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Excerpts from the Book: 
ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING
by Leon James and Diane Nahl

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PREFACE

Diane’s Story

Leon’s Story

PART 1: THE CONFLICT MENTALITY

CHAPTER 1: DRIVING IN THE AGE OF RAGE

Road Rage: Real or Media Hype?
A Worldwide Phenomenon
Facing the Culture of Disrespect
The Expanding Age of Rage
The Anger Choice
George Washington's Rules of Civility
Developing Emotional Literacy
Protecting Yourself From Aggressive Drivers
Checklist: Your Road Range Tendency
Checklist: Winning and Losing in the Driving Game

Notes for Chapter 1


CHAPTER 2: AGGRESSIVE DRIVING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Denial and the Semantics of Aggressive Driving
Drivers Behaving Badly on TV
Players Behaving Badly with Road Rage Video Games
Why Driving Arouses Anger
The Gender Effect
Driving Impaired
Emotional Self-Control Behind the Wheel
Checklist: Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings

Notes for Chapter 2

CHAPTER 3: CAUSES OF HIGHWAY HOSTILITY

Defensive Driving
Stressful Congestion
Inevitable Unpredictability
Peer Pressure
Automotive Vigilantism
Trigger Theory of Road Rage
Caution--Venting is Harmful to Your Health
Responsibility and Free Choice
Checklist: Your Range of Hostility
Exercise: Solutions to the Aggressive Driving Problem

Notes for Chapter 3

 

CHAPTER 4: ROAD RAGE SPECTRUM

Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome
Passive-Aggressive Road Rage
Checklist: Your Passive Aggressive Road Rage Tendency
Verbal Road Rage
Checklist: Your Verbal Road Rage Tendency
Epic Road Rage
Checklist: Your Epic Road Rage Tendency
Automotive Vigilante
Checklist: Are You An Automotive Vigilante?
Rushing Maniac
Checklist: Are You A Rushing Maniac?
Aggressive Competitor
Checklist: Are You An Aggressive Competitor?
Left Lane Bandit
Scofflaw
Checklist: Are You A Scofflaw?
Checklist: Real World Driving Tips

Notes for Chapter 4

PART 2: DRIVING PSYCHOLOGY

 

CHAPTER 5: EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE FOR DRIVERS

Inner Power Tools
Overcoming Emotional Hijacking
Three Levels of Emotional Intelligence
Checklist: Driving With an Oppositional Philosophy
Exercise: Negative vs. Positive Driving
Anatomy of an Epic Road Rage Tragedy
Shrinking Your Emotional Territory
Exercise: Acting As-If
Exercise: Scenarios Analysis to Modify
Oppositional Thinking
Exercise: Identifying Wrong Assumptions

Notes for Chapter 5

CHAPTER 6: THREE-STEP DRIVER SELF-IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM

trafficlights.jpg (16876 bytes)Objective Self-Assessment for Drivers
Exercise: Assessing Myself as a Driver
A--Acknowledge
W--Witness
Checklist: Witnessing Your Aggressive Driving
M--Modify
Resistance to Change
Drivers' Diary
Checklist: Identifying Your Irrational Driving Rules

Notes for Chapter 6

CHAPTER 7: CHILDREN AND ROAD RAGE

Road Rage Nursery
Verbal Rewards For Good Passengers
Children's Road Rage
Children Against Road Rage
Exercise 1: Recognizing Aggression on theRoad
Exercise 2: Observing Driving
Exercise 3: Appropriate And Inappropriate Passenger Behaviors
Exercise 5: DBB Ratings (Drivers BehavingBadly)
Road Rage Against Passengers
Checklist: Do I Support Passenger Rights InMy Car?
Checklist: How Passenger-Friendly Are You?

Notes for Chapter 7

CHAPTER 8: SUPPORTIVE DRIVING

Benefits of Supportive Driving
Motorist to Motorist Communication
Training for Supportive Driving
Come Out Swinging Positive
Exercise: Random Acts of Kindness for Drivers
Checklist: Supportive Driving Affirmations
Exercise: Partnership Driving

Notes for Chapter 8

CHAPTER 9: LIFELONG DRIVER EDUCATION

Teenagers at Risk
Driver-ZED
Driving Psychology Curriculum
K and Elementary School: Focus on Affective Driving Skills
Middle School: Focus on Cognitive Driving Skills
High School: Focus on Sensorimotor Driving Skills
Post Licensing: The QDC Approach
RoadRageous Video Course
Exercise: Scenario Analysis to Develop Critical Thinking
Older Drivers at Risk
Checklist: Positive Driving Behavior

Notes for Chapter 9

PART 3: DRIVING'S FUTURE

copconfront.gif (23796 bytes)

CHAPTER 10: THE WAR AGAINST AGGRESSIVE DRIVING

mph50.gif (1614 bytes)CHAPTER 11: SPEED LIMITS--THE GREAT MOTORIST REBELLION

Aggressive vs. Assertive Driving
Citizen Activism Against Government Paternalism
Police Presence
Traffic Calming
Electronic Traffic Surveillance
Speedtrap Registries Around the World
Activism Against Aggressive Drivers

Notes for Chapter 11

schoolcrossing.gif (2164 bytes)CHAPTER 12: DREAM CARS AND DRIVING REALITIES

In the Driver's Image
Driving Music
Dashboard Dining
Car Phones
Mobile Computing
Intelligent Transportation Systems
Managing in the New World of Driving

Notes for Chapter 12  

Index

 

Note: the links in the end of chapter notes give you Web access to the items mentioned.

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PREFACE

Diane’s Story

Leon’s Story

PART 1: THE CONFLICT MENTALITY

CHAPTER 1: DRIVING IN THE AGE OF RAGE

Road Rage: Real or Media Hype?

(begin selection 1 from Chapter 1)

In 1996 the American media began to write stories about violent highway incidents using warlike language that highlights a spirit of battle on the roads:

          It’s high noon on the country’s streets and highways. This is road recklessness, auto anarchy, an epidemic of wanton carmanship. (Time)

          Road Warriors: Aggressive Drivers Turn Freeways Into Free-For-Alls "Armed with everything from firearms to Perrier bottles to pepper spray and eggs....America’s drivers are taking frustrations out on each other in startling numbers." (Chicago Tribune)

Stories listed in Yahoo! in 1999:1

A driver intentionally rammed his vehicle into a car with three kids and their parents in it, after the children gave him an "obscene finger gesture."

A man was stabbed repeatedly by another motorist when a traffic disagreement escalated from obscene gestures to violence. A motorist spit on the driver of a bus after he was cut off, then as the bus driver got out, the enraged motorist severely beat the bus driver. A 49-year-old father of five, shot to death by another motorist who has been charged with capital homicide. A woman got a 15-year sentence for gunning the engine and hitting another woman in a fender-bender dispute. A man was shot at after he had honked at another car who passed him. A delivery van collided with a pickup truck, breaking a side mirror. An argument ensued and the delivery van driver punched the other driver, who then pulled out a handgun and shot the delivery van driver in the chest. A 17-year-old boy was tailgating a motorist. They both pulled over, a dispute ensued, and the boy was shot.

An elderly driver peeved that another driver honked at him hurled his prescription bottle at the honker, then smashed his knees with his car when the man got out. An enraged bicyclist, after being knocked off his bike by a car, pulled out a handgun and shot the driver to death.

The expression "road rage" was introduced into the public vocabulary by the popular media. Though there has been no agreed-upon definition, people use the phrase to refer to an extreme state of anger that often precipitates aggressive behavior, sometimes restricted to words and gestures, sometimes as assault and battery. A variety of factors have been named to account for the increase in aggressiveness between drivers, such as traffic congestion, feeling endangered, being insulted, frustration, time pressure, fatigue, competitiveness, and lapses in attention.

A much quoted article in the August 1998 issue of The Atlantic questions the existence of road rage, claiming that it's "merely media mayhem."

