowledgement

The first step in improving yourself as a driver is acknowledgement. This is one of the most difficult stages; no one likes to admit that they could possibly be a driver who suffers from road rage. The formal acknowledgement that one has a problem they need to fix must be made in all three areas of a driver’s habits: emotions, thoughts, and overt actions.

Step Two: Witness

Witnessing, or self-observation, follows after acknowledgement. There are acts that drivers do that are visible and measurable, and there are acts that are not easily observable without sensing equipment. Examples of easily measurable and observable acts include vehicle speed, following distance, BAC level and running a red. Examples of driving acts that are not easily observed are how hard we grip the steering wheel, the rate of shallow breathing, and the amount of pressure applied to the brake pedal. Self-witnessing involves “…verbalizing thoughts and feelings during an activity to create a play-by-play description of what’s going on.” (p. 138)

Step Three: Modify

To modify your driving behavior is the most difficult of these steps. People have a natural resistance to change, altering your driving personality is no different. Breaking your modifying task into many small steps is useful; it allows you to focus on one element of you behavior at a time. The modification process is by no means short; “Permanently changing lifelong driving habits requires systematically mapping your emotions, thoughts, and deeds behind the wheel.” (p. 143), a process that is likely to take months, and even years.

Topic 6: Lifelong Driver Education (p. 190-202)

If aggressive driving and road rage are such serious problems, the question arises, why we have not implemented an extensive driver’s training program? There exists in most high schools some short class on driving safety, but it is usually only a semester. To get a drivers in the U.S. there is no requirement to undergo driver safety and aggressive driving management courses. Driver education should begin at the kindergarten or elementary stages, and continue through high school and the adult life.

Kindergarten and Elementary school are the beginning in a lifelong driver education system. This phase would use “…age-appropriate cognitive explanations and sensorimotor demonstrations to teach these affective skills.” (p. 197)

In the middle school phase, the focus would be on cognitive driving skills. This phase would incorporate “…an age-appropriate review of the affective skills and their extension to these cognitive skills with sensorimotor demonstrations.” (p. 198)

The focus during high school would be on sensorimotor driving skills. This phase would utilize an “…age appropriate review of the affective and cognitive skills and their extension to these sensorimotor skills.” (p. 199)

After a driver has received his/her license, the education does not stop, drivers need continued training. This continuance of driver training would be accomplished through the use of Quality Driving Circles (QDC’s). QDC’s are small groups of drivers that meet regularly to support and encourage each other to improve their driving habits.

Topic 7: The Future Of Driving (p. 219-271)

The War Against Aggressive Driving

The indisputable fact that aggressive driving is a serious phenomenon that kills people is in desperate need of addressing by our society. About 40,000 people die every year due to traffic fatalities, two thirds of these fatalities can be attributed to behavior associated with aggressive driving. 250 billion dollars are spent every year due to crashes, with 150 billion of this money spent on crashes due to aggressive driving. Our government is slowly enacting legislation, and implementing driver education programs that recognize the severity of the problem, yet it will be some years before the aggressive driving is fully addressed.

Dream Cars and Driving Realities

The ideal car of the earlier generations of our country varies greatly as compared to the ideal car of the 21st century. My father would have been proud to own a vehicle with a FM stereo, and ecstatic to have an 8-track player. Now technology has permitted the integration of sophisticated technology into our mobile steel universe; we have HUD’s, PSX2’s, DVD players, GPS systems, talking onboard computers, basically a plethora of distractions from the task of driving. It is likely that the automobile has been transformed from a means of transportation to a means of exhibition.

In observing car commercials, it is quite common to see the car as a liberating, power-granting, exciting experience. If you have this new SUV, you should be crossing rugged terrain during a raging blizzard, or navigating treacherous, curvy roads with speed and power. These qualities that are being promoted are likely contributing to feelings of competition among drivers; whose car is more powerful, whose car is the fastest? However, love of a powerful machine does not necessarily require an attitude of disrespect towards your fellow drivers. It is possible for a love of cars to coincide with supportive driving.

Analysis of Major Topics

The topics progressed in their informative nature; first aggressive driving and road rage are defined, giving the reader a basis of knowledge for the rest of the book. The different types of aggressive driving and aggressive drivers are analyzed, then suggestions and a program for improvement are given. Finally information about current and future topics dealing with aggressive driving is given; the book follows a logical procession from topic to topic. The majority of the topics were quite interesting, mainly due to the fact that I was not aware of the severity of the problem aggressive driving is; there were facts after facts that shocked me.

