BRAKE Research

BRAKE Research

The Psychology of Road Rage

A Discussion of Psychological Explanations of Road Rage and Policy Implications

The concept of “road rage” is relatively new.1 It was only in the 1990s that the media began to focus on road rage incidents, leading some commentators to argue that road rage is a media invention and not a real phenomenon.

Other researchers dispute this, however, arguing that the term “road rage” is simply a new label for criminal, aggressive or anti‐social behaviour on the road that is a widely recognised problem and the cause of many accidents.

Road rage at its most serious can lead to physical attacks, but it is more often manifested in aggressive driving or verbal abuse. Surveys suggest that most drivers have experienced some form of road rage, as victim or as perpetrator.

For example, the British Crime Survey based on a random sample in 1998 found that over half of all drivers questioned said they had been the victim of some form of road rage ranging from verbal abuse or gestures to being forced off the road or threatened with violence (Marshall and Thomas, 2000).

According to one researcher, aggressive driving and road rage worldwide cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every year and damage worth billions of dollars (McDonald, 2002, p.1).

Moreover, the problem is set to increase as more people use vehicles to travel and roads become more congested. Many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and China, have acknowledged the problem of road rage and some have taken measures to help prevent dangerous driving and road rage incidents.

Ten years ago the head of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declared that road rage had become the number one traffic problem (James, 1997a).

This essay will examine psychological explanations of road rage and how they can help in designing measures to reduce the problem and so cut the number of accidents.

It concludes that policies that aim to change or affect driver psychology can be useful, but policies to reduce external causes of stress are also needed.