Like any other fabricated epidemic, the more you tell people it’s there, the more they see it. Tailgating used to be called tailgating. Now it’s road rage. The New York Daily News assures us that using a car phone is road rage. Saying "Hi, honey, I love you; be home soon." is now no different than bowling over bicyclists with your Buick….The term, and the alleged epidemic, were quickly popularized by lobbying groups, politicians, opportunistic therapists, even the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The writer, Michael Fumento, isn’t impressed by "research evidence," such as the AAA Foundation's 1997 studies that reported 218 police records of deaths following disputes between drivers between 1990 and 1996. During the same period, Fumento points out, 290,000 Americans died from vehicular accidents, but this large number, he feels, is not due to road rage.

America’s roads become safer by the year…. At first, "road rage" meant one driver acting against another. But by last year it had come to include a Washington, D.C., bicyclist who shot the driver of a car who ran into him, and a Scottish couple who threatened a driver with a knife after his BMW ran over their dog.

In theory it's possible to restrict "road rage" to felonious or criminal acts of violence by one driver against another. Even if people could agree on that usage, there's a similar problem with the term "aggressive driving" referring to reckless behavior, such as running red lights or giving someone a "brake job," as well as to speeding, tailgating, and lane hopping. To many, these maneuvers are merely a preferred style of driving that is assertive and competitive, not aggressive or hostile. However, word usage can almost never be legislated according to ideological preference, and society has been using "road rage" and "aggressive driving" to designate many forms of both hostile and illegal driving.

Beginning in the late 1980s, talk about road rage and aggressive driving increased tremendously, while the number of deaths due to crashes gradually decreased from around 50,000 deaths per year in the 1950s and 60s, to about 40,000 deaths per year in the 1980s and 90s. This healthy change reflects improvements in safety and design introduced since 1970, including mandated seatbelts, airbags, better brake systems, upper taillights, and crash absorbing devices. In addition, seatbelt and childseat restraint legislation, improved highway engineering, and the expansion of limited access divided highways contribute to better driving safety.

(end of selection 1 from Chapter 1)

A Worldwide Phenomenon

congestion1.gif (4816 bytes)congestion2.gif (4510 bytes)congestion3.gif (5190 bytes)congestion4.gif (6402 bytes)

Facing the Culture of Disrespect

(begin selection 2 from Chapter 1)

rage2.jpg (19315 bytes) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media reports and driver opinion surveys illustrate the need to place aggressive driving within a cultural context to answer the question: Why is this happening and why is it on the rise? At the 1996 National Women's Political Caucus, Sharon Rodine discussed the need for greater "civility in society." She noted that culture influences the level of intolerance and violence by promoting and supporting the acceptance of aggressive behavior. It's essential, she said, to differentiate between "stupid acts" and "stupid people" by looking beyond facile polarization and stereotypes. And the President warned us about the decline of sportsmanship, where "winning ugly" has become the popular model, and unrepentant bullies deliberately contribute to an atmosphere of unsportsmanlike behavior with profanity, kicking trash cans, insulting referees, making ugly shows of defiance, participating in field brawls, and denigrating fans in media interviews. One of the most commercially successful event on TV is violent looking wrestling, where enthusiastic crowds, including children, applaud the insults and enraged acts of wrestlers.

A culture of rage also prevails in the driving arena. Everyone knows about it, and everybody talks about it. It's estimated that there are billions of road rage exchanges annually among the 177 million U.S. drivers, not including the 1200 yearly road rage assault and battery deaths reported by police. But the vast majority of the billions of road rage exchanges, each lasting mere seconds or minutes, don't end up with shootings and battering. Nevertheless, it's appropriate to designate these hostile mini-exchanges as instances of road rage because each involves the two symptoms that define road rage: (a) the feeling of rage accompanied by mental violence, and (b) the desire to punish and retaliate.

Few of us can claim to be free of hostile encounters when we drive. Mostly, the incidents don't break out into the open or are ignored. We get used to them and consider them normal. But we run a risk each time because it's not possible to predict which little incident will turn violent. The cumulative effect of our daily encounters with pervasive hostility toughens our hide, and promotes a culture of mutual disrespect on highways.

Deborah Tannen examines the dynamics of the culture of disrespect in every day life.12 Tannen's analysis of the problem of contentiousness in society is applicable to driving. The adversarial attitude common in driving is similar to disputes and disagreements in the workplace, in the family, and in personal relationships. Aggressiveness among motorists adds a dysfunctional element to driving as a social institution or activity. Some drivers go overboard in applying the defensive driving principle, emphasizing suspiciousness and a readiness to criticize or expect the worst of others.

(end selection 2 from Chapter 1)

The Expanding Age of Rage

including surf rage...

The Anger Choice

Daniel Goleman writes that anger "is energizing, even exhilarating."24 Venting rage behind the wheel feels like a catharsis--"Isn't it better for me than holding it in?" Does this justify hostility or uncivility? While long held popular belief says that venting anger is healthy, recent medical research concludes that venting instead increases stress and depresses immune system functioning.25 The new message is: anger kills.26 However, culture has inherited the ill effects of the "venting is good" model. Goleman points to the "seductive, persuasive power" of anger, of the illusion that it is uncontrollable, triggered automatically, that we're not really responsible when it just comes out.24 But actually, the "triggering" stimulus is merely the sudden realization of physical endangerment. Someone cuts us off and we hit the brakes. As the foot moves, the brain reacts simultaneously and prepares for the worst. For a few moments we experience overwhelming physical sensations. This is the moment of choice.

It is a free choice and its outcome depends on the symbolic value we attach to the event. If we attach the event to our self-esteem, we may go down the road of rage, feeling insulted, wronged, disrespected, demeaned, and thwarted from our legitimate goal. The emotional, reptilian, old brain takes over and leads us to emotionally challenged behavior like retaliating. But there is another choice that is equally available to us in that emotional moment. If we realize that 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. We don't know what the other might do next. But we have the freedom to transform the symbolic value of the "triggering" event, to inhibit the impulse to kill. Following the prime directive gives us the opportunity to remain cool headed and to respond from the new, cortical brain, "Hey, be my guest." or, "Let it go, it's not worth it." or, "Maybe the guy has an emergency or something." or, "That could be my grandmother." The essence of emotional intelligence for drivers is consciously transforming the critical reaction to something less painful. That's a big victory!

George Washington's Rules of Civility

(begin selection 3 from Chapter 1)

Reporter Michelle Malkin, in an article on road rage, reminds us of George Washington's cardinal Rule of Civility as the cement that binds a nation together. Malkin believes that following these rules can cure road rage and aggressive driving:27

The problem isn't absence of self-esteem - but an utter lack of self-restraint. Two-and-a-half centuries ago, our Founding Father, George Washington, subscribed to a more cost-effective and time-tested program for reining in one's inner dragons. He carried a hand-copied list of self-improvement rules, originally set out by 16th-century Jesuit priests, wherever he wen--from Valley Forge to Yorktown and throughout his presidency. The original manuscript is kept at the Library of Congress.

(end selection 3 from Chapter 1)

Developing Emotional Literacy

Protecting Yourself From Aggressive Drivers

devil.gif (82799 bytes)

 

Checklist: Your Road Range Tendency

(begin selection 4 from Chapter 1)

Scoring your answers: Give yourself 1 road rage point for every Yes answer. How many do you have?

Interpreting your score: Scores range from 0 to 20. Few drivers ever get 0 because road rage emotions are habitual and cultural. We all have some tendency toward it sometimes. The higher the score, the more likely it is that you will be the victim of road rage trouble. Typical scores range from 5 to 20 with an average of 12.

If your score is less than 5 you're not an aggressive driver and your road rage tendency is manageable. Scores between 5 and 10 indicate that you have moderate road rage habits of driving. If your score is greater than 10 your road rage tendency is out of control, enough to compromise your ability to remain calm and fair in certain routine, but challenging driving situations.