The ideal audience for this book would be from high school level on. That is earliest time that an individual will have the necessary skills to understand the information and the real problem of aggressive driving. An adult would also do well to read this book to inform them of the problem aggressive driving poses ; I assume that the majority of the population is ill-informed on the nature of aggressive driving.

2. The Book’s Importance

The book addresses many problems related to aggressive driving and road rage, the most important problems are: the effect that aggressive driving is have in relation to financial costs and human life costs, and the lack of education among Americans regarding aggressive driving. The implementation of a good lifelong driver-training program is seen as a solution that will help educate the driving public. Individuals need to address their own personal aggressive driving habits, through the use of such techniques as the Three-Step Driver Improvement Program, this will likely reduce car crashes and therefore fatalities and financial costs.

Many of the major topics I have identified are of immediate concern to the general public, as 40,000 deaths due to crashes occur each year and two-thirds of those are due to aggressive driving. The book was filled with numerous instances of road rage that resulted in a fatality, the death of a family member or spouse due to an aggressive driving incident would likely spark serious concern for this driving tendency.

The book is relevant to psychology in many areas; driving is a task that involves different psychological aspects such as personality, emotion, cognition, and behavior. To successfully modify ones aggressive driving tendencies, one needs to change in all areas; your thoughts(personality) about driving must change, your feelings(emotions) about driving must change, and the way you think (cognition) about driving must change.

The message that the book brings is that aggressive driving and road rage are detrimental in our society. This message is needed, because much of the public is ill informed as to the severity of the problem of aggressive driving. It addresses the concerns that almost 30,000 people die each year due to aggressive driving tendencies, and gives various techniques to adequately address the problem.

In relation to a categorization of this book in regards to psychology, it could fall in a few different categories. These categories would include personality, cognition, emotion, and behavior. Driving encompasses actions, thoughts, emotions, and other tendencies, so it is readily categorized in any of those psychology sub-disciplines.

3. The Book’s Structure

The book has a large number of tests, throughout each chapter there are tests designed to test an individual on their driving habits and tendencies. One of the tests I took was designed to check my range of hostility (ch. 3, p. 81-82). I scored in the Violent Zone—carrying out an act of hostility either in fantasy or deed. I realized after taking this test that I have a lot of violent driving tendencies that need some modification. These tests are very useful in helping the reader obtain a sense of their own aggressive driving tendencies, which they may not be aware of until they take a test.

There are many Tables and diagrams that serve to illustrate a concept or set of situations. The table 5.1, illustrating the Three Levels of Emotional Intelligence (ch. 5, p. 117) was one of the most helpful in explaining a concept. The Table 9.2 is a Scenario Analysis of a Teenager’s Unrecognized Road Rage Behavior(ch. 5, p. 206); this table was an interesting insight on what goes on in a teenager’s mind during incidents of aggressive driving.

At the end of each chapter, there are notes that direct the reader to the source of earlier cited quotes. This is useful if you intend to do further investigation on a specific topic the book discusses. The index of the book is quite extensive; it makes it easy to directly go to any specific topic or term you are looking for. The Chapter Titles are all short and to the point; you can figure out what the chapter will be about from the title. The layout is comprehendible and the size of the text is fine, except for a few tables that have very tiny text.

4. Critique of the Book

The aspects of this book that I enjoyed the most were the numerous statistics and examples involving aggressive driving.

“Aggressive drivers kill two to four times more people than drunk drivers. The aggressive driver typically denies that these accident-causing behaviors are aggressive” (p. 25)

This is a fascinating statistic, as I had no idea that aggressive driving was such a severe problem, even more severe than drunk driving. It certainly made me think much differently about aggressive driving; I now realize that aggressive driving is no small matter.

“…the annual death toll remains at a plateau around forty thousand per year, while the yearly toll in crash injuries has reached six million. The combined cost to society is a whopping $250 billion per year, not counting human suffering.” (p. 23)

These statistics, combined with the fact that roughly two-thirds of crashes are aggressive driver related, are staggering. This is much more than any war or terrorist attack, yet aggressive driving remains quite in the background of our societies problems. This information I have learned quite easily, as when facts are astonishing they tend to be easily impressionable on the mind.

Other reviews of this book:





5. Additional Observations

I learned a lot from reading this book and attending the presentations on each of the chapters, not merely statistics but a more general understanding of aggressive driving. I feel that this book may be a bit psychology-intensive for the average reader, perhaps this is why the book is not selling as much as it should be. If the goal of a college class is to leave a student with an indelible appreciation and understanding of the given topic, knowledge that does not simply dissipate after a final exam, but is rather retained throughout the student’s life, then this class is entirely successful.


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