What Causes Road Rage?


You see it every day on the roads: people speeding up, cutting off, and changing lanes dangerously all over the street. The highways are filled with fellow drivers whose eyes are fixed on their phones and who’s feet are heavy on the pedal. Recently it feels like drivers have gotten more aggressive, and less forgiving behind the wheel. In fact, nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year, according to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. It begs the question - what’s causing all the anger and is there something deeper going on than just road rage?

In this blog, we’ll explore what causes road rage, how to control it, and how to react to it.

What is road rage and what causes it?

Road rage is defined as aggressive or angry behavior exhibited by a driver of a road vehicle, which includes rude and offensive gestures, verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods targeted toward another driver or a pedestrian in an effort to intimidate or release frustration. Road rage is especially dangerous because a simple triggering behavior can quickly make a mild-mannered person see red and forget that they’re moving 60 miles per hour in a 2 ton vehicle.

Now, anger is a normal human emotion and it is healthy when expressed in an appropriate way. However, mental health professionals define behavior as problematic when there’s consequences. Road rage and aggressive driving can have severe, if not deadly consequences. These can include getting arrested, having your license suspended, or becoming involved in an accident.

But where does this anger come from? For some road ragers, the immediate display of anger stems from a need for control. When they feel like their proxemic space has been challenged, it can make them feel violated. This in turn can cause an immediate and almost impulsive anger response. For others, there is a deeper level of unchecked aggression hidden below the surface which seems to reveal itself on the road. For people like this, there are likely other issues going on in the individuals life that could be the root of the anger in turn, causing the problematic driving behavior.

How can you control it?

In most cases, anger displayed while driving is not meant to be directed in a way that is intentionally geared towards hurting another driver. However, as road rage becomes more frequent, the chances of someone getting seriously injured goes up. In the worst case scenario, the unchecked habit of aggressive driving could end up killing someone. So, it’s very important that you address the problem and get it under control. Here’s a few tips you can implement next time you get worked up on the road.

  1. Concentrate on your own driving and safety. Don’t make eye contact or care about what the people around you are doing - even when their own driving skills may not be the best.

  2. Practice stress breathing. Inhale for 4 deep breath, hold, then repeat until you calm down.

  3. Pull over if you feel like you’re reaching your anger threshold. It’s better than engaging in road rage and endangering yourself or others.

How should you react to someone else’s road rage?

If you’ve ever been the victim of road rage, you know just how scary it can be. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is driving aggressively and it’s directed towards your vehicle, here’s some tips on how to react.

  1. Don't engage. If you find yourself in a potential or actual conflict with another driver, back off and give them some space on the road.

  2. Let the angry driver pass. Keep your distance and whatever you do, don’t stop your vehicle or get out of your car.

  3. Avoid eye contact. Making eye contact will only escalate the situation.

  4. Do not lead an angry driver to your home. If someone is following you don’t drive home, call the police.

  5. Call a friend or family member. It may help you calm down.

Solutions are easy to come up with and harder to follow, but hopefully this helps. Perspective is important when dealing with road rage. Remember that you are you, and the other driver is the other driver. You have complete control over your actions and reactions. So, don’t let someone you don’t know and will never see again ruin your day. Practice kindness in yourself first, and try to spread that on to others around you.

If you need help managing anger, Modern Therapy can help! Click here to learn more about working with a talk therapist online and inquire about our anger management service.