By examining the pattern of your answers, you can gain valuable insight about your current level of emotional intelligence as a driver (see Chapter 5). Many drivers are able to reduce their score to under 5 after conscious practice with the techniques described in this book. This checklist helps you assess four critical elements that create habitual road rage:

• your anger theory (questions 1 to 7)

• your driving philosophy (questions 8 to 11)

• your habit of compulsive rushing or feeling competitive (questions 12 to 17)

• your over-sensitivity to social pressure by motorists (18 to 20)

A word of caution is in order. You cannot fully trust the reliability of the answers, especially when your score is low, because it only represents your opinion of your driving. You may have an excellent reputation of yourself as a driver, but it may not be objective or accurate. Our research shows that when 10 is perfect, most people choose 8, 9, or 10 when asked to rate their excellence as a driver. Clearly, most drivers are not that excellent or there wouldn't be 6 million collisions each year and billions of hostile incidents. The following chapters describe various convenient methods you can use to make objective observations about yourself as driver. Accuracy in self-assessment is essential for identifying and modifying unsafe components in your driving habits. We recommend that you fill out all the checklists and do all the exercises because they supply the knowledge needed to practice a lifelong driver self-improvement program (Chapter 9).

(end selection 4 from Chapter 1)

Checklist: Winning and Losing in the Driving Game

Notes for Chapter 1

  1. Andrew Ferguson, "Road Rage: Aggressive driving is America's car sickness du jour," Time [online], Society January 12, (1998). vol. 151 no. 1, Site   [5/19/00].
  2. Paula Story, "Americans Often Take Out Their Frustration Behind the Wheel," Centre Daily Times, 7/2/97.
  3. Yahoo! [online], http://headlines.yahoo.com/Full_Coverage/US/Road-Rage [6/3/99].
  4. Michael Fumento, "Road Rage" vs. Reality," The Atlantic Monthly [online], August, 1998, http://www.fumento.com/atlantic.html   [5/19/00].
  5. Ibid.
  6. Gilbert and Sullivan Archive [online], "An Operetta in One Act, Words by Harry Greenbank, Music by Ernest Ford," Site   [5/19/00].
  7. British Home Office [online], "Dangerous Driving Road Traffic Act of 1988," http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/cdact/finalann.htm [5/19/00].
  8. Associated Press Information Services, AP Online [online], "N.Y. Prosecutor Faces Murder Charge," 6/30/99 [5/19/00].
  9. Don Russell, "Driving ourselves into early graves: Angry motorists kill more than drunks do," Philadelphia Online [online], http://www.philly.com/packages/hellonwheels/hell07.asp   [5/19/00].
  10. Ibid.
  11. Associated Press Honolulu [online], http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/ [10/14/96].
  12. Slovenia Consular Information Sheet [online], http://travel.state.gov/slovenia.html   [5/19/00].
  13. "Road Rage," AA Driver Education Program New Zealand [online], http://www.aadef.co.nz/roadrage.html   [5/19/00].
  14. CNN.com World News Asia-Pacific [online], http://cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9812/23/PM-Thailand-LawlessLawma.ap/index.html   [12/23/98].
  15. From an email correspondent, January 1999.
  16. Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue (New York: Random House, 1998).
  17. Ibid.
  18. Deborah Tannen, "For Argument's Sake; Why Do We Feel Compelled to Fight About Everything?" The Washington Post 3/15/98 [online], http://www.georgetown.edu/tannen/argsake.htm [5/19/00].
  19. Frank Stephenson, "The Algebra of Aggression," Research in Review [online], Spring 1996, University of Florida, Site   [5/19/00].
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. From an email correspondent, February 1998.
  24. James Langton, "Surf Rage Shock in Laid-Back West Coast," World News Online, Sydney Morning Herald 3/2/99 [online], http://203.26.177.61/news/9903/02/world/world14.html [5/19/00].
  25. Denis Campbell, "Surf Rage Sweeping British Beaches," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7/28/99, A15; Tim Ryan, "Surfing Solitaire," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 2/16/99, D6.
  26. Jon Bowen, "Fisticuffs in the Cube: Stressed-out Office Workers are Succumbing to "Desk Rage," 9/7/99, Salon.com Health & Body [online], Site [5/19/00].
  27. Richard Denenberg and Mark Braverman, The Violence-Prone Workplace: A New Approach to Dealing With Hostile, Threatening and Uncivil Behavior (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).
  28. Campaign Against Workplace Bullying (CAWB) [online], http://www.bullybusters.org/home/bullybust.html [5/19/00].
  29. Ian Noble, "Nightmarish Encounter Recounted: Cyclist Bumped from Bike on Bridge," Northshore News 10/20/99 [online], www.nsnews.com/issue/w102097/10179701.html [5/19/00].
  30. Philip's Volkswagen News [online], www.ingear.net/users/phillip/vwnews/98-12-01.html [12/12/98].
  31. Nick Brennan, "Parking Rage Leads to Stabbing at CSUDH," Daily Titan Interactive [online], Site [5/19/00].
  32. Tannen, Argument Culture, Chapter 1.
  33. Carol Tavris, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), p. 36.
  34. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam Books, 1995), p. 59.
  35. Paul Pearsall. The Pleasure Prescription :To Love, to Work, to Play--Life in the Balance. (Alameda, CA : Hunter House Publishers, 1996)
  36. Williams, R. and Williams, V. Anger Kills. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993).
  37. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, p. 59.
  38. Michelle Malkin, "A Founding Father's Rules Might Cure Raging Drivers," Seattle Times, 7/22/97 [online], Site [5/19/00]. The quotations are used with permission from Ms. Malkin.
  39. Ibid.
  40. From an email correspondent, June 1999.
  41. James A. Vela-McConnell, Who Is My Neighbor: Social Affinity in a Modern World (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999).
  42. Jay Earley, Transforming Human Culture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999).
  43. Leon James and Diane Nahl, "TEE Cards--Traffic Enforcement and Education: An Essential Partnership," DrDriving [online], http://DrDriving.org/legislation/tee_cards.htm [5/19/00].
  44. "Road Rage," NETS Network of Employers for Traffic Safety [online], http://www.trafficsafety.org/library/roadrage/protect.cfm [5/15/00]. A collection of thousands of tips culled from the Web may be found on our Web site at http://www.drdriving.org [5/19/00].

 

CHAPTER 2: AGGRESSIVE DRIVING AND MENTAL HEALTH

Denial and the Semantics of Aggressive Driving

(begin selection 1 from Chapter 2)

cop1.jpg (13199 bytes)Remarkably, most forms of driving considered aggressive by law enforcement are not considered aggressive by the majority. This disparity in legal versus popular meanings excites the conflict between what is allowable and appropriate. A 1999 survey comparing attitudes of Los Angeles drivers with those across the nation shows that people vary in what they're willing to call "aggressive" driving":2

These percentage distributions may vary in different geographic locations or specific highway segments but whatever these specific variations may be, each location is marked by a combination of several forms of aggressive behaviors that constitute the norms of aggressiveness typical in that location.

Drivers Behaving Badly on TV

gregorynemecdragon.jpg (56008 bytes)A crucial question many have asked in the past decade is, why has road rage exploded in the 1990s? Traffic congestion has existed since the 1950s and has worsened since the 1970s. The root of road rage is a "culture tantrum" because the way we express anger and when we do it is culturally condoned or sanctioned. What has occurred that has promoted the cultural norm of highway hostility? Psychiatrist John Larson attributes this new attitude to "the Road Warrior type movies of the 1980's" and today's television that teaches impressionable individuals that "Vigilante behavior, even that which harms others, is virtuous, associated with heroic figures, and easy to do."3 These entertainments reveal that the readiness to use violence is a cultural habit.

 

One of our students' favorite research activity is observing popular television programs and taking notes on scenes that portray drivers behaving badly:4

 

July 17, 1997, 6:17pm: The Simpsons (adult cartoon series):

First incident: The three kids were watching TV, the cat was trying to kill the mouse and as the cat was running from the house, the cat runs onto the road and gets run over by a speeding truck. The Simpson kids watching the show are laughing very hard at this scene.

Second incident: Homer Simpson is late for work again and speeds into a public parking stall, almost hitting a pedestrian. Homer doesn't slow down, he just chases the pedestrian until the person moves out of the way. Homer yelled at the pedestrian for being in the way.

(end selection 1 from Chapter 2)

Players Behaving Badly with Road Rage Video Games

Why Driving Arouses Anger



annoyed.jpg (25207 bytes)ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS JULY 1-2 A Missouri
Department of Transportation sign reading "Prepare to be
annoyed" warns drivers of future roadwork on Interstate 44 near
Strafford, Mo., Monday June 26, 2000. (AP Photo/John S. Stewart)
original Yahoo! story here

(begin selection 2 from Chapter 2)

Driving in traffic routinely involves events and incidents. Events are normal sequential maneuvers such as stopping for lights, changing lanes, or braking. Incidents are frequent but abnormal events. Some of these are dangerous and frightening, such as near-misses or violent exchanges, while others are merely annoying or depressing, such as being insulted by a driver or forgetting to make a turn. Driving events and incidents are sources of psychological forces capable of producing powerful feelings and irrational thought sequences. Driving is a dramatic activity performed by millions on a daily basis. The drama stems from high risk, interactivity, and unpredictability. Driving has conflicting structural components in predictability and unpredictability. Predictability creates safety, security, and escape from disaster. Unpredictability creates danger, stress, and crashes.

For many, driving is linked to a value of freedom of locomotion. On one hand, we can get into cars and drive where we please, the very symbol of freedom and independence. But on the other hand, we encounter restrictions and constrictions like regulations, congestion, and the unexpected actions of other motorists that prevent us from driving as we wish. The following list identifies 15 conflicting aspects of driving that act as stressors. The list represents emotional challenges that are common occasions for expressing hostility and aggressiveness on highways and streets:

  1. Immobility: Most of the body during driving remains still and passive, unlike walking, where the entire body exerts effort and remains continuously active. Tension tends to build up when the body is physically constricted.
  2. Restriction: Motor vehicles are restricted to narrow bands of highway and street lanes. In congested traffic, progress will inevitably be continually blocked by numerous other cars. Being prevented from going forward when you expect to arouses the emotion of frustration, and along with it anxiety and an intense desire to escape the restriction. This anxiety prompts drivers to perform risky or aggressive maneuvers to get away or get ahead.
  3. Regulation: Driving is a highly regulated activity. Government agencies and law enforcement officers tell drivers how fast and where they may drive. Cars and trucks have powerful engines capable of going much faster than is allowed. Drivers are punished for violating regulations. This regulation, though lawful and obviously necessary, feels like an imposition and arouses a rebellious streak in many, which then prompts us to disregard whatever regulations seem to be wrong or inconvenient.

Lack of personal control: Traffic follows the objective laws that govern flow patterns, like

(end selection 2 from Chapter 2)

The Gender Effect

Driving Impaired

dontenter.gif (1986 bytes)Emotional Self-Control Behind the Wheel

(begin selection 3 from Chapter 2)

Research on how people manage to control their feelings shows that the ability to regulate our emotions is a learned skill with two main components. First, accurate "self-appraisal." This skill depends on how carefully we monitor our emotions and how we express them, verbally or by silence, gesture, and tone. Second, effective "self-regulation." This skill depends on acquiring methods to self-regulate the intensity and expression of our emotions. Self-appraisal and self-regulation are skills that can be learned by anyone who is dedicated to practice. Exercising discretion and control over our emotional lives is a necessary coping skill that determines success and health. Some are able to learn these skills on their own, through experiences, but many others do not, and need to be given self-training techniques for accurate self-appraisal and effective self-regulation. Motorists are constantly exposed to risky situations that generate intense emotional involvement. The driver's prime directive is to maintain control of the vehicle and the situation, so it's smart to train yourself to exert self-control over the emotions behind the wheel because emotions impact the situation.

To develop emotional competence as a driver you need a basic understanding of mental control. When sitting behind the wheel and exerting control over your vehicle, what is happening in the brain and mind to carry out the driving task? Many know that the front of the brain has two sub-parts or the left brain and the right brain. Our emotional life of feelings correlates with the action of the right brain, while the left brain correlates with our intellectual life of thinking. Everyone can become aware of their thoughts through systematic self-observation. If you are serving as a juror, or forced to testify as a witness, you are expected to report what you saw, what you said, what you decided, what you concluded, what you thought, or why you did something. We are expected to be able to account for our inner life when it impinges on others. We are able to stay on the topic of a conversation because we know what we want to say about something. In conversations we're expected to remember what we said and what the other said. If someone asks, "What are you thinking about?" you can often describe the topic and sometimes even the words that occurred in the mind. But if someone asks, "What are you feeling?" many times we show little capacity for accurately describing our on-going feelings. We can't always put feelings into words. We can easily become aware of the left brain activity correlated to thinking or cognitive processes, but only with difficulty and practice can we become aware of the right brain activity correlated to emotions, feelings, moods, and what's called "affect."

(end selection 3 from Chapter 2)

Checklist: Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings

Notes for Chapter 2

  1. "Capital Beltway Update: Beltway User Focus Groups," U. S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 4/98 [online], Site [5/20/00].
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Kenny Morse, "Mr. Traffic Newsletter," 10/99, Mr. Traffic [online], http://mrtraffic.com [5/20/00].
  5. John Larson, Steering Clear of Highway Madness: A Driver's Guide to Curbing Stress and Strain (BookPartners, Oregon, 1996); John Larson with Carol Rodriguez, Road Rage to Road-Wise (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1999).
  6. Leon James and Diane Nahl, DrDriving.org [online], "Drivers Behaving Badly--DBB Ratings," 1998, http://DrDriving.org/articles/dbb.html [5/20/00].
  7. Driver [online], http://driver.gtgames.com [5/20/00].
  8. "Carmageddon," CitySearch Chicago [online], http://chicago.sidewalk.com  [3/7/99].
  9. Ibid.
  10. Hawke Fracassa, "Arcade Will Pull Plug on Violent Games," The Detroit News 10/16/95 [online], http://www.detnews.com/menu/stories/20296.htm [5/20/00].
  11. Sigmund Freud, "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes." In Sigmund Freud, The Collected Papers. (New York, Collier, 1915).
  12. Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), Police Review, vol. 105, no. 5417 (1997): p. 20.
  13. Roland Maiuro, "Rage on the Road," [online], Recovery, vol. 9, no. 2 (Summer 1998),Site [5/20/00].
  14. Ibid.
  15. Arnold Nerenberg, Ph.D., personal correspondence, 1998.
  16. Leon James and Diane Nahl, DrDriving.org [online], "Aggressiveness in Relation to Age, Gender, and Type of Car," 1998, Site [5/20/00].
  17. Karyn Sultan, "Women's Role in Road Rage Up, Statistics Show," WomanMotorist, 1999 [online], http://Site [5/20/00].
  18. Dan Vergano, "Tough Workplace, Homelife Can Create Road Rage," YourHealthDaily, Medical Tribune News Service 3/30/99 [online], [5/20/00].
  19. Hans Selye, The Stress of Life. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1956).
  20. Scott Sleek, "Car Wars: Taming Drivers' Aggression," APA Monitor, September 1996 [online], Site   [5/20/00].
  21. Ibid.

bikeroute.gif (4100 bytes)CHAPTER 3: CAUSES OF HIGHWAY HOSTILITY

Defensive Driving

Stressful Congestion

Inevitable Unpredictability

cantslow.gif (78051 bytes)
Peer Pressure

(begin selection 1 from Chapter 3)

Driving is a social activity that requires constant and instantaneous cooperation between strangers, and this requires that we be sensitive to one another in order to anticipate what other drivers are likely to do. Some people slide beyond the optimum range of sensitivity and feel excessive pressure to do things they don't want to do, like going faster than it's safe because of fear of disapproval. A number of drivers reported feeling embarrassed making a full stop at a stop sign when there are no cars in sight. One older female driver shared her fears about not wanting to lose face, to be "the one who's stuck back there" at the intersection:

 

I should go, I should go. Will I run the light? I should go. They expect me to go. If I don't go they'll think I'm a wimp. I hate that. I have to go, oh wow, I'm going.

Making a mistake or "missing" a light is an opportunity to berate herself and feel ashamed, increasing her stress but making it easier for others.

Drivers, both young and old, need to be equipped with inner tools to resist perceived peer-pressure that increases risk and stress:

I read that young drivers are less likely than older drivers to wear their safety belts. I can truly relate to this so-called trend. As a teenager, you are so worried about fitting in and looking good. You want to do what others are doing. I recall the whole idea of wearing a safety belt as being "so lame." I couldn't imagine cruising around Vance Point with my seat belt on..."What a geek!" That would be unheard of and what would people think of me. I think for many of us we knew the importance of safety belts, but because it wasn't "cool," we didn't use them. The norm in the eyes of my teenaged friends is not to use safety belts, so I, as well as others, conformed to this expectation. Conformity in this situation is the same as peer-pressure.

In the absence of emotional intelligence training or a naturally positive driving philosophy, drivers can believe that they a right to respect or to disrespect both people and laws, to justify hostile feelings and give themselves permission for violent retaliation, giving in to the rationale that since everyone drives crazy we all must:

It's ridiculous, I have finally reached the point where I have had to pull totally off the highway, onto the shoulder, to let some speeder pass (at 70 to 80 mph) who absolutely refused to pass on any of the other three lanes to our left. I find that these days there are so many people out of control on the highways that a person who tries to drive at the speed limit and within the law, actually becomes a traffic hazard to the speeders. It becomes safer to drive just as crazy and fit in with the crowd.

(end selection 1 from Chapter 3)

Automotive Vigilantism

Trigger Theory of Road Rage

(begin selection 2 from Chapter 3)

Even the best and most experienced drivers have problems managing negative emotions. Many drivers believe that expressing anger is a basic right, pop psychology has promoted it as healthier than holding it in, and retaliation is accepted as a punitive method for keeping control on the highway. But playing war-games undermines self-control, and many drivers are incapable of holding back outbursts of rage once they make the critical choice of going along with their wild emotions. People justify aggression by fabricating an illogical sequence: "They provoked me. I can't help it. They deserve it." There's a feeling of being 'right' in the show of aggression. "They're breaking a basic rule and they shouldn't. Therefore, I can't let them get away with it by doing nothing." This serves as the excuse for instant retribution and dangerous, risky behavior. But is this logical, effective or fair?

There is no direct connection between "They provoked me" and "They deserve punishment," but people make an indirect connection when they describe the situation this way: "They broke an important rule which makes me feel bad. Therefore I want to punish them, which will make me feel better. Besides, it's dangerous to let them get away with it. So I must help society and myself by teaching them a lesson they won't forget." It's tempting to use driving incidents as an opportunity to take charge and play the disciplinarian for the public good. Raging aggressively is a way of striving for control, attempting to coerce, imposing our will on another. Habitual aggressive driving is a strategy for gaining supremacy over others. Suddenly, we see an opportunity to become a member of a highway posse, out to enforce vigilante law and order. It feels good to take control as the keeper of the rules of the road. Much of the time everyone gets away unscathed, so there appear to be no serious consequences to our unrestrained acts. But don't count on it.

One sure sign of a high road rage tendency is the strong desire to let the other person know how you feel. Everyone can list driving pet peeves on the road, the things other drivers do that get us going or push our hot buttons, and seem to act like triggers. But actually, we give

(end selection 2 from Chapter 3)

Caution--Venting is Harmful to Your Health

Responsibility and Free Choice

Checklist: Your Range of Hostility

Exercise: Solutions to the Aggressive Driving Problem

Notes for Chapter 3

  1. From an e-mail correspondent, 1998.
  2. American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, 1999 [online], http://adtsea.iup.edu/adtsea/ [5-20-00].
  3. "Dollars and Sense: The Economics of Public Transportation in America," Community Transportation Association (CCTA) 1999 [online], http://www.ctaa.org/pubs/dollars/section3.shtml [5-20-00].
  4. "State of the Commute Report," 1998 [online], http://www.scag.ca.gov/major/soc98.htm [5-20-00].
  5. "Urban Mobility Study," Texas Transportation Mobility Study, 1998 [online], http://mobility.tamu.edu [5-20-00].
  6. From an e-mail correspondent, 1998.
  7. Leon James and Diane Nahl, "Aggressiveness in Relation to Age, Gender, and Type of Car," 1998, DrDriving.org [online], [5/20/00].
  8. John Larson, Steering Clear of Highway Madness: A Driver's Guide to Curbing Stress and Strain (BookPartners, Oregon, 1996).
  9. Leon James and Diane Nahl, DrDriving.org [online], "Driver Personality Survey," 1999, Site [5-20-00].
  10. Redford Williams. and Virginia Williams, Anger Kills. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993); Paul Pearsall. The Pleasure Prescription: To Love, to Work, to Play--Life in the Balance. (Alameda, CA : Hunter House Publishers, 1996).
  11. Williams and Williams, Anger Kills, pp.30-60.
  12. American Heart Association, "Older Men with Highest Levels of Anger May Have Tripled Risk of Heart Disease," November 1996 [online], Site [6/2/97].
  13. Pearsall. The Pleasure Prescription; A similar approach is taken by the Cuss Control Academy [online], http://www.cusscontrol.com [5-24-00], James V. O'Connor, Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing, (Three Rivers, MI: Three Rivers Press, 2000).
  14. Brad J. Bushman, Roy F. Baumeister, and Angela D. Stack, "Site [5/20/00].
  15. Interview with Eric Gorski, Colorado Springs Gazette, July 7, 1999.

CHAPTER 4: ROAD RAGE SPECTRUM

Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome

Passive-Aggressive Road Rage

Checklist: Your Passive Aggressive Road Rage Tendency

leftturn.gif (1682 bytes)Verbal Road Rage

(begin selection 1 from Chapter 4)

We define "verbal road rage" 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.

Undoubtedly the most common form of road rage, the purpose of these negative expressions is to denounce, ridicule, condemn, or castigate a rule, an engineer, or another driver. We found them frequently used in electronic discussion groups: morons, stupid idiots, louts, unbelievable fools, crazy jackasses, damn maniacs, criminals, creeps, selfish freaks, and dunderheads among many others.

Have you listened in on yourself behind the wheel? Drivers have a tendency to chatter to themselves about what's going on. It's natural. Everybody does it, and not just in traffic. But it's not common to listen in to our mental broadcasts. Listening to yourself thinking behind the wheel informs you of the kind of driving persona you maintain. Some of this self-talk is comes out as swearing, cursing, or complaining. But these overt verbalizations are merely the tip of the iceberg. Deeper within your mind reside cultural habits of reasoning and reacting emotionally. It's possible to become aware of these automatic mental habits by using the methods outlined in Chapter 6.

(end selection 1 from Chapter 4)

Checklist: Your Verbal Road Rage Tendency

Epic Road Rage

Checklist: Your Epic Road Rage Tendency

Automotive Vigilante

Checklist: Are You An Automotive Vigilante?

Rushing Maniac

(begin selection 2 from Chapter 4)

Rushing mania is one of the most common driving obsessions, yet its connection to road rage is often not noticed or understood:

My mind is focused on getting to my destination in a certain amount of time, and I don't seem to care how I do it as long as I don't crash. Even if I don't have to get somewhere by a certain time, I'm always in a hurry.

This dysfunctional driving style has two complementary elements. One is an extraordinary anxiety to avoid slowing down. The other is the consequent anger against anyone who causes a slow down. In this mental state we are perpetually anxious on the road, berating ourselves for being slow, being late, being behind others. We get into a habit of lane hopping, always trying to figure out which lane is faster. This mental attitude creates impulsive driving that is unpredictable and difficult for other drivers to read. We become the victims of our own fantasies about beating traffic or avoiding congestion:

                  

leftturn.gif (1526 bytes)"When I'm driving in really heavy traffic and I'm in a hurry because I'm late for a meeting, work, or even a Breckenridge ski rentals vacation (which is almost always), I get really irritated if I get in a slow moving lane. If cars are passing me by in the other lane, I'll really bully my way in if nobody breaks a little to acknowledge my turn signal. When the tables are turned, however, and I'm in the fast lane and another motorist wants to get out of the slow moving lane and into the fast lane, I speed up even closer to the car in front of me to ensure that person's car won't have the time and space to slip into the fast lane in front of me. I drive aggressively enough to intimidate the person wanting to change lanes to wait for an easier opportunity and not get in front of me."

 

When motorists are frantic about traffic, their mood can deteriorate dramatically:

When I'm late, I turn into an angry, hostile, lane-changing daredevil. The longer the delay I have to endure, the more hostile I become towards others who may try to cut in front of me. I tend to lose sight of my belief that we all have a right to use the road. (Older man)

Running red lights and ignoring stop or yield signs, are the most frequent causes of urban crashes. Traffic police often hear the "I'm late for..." excuse from drivers who are pulled over for speeding, and as they hand them a citation, they are likely to answer, "So, leave a little earlier next time." Being late is not a legal reason to drive aggressively. Drivers give these typical reasons and justifications for rushing all the time:

  • Being late for work, an appointment or an important interview when traffic is slow
  • Leaving home too late to make it on time
  • Busy schedule makes them rush while multitasking
  • Avoiding wasting time on the road

(end selection 2 from Chapter 4)

Checklist: Are You A Rushing Maniac?

Aggressive Competitor

Checklist: Are You An Aggressive Competitor?

Left Lane Bandit

(begin selection 3 from Chapter 4)

Left lane bandits can be motivated by contrariness, stubbornness, and even the perverse enjoyment of dominating others by forcing them to line up behind. The most common complaint we hear is about those who insist on driving slower than is considered normal for a given area. The nicest term applied to them is "inconsiderate drivers." People who drive deliberately slower than the traffic provoke others by claiming the right to obstruct the traffic flow:

If I'm moving faster than the prevailing traffic, I'm neither legally nor morally required to move over. It's that simple.

This receives a furious response from the highway vigilantes:

 

WRONG. As a considerate human being (there are so few of them left anymore), you should be prepared to move over as soon as it is safe to do so. This may require speeding up a bit to clear traffic, or slowing a bit to drop into an open space. But whenever a faster car comes up behind you, GET OUT OF THE WAY. A few times bozos like that have made it obvious (one-finger salute, brake lights, etc) that they'll be darned if they're going to give up their inherent right to be in the left lane, doing any speed they please to move, so I've made it obvious to them that they'll get run off the road if they don't move over. The cops sure aren't going to do anything about it, so we might as well.

There's a better way to move aside the idiots who clog up the interstate's passing lane; however, driving a snowplow with the wing blade down at 80 mph is not for everyone. As an alternative, turn on your headlights and make sure the high beam switch is activated. Then turn them off. As you approach one of the "turtle type" drivers (I call them turtles because they are always traveling slow and have their head up their shell), simply flash your headlights at them a couple of times. Many of these jerks do not mind getting out of your way but they fail to ever notice you until you have, out of necessity, become one of "those tailgating fools." This type of driver almost always believes it is his sacred duty to "punish" tailgaters by not getting out of the way.

As long as there are people who don't understand "left lane fast, right lane slow," I'm gonna pass these pompous idiots on the inside. I used to wait for them to move over, but I've learned that 90% of drivers who are driving two mph above the speed limit in the supposedly "fast" lane, really don't care about any other car's desire to drive faster then they are, and some even derive some sort of perverse pleasure in preventing me from getting two car lengths ahead.

(end selection 3 from Chapter 4)

dontpass.gif (1646 bytes)Scofflaw

stop.gif (1946 bytes)Checklist: Are You A Scofflaw?

Checklist: Real World Driving Tips

Notes for Chapter 4

  1. From an e-mail correspondent.
  2. "Bullying in Schools," UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line [online], http://www.successunlimited.co.uk/school.htm [5/20/00].
  3. R. Barry Buback, "Territorial Defense in Parking Lots: Retaliation Against Waiting Drivers," Journal of Applied Social Psychology vol. 27, no. 9 (May 1997): 821.
  4. Yahoo Road Rage Coverage, 1999, Site [5/20/00].
  5. James Gleick, Faster The Acceleration of Just About Everything (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999).
  6. James Gleick, "Attention! Multitaskers," [online], Site [5/20/00].
  7. James Eagan, A Speeder's Guide to Avoiding Tickets (New York: Avon Books, 1990), p. i.
  8. Ibid, pp. 2-12.
  9. Leon James and Diane Nahl, DrDriving.org [online], "Cage the Rage: Arrive Alive. DrDriving's Rage Tips from Various Web Sources," 1999, http://DrDriving.org/facts/tips.html [5/20/00].

 

 

PART 2: DRIVING PSYCHOLOGY

CHAPTER 5: EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE FOR DRIVERS

Inner Power Tools

(begin selection 1 from Chapter 5)

The best protection against the ravages of aggressiveness and rage is to inhibit venting and let the excitatory endangerment response dissipate. So we need to understand why we have difficulty in not venting when we experience a flare of anger in the face of endangerment. To be effective in inhibiting the venting response, your anger management techniques must involve two components: (a) relaxation techniques to reduce physical arousal, and (b) mental re-appraisal of the situation. Emotional self-control consists in monitoring both these components, such as consciously breathing slowly and relaxing your grip a bit (a), and systematically observing your thinking (b). Inner power tools provide the techniques to re-structure your assessment of the situation. Driving psychology provides the knowledge to manage our "driving personality" in an increasingly complex transportation environment that makes legal, economic, social, behavioral, and ethical demands on drivers. Inner power tools are techniques smart drivers learn to use to overhaul their old driving personality by retraining their emotional intelligence with exercises behind the wheel.

(end selection 1 from Chapter 5)

fastcar.jpg (16701 bytes)
Overcoming Emotional Hijacking

(begin selection 2 from Chapter 5)

Research reviewed by Goleman has uncovered six components of emotional intelligence that can be learned with appropriate practice:

  • How to reappraise a situation and look for alternative explanations
  • How to self-regulate negative mood shifts
  • How to empathize with "the other side"
  • How to persist in a plan despite distracting frustrations
  • How to control or neutralize one's aggressive impulses
  • How to think with positive outcomes

Anger is one of the most difficult human emotions to control. Not only is it explosive, but it gives you the sensation of being energized, heart pounding, head shaking, face scowling, hands tightly gripping the wheel. Especially when venting its intensity. In the "rage rush," the rational mind becomes irrational, and is placed in the service of calculated anger, breathing vengeance and, through self-righteous indignation, justifying punishment or mayhem. The sense of outrage is especially persuasive when our safety is threatened by what seems to us like someone's inconsiderate behavior. Another common occasion is the feeling of having been insulted or symbolically attacked and demeaned.

Road rage is especially intense and hostile when both factors are present--endangerment and insult. For example, suppose you started switching lanes when a car behind suddenly overtakes your car, forcing you to swerve back into your lane. You feel endangered, your heart begins to pound, you're making great efforts to control your impulse to yell. To top it off, as the car passes you, the driver honks and throws you an obscene gesture. You're still not recovered from the feeling of being placed in danger, you feel insulted and provoked. This is the moment of greatest challenge, as your emotional circuitry seems to be short-circuiting, adrenaline pumping through your blood, emergency hormones quickly spreading throughout your muscles, readying your for aggression. It's the road rage rush. How do you handle it?

(end selection 2 from Chapter 5)

Three Levels of Emotional Intelligence

(begin selection 3 from Chapter 5)

This chart helps to track your growth in emotional fitness as you try to diagnose the various elements of your driving style and philosophy. For a complete picture, keep track of three aspects of yourself as driver: feelings, thoughts, and actions. Driving more intelligently is the result of positive feelings and right thoughts coming together in effective actions.

 

Level 1--Oppositional Driving

tank.gif (82478 bytes)At level 1 we're unfit to handle road exchanges because our feelings are oppositional and negative, made worse by irrational thought patterns. The result of this deadly combination is an impulsive, reckless, and hostile driving style. Most drivers operate their vehicles at this lowest level of emotional intelligence some of the time, and many drivers are in it most of the time. In this precarious mental state, it's easy to interpret a traffic incident as a personal insult that encourages a bad mood and produces other negative consequences. Being intolerant goes along with thinking irrationally about other drivers because in any incident, they are always at fault while we excuse our own mistakes. A self-serving bias interferes with the ability to be objective and logical. Our surveys show that one in three motorists are oppositional drivers on a regular daily basis. Two-thirds are oppositional to a lesser degree, and rare is the driver who claims to be peaceful, tolerant, rational, and law abiding all the time, or even most of the time.3 It's very useful to discover the elements of one's oppositional thinking.

(end selection 3 from Chapter 5)

Checklist: Driving With an Oppositional Philosophy

Exercise: Negative vs. Positive Driving

(begin selection 4 from Chapter 5)

Review the contrasts between anti-social and prosocial driver orientations in the Chart below, and explain the difference in each example. Show how they differ in terms of the focus. For example, consider the first example: "They're bone heads!" is a negative orientation, vs. "I'm feeling very impatient today!" is a positive orientation because it accurately focuses on me and my feeling impatient today. The negative focus is antisocial because it always wants to blame, punish, and retaliate. The positive focus is prosocial because it is rational and objective and stays away from aggressing against another. Try come up with an explanation for each of the other items: Why one is subjective, false, and injurious while the other is objective, true, and peaceful?

The transformation from negative and aggressive driving to positive and supportive driving is illustrated by the driver competence skills in the chart below. The oppositional driving mode is a negative mental quagmire while the positive driving mode is emotionally intelligent because motorists exert rational self-control. The actual words in these examples may not fit your own style of thinking-to-yourself, but try to figure out what each example stands for, and think of the words you would use in that frame of mind.

(end selection 4 from Chapter 5)

 Anatomy of an Epic Road Rage Tragedy

Shrinking Your Emotional Territory

Exercise: Acting As-If

Exercise: Scenarios Analysis to Modify Oppositional Thinking

Exercise: Identifying Wrong Assumptions

Notes for Chapter 5

  1. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Book, 1995), pp. 13-29.
  2. Ibid, pp. 235-236.
  3. Ibid, pp. 261-287.
  4. Ibid.
  5. David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp, Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment (Monterey, Ca.: Brooks/Cole, 1985).
  6. Leon James and Diane Nahl, DrDriving.org [online], "Driver Personality Survey," 1999, Site [5-20-00].
  7. Dateline NBC, March 21, 1997.
  8. Leon James and Diane Nahl, DrDriving.org [online], "Aggressive Driving and Road Rage: Dealing With Emotionally Impaired Drivers," http://DrDriving.org/articles/testimony.html [5-20-00].
  9. Court Library, "Ohio v. Alfieri (5/97)" [online], http://www.courttv.com/casefiles/verdicts/alfieri.html [5-20-00].

CHAPTER 6: THREE-STEP DRIVER SELF-IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM

Objective Self-Assessment for Drivers

Exercise: Assessing Myself as a Driver

A--Acknowledge

W--Witness

Checklist: Witnessing Your Aggressive Driving

(begin selection 1 from Chapter 6)

Objective self-assessment is a skill that can be acquired with practice. The three behavior zones to observe are emotions, thoughts, and actions. This checklist of examples helps you focus on specific elements of your driving style, but in order to be objective you must observe yourself actually performing the actions, thinking the thoughts, and feeling the emotions. The purpose of the checklist is to alert you to the areas of the driving personality to be witnessed. The items represent common aggressive behaviors from the self-witnessing reports of many drivers. Since they are cultural norms, it's likely that we all have them to some extent.

Remember, it's one thing to check items but it's critical to actually observe them as they happen in driving. Experience proves that we can't wish these habits away with resolutions or declarations. It's necessary to begin by consciously observing them as they're happening. As a practical strategy, select one or two items to observe on each trip. Don't try to take on too many at once because you will be defeated. Use the checklist to mark when you've observed each item. It helps to keep notes on the circumstances during which the emotion, thought, or act occurred.

WITNESSING YOUR EMOTIONS:

  1. ____ Getting angry when forced to brake by another motorist
  2. ____ Feeling insulted and furious when a driver revs the engine in passing
  3. ____ Feeling hostile when your progress is impeded by congestion
  4. ____ Being suspicious when a driver doesn't let you change lanes
  5. ____ Feeling justified in retaliating when another driver insults you
  6. ____ Enjoying thoughts of revenge and torture
  7. ____ Enjoying the role of being mean behind the wheel
  8. ____ Feeling satisfaction when expressing hostility against other drivers
  9. ____ Fantasizing racing other road warriors
  10. ____ Enjoying stereotyping and ridiculing certain drivers
  11. ____ Constantly feeling like rushing, even when you're not late
  12. ____ Striving to get ahead of every car
  13. ____ Being pleased when getting away with breaking traffic laws
  14. ____ Enjoying the feeling of risk or danger when moving fast
  15. ____ Other: _____________________________________________
  16. ____ Other: _____________________________________________

WITNESSING YOUR THOUGHTS:

  1. ____ Justifying that it's all right to reject the law that every lane change must be signaled
  2. ____ Thinking that it's up to you to choose which stop signs should be obeyed
  3. ____ Thinking that there is no need for speed limits
  4. ____ Being ignorant of safety rules and principles (e.g., who has the right of way)
  5. ____ Thinking that it's not necessary to figure out the route before leaving, when it is
  6. ____ Not leaving early enough, thinking you can make up time by driving faster
  7. ____ Thinking that some drivers are fools, air heads, rejects, etc.
  8. ____ Thinking that other drivers are out to get you
  9. ____ Believing that passengers have fewer rights than drivers
  10. ____ Thinking you can handle drinking and driving due to your special ability to hold your liquor
  11. ____ Thinking that you can use in-car communication systems safely without having to train yourself
  12. ____ Believing that pedestrians shouldn't have the right of way when jaywalking
  13. ____ Believing it's o.k. not to wear seat belts since you probably won't need it
  14. ____ Thinking it's best to get ahead of others even if you cause them to slow down
  15. ____ Other: _____________________________________________
  16. ____ Other: _____________________________________________

WITNESSING YOUR ACTIONS:

  1. ____ Not signaling when required by law
  2. ____ Lane hopping to get ahead rather than going with the flow
  3. ____ Following too close for the speed
  4. ____ Gap-closing to prevent someone from entering your lane
  5. ____ Turning right from the middle or left lane
  6. ____ Blocking the passing lane, not moving over as soon as possible
  7. ____ Speeding faster than the flow of traffic
  8. ____ Shining high beams to annoy a driver
  9. ____ Honking to protest something, when it's not an emergency
  10. ____ Gesturing insultingly at another driver
  11. ____ Speeding up suddenly to make it through a yellow light
  12. ____ Making rolling stops when a full stop is required
  13. ____ Threatening pedestrians by approaching them fast
  14. ____ Illegally parking in a marked handicap stall
  15. ____ Parking or double parking where it's illegal
  16. ____ Playing the radio loud enough to be heard by other drivers
  17. ____ Taking a parking space unfairly or opportunistically
  18. ____ Driving under the influence of alcohol or medication
  19. ____ Bad mouthing other drivers when kids are in the vehicle
  20. ____ Ignoring the comfort of passengers or verbally assaulting them when they complain about your driving
  21. ____ Failure to yield
  22. ____ Other: _____________________________________________
  23. ____ Other: _____________________________________________

(end selection 1 from Chapter 6)

M--Modify

Resistance to Change

Drivers initially resist changing their driving style. This resistance gradually dissipates in the process of discovering that driving without automatic inner pressures is safer and more enjoyable. Our data show that driving stress stems from inner reactions to external events, not from congestion or the actions of others. For many, this insight is a turning point. Suddenly they are free to experience the benefits of a more relaxed, less competitive, and more supportive driving style, one that does not depend on criticizing and correcting others' behavior. Untrained emotions in traffic create a noxious inner atmosphere, polluting the mind with disapproval, hostility, dissatisfaction, fear, and alienation.

In traffic we have no choice but to be affected by the actions of others. We don't like it when we're subjected to hostile driving. Yet, under certain conditions, most of us are ready and willing to display hostility towards others on the road. This usually happens when someone crosses a line we've defined as unacceptable behavior that arouses our ire, indignation, even outrage. A sense of self-righteousness coupled with a sense of entitlement build strong feelings of resistance to changing our own behavior, even focusing on it. When drivers do something you despise, think of how difficult it is to resist giving a disapproving look, or as we say in Hawaii, "giving stink eye". It's tempting to stare, to punish, to make sure they know we're displeased. Maybe we hope they'll feel guilty or stupid. What a satisfying thought! According to Dr. Arnold Nerenberg, aggressive driving becomes road rage when you feel compelled to let the other driver know that you're displeased and mad. He estimates that in 1999 there were 2 billion unrecorded hostile exchanges between motorists in the U.S. We believe the actual number is closer to 400 billion.4

One useful technique for modifying unwanted behavior is mentally switching roles with the other driver or empathizing. Ask yourself, "How might he or she be feeling?" and "What if that were my Grandma (kid, spouse, pastor)?" If you approach it positively, this can shift your perspective and increase motivation to stop a negative behavior. For instance, try thinking about how bad the victim of your disapproving stare might feel. Ask yourself if you really want to be the kind of person who makes someone feel awful, who chooses to be an unkind or vindictive person. Consider one shaken driver's story:

I was driving on the Pali Highway towards Waikiki and a person tailed me from the intersection of Kamehameha Highway all the way to the tunnel and then gave me the stink eye. I was really scared, so I had to pull over to just kind of rest for a while before I continued. I tried to ignore what he was doing, but it was hard. I didn't know how. (Young woman)

You might think a stare is just a harmless little thing, a mere look. Sticks and stones… But clearly, this driver was emotionally affected by the implied threat in a "stare." Being worried that she was followed heightened the threat of the man's look. Perhaps she was only imagining being followed or even being stared at, perhaps not, how could she be sure? In any case, impressions activate fear and fear has real consequences. This realization calls for new sense of social responsibility about how we look at other drivers, the expressions on our face, and the impressions we give off. Civility behind the wheel has disappeared for an entire generation but we can get it back with systematic efforts like the three-step program for lifelong driver self-improvement.

Drivers' Diary

Checklist: Identifying Your Irrational Driving Rules

Notes for Chapter 6

  1. From an e-mail correspondent, 1998.
  2. Leon James and Diane Nahl, Aggressiveness in Relation to Age, Gender, and Type of Car, 1998, Site [5/20/00].
  3. Edward C. Jandy, Charles Horton Cooley, His Life and His Social Theory (New York, Octagon Books, 1969).
  4. Leon James, "Musings of a Traffic Psychologist," 1997, DrDriving.org [online], http://DrDriving.org/articles/musings.htm [5/20/00].
  5. Arnold Nerenberg, personal communication, 1998.
  6. Here's the way we figure it: 125 million (drivers on the road daily) X 1,000 (mini-exchanges between drivers during two commutes per day) X .01 (1 percent proportion of hostile or stressed exchanges) X 365 (days per year) = about 400 billion stressful or aggressive exchanges per year in the U.S.

 

CHAPTER 7: CHILDREN AND ROAD RAGE

Road Rage Nursery

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(begin selection 1 from Chapter 7)

Road rage is a feeling of hostility that is inherited through the culture of disrespect condoned on highways. Motorists don't try to hide it because they are often proud of their aggressiveness, so it's common for children to hear parents and other adults swearing and demeaning other drivers:

While backing out of the parking space I heard a screech and felt a little bump when a woman and little girl in a Camaro appeared in my rearview. We all got out and I apologized, though I knew full well that she had been far away and had sped up to try to out run me, instead of waiting for me to leave the space. I felt miserable when her little girl started screaming at me, obviously repeating what she had heard her mother say about me in the car to excuse her own dangerous behavior, "Stupid lady! She's a stupid lady mommy! Why don't you watch where you're going stupid lady? You have to pay for this stupid lady!"

Kids do whatever their parents do, they say the things they hear older kids and adults saying, and their emotional reactions are shaped by mimicking adult feelings. Children soak up the norms of behavior in their environment, and that's how the road rage tradition is passed on to the next generation.

(end selection 1 from Chapter 7)

Verbal Rewards For Good Passengers

(begin selection 2 from Chapter 7)

Children need lots of frequent positive reinforcement for doing the right thing inside the car. The rewards can include charts of their progress, badges, certificates and awards of merit for safe riding, verbal compliments and commendations, and earned privileges. Some ideas for verbal rewards include:

  1. "Thank you for being a very good passenger today."
  2. "I was so glad that you helped me concentrate on where I was going."
  3. "You wore your seatbelt the entire trip so I felt you were safe."
  4. "You helped us have a peaceful ride because you didn't fight with your brother in the car today."
  5. "You were very good, ignoring the kids in that other car who were jumping around and yelling at you."
  6. "Thank you for telling the other kids to be quiet while we were driving to the market. You really helped them calm down and be safe in the car."
  7. "Thank you for reminding us to wear our seatbelts. I'm glad you care about us being safe in the car."
  8. "I was so happy that you didn't stand up while the car was moving today."
  9. "I was so proud of you today for teaching your friend how to behave and be safe in the car."
  10. "You did a good job of cleaning up your mess in the car, thanks I really appreciate it."

Affirming statements like these give kids messages about what adults value, and since they want to please their parents, they will adopt these values. Parents can help children internalize these values by acknowledging good passenger conduct. Kids need acknowledgment for being good in any situation, but moving vehicles are extremely perilous environments, where it's of the utmost importance that kids learn to become mindful riders. Acknowledging their contribution to a successful driving trip will instill in them a desire to become safe and kind drivers later in life. In addition, they will become more discerning of others' driving behavior and be able to decide when not to ride with someone who is rash.

Encourage children to practice witnessing to their own behavior as passengers. They will enjoy keeping a trip log of what happens inside and outside of the car, especially when they're rewarded for it verbally. When focused, children are wonderful observers and take pride in

(end selection 2 from Chapter 7)

Children's Road Rage

Children Against Road Rage

(begin selection 3 from Chapter 7)

CARR--Children Against Road Rage was founded in 1997 when we created the CARR Workbook as an interactive Web site for collecting and promoting a driving psychology learning curriculum for children. Parents and teachers can find a variety of "Anti-Road Rage Awareness Activities" to help children stay free from becoming the next generation of aggressive drivers.1 Children Against Road Rage is a driving psychology curriculum for containing and reversing the road rage epidemic. Its main goal is to involve children in training for emotional intelligence as future drivers. Through various exercises and activities, children are encouraged to produce self-witnessing reports that detail their feelings, thoughts, and actions while on the road as pedestrians, cyclists, or passengers in cars and buses. Pre-schoolers can use tape recorders and video cameras operated by a helpful adult who takes care of the technical stuff. Older children use whatever technology they can handle, including writing, video, and multimedia Internet presentations.

These activities help children to become more aware passengers by focusing their attention on when and where they're being exposed to aggressive driving. Children, as passengers in cars and buses, are at risk of absorbing the hostile attitudes of their adult drivers. This unconscious cultural transmission is injurious to children now and later, when they inevitably become aggressive drivers. Increased children's awareness of aggressive driving can prevent the unconscious absorption of aggressive traits. When they're more aware of the behaviors and attitudes they're exposed to, children gain the choice to reject hostility towards other road users that arises through teaching children supportive driving attitudes, concepts, and actions.

(end selection 3 from Chapter 7)

Exercise 1: Recognizing Aggression on the Road

Exercise 2: Observing Driving

Exercise 3: Appropriate And Inappropriate Passenger Behaviors

Exercise 5: DBB Ratings (Drivers Behaving Badly)

Road Rage Against Passengers

Checklist: Do I Support Passenger Rights In My Car?

Checklist: How Passenger-Friendly Are You

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Excerpts from the Book: 
ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING
by Leon James and Diane Nahl

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