Workshop on Driving Psychology

Dr. Leon James & Dr. Diane Nahl

2001

Workshop participants will:

1. Examine the causes and prevention techniques for road rage and aggressive driving.
2. Review the legal definition of road rage and aggressive driving, and some of the latest statistics.
3. Practice critical thinking exercises about emotionally challenging driving situations.

 

Workshop Summary Charts and Handouts
 

Getting a Grip on Anger or Loosening the Grip of Anger

 
LEVEL OF EMOTION

Cultural Personality Habit

(with built in resistance to change)

Leads to these consequences

Driving Personality Makeover:
installing de-escalation habits

(see lifelong AWM within
QDC support groups)

1
ANNOYANCE

[feeling inconvenienced by  drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, legislators, passengers, law enforcement, road crews, etc.]

impulse to feel resentful

[berating, name calling, insulting, ridiculing, complaining, rushing, breaking traffic rules, driving aggressively, etc.]

or lose self-esteem and be a wimp

*impatience
*inattentiveness or distraction
*taking excessive risks
*driving while drowsy
*feeling a sense of entitlement
*feeling competitive
*obscene expressions
*category 1 offenses (breaking speed limits, going through red, not signaling or yielding, weaving, taking too long, speeding up to yellow)
 

installing supportive driving habits such as situational awareness, attitude of latitude, civility, teamwork mentality, cooperation

2
ANGER

[feeling endangered, thwarted, coerced, insulted, manipulated, ignored, etc.]

impulse to feel indignant or punitive

[punishing, retaliating, rectifying, venting, eye for eye, self-righteous indignation, feeling of superiority]

or lose control and let chaos reign


*power struggle
*gaining the upper hand
*territorial fights
*hostility
*cynicism
*disrespect
*intolerance
*blocking the only lane--not pulling over
*category 2 offenses (tailgating, cutting off, blocking passing lane, braking suddenly or   flashing brights to retaliate)

installing emotional intelligence habits through scenario analysis of choice points to retain control of self and situation
RAGE

[feeling injured, invaded,  dehumanized, delusional, attacked, etc.]

impulse to feel murderous

[killing, ramming, shooting, beating, tearing down]

or be destroyed

*driving recklessly
*engaging in a duel
*giving a break job
*running someone off the road
*running down pedestrians
*bumping bicyclists
*acts of  desperation
*category 3 offenses (assault, battery, vehicular homicide, attempted murder)

installing a supportive driving philosophy that includes social responsibility and lifelong training

based on our book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING


DEFINING THE COMPONENTS OF ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING

Transforming Negative to Positive

LEVEL OF EMOTION CULTURALLY
NEGATIVE HABITS
CULTURALLY
POSITIVE HABITS
 

1

COMPETITIVE DRIVING
leads to
ANNOYANCE
&
STRESS

VS.

SUPPORTIVE DRIVING
leads to
CALM
&
SATISFACTION

*feeling insulted and insulting others
*feeling competitive
*practicing selfism
*egocentrism
*acting with a defensive mentality
*expressing pessimism
*showing intolerance or being over-critical
*denigrating others
*involved in put-down symbolism (or deprecating others)
*feeling ignored
*being contentious
*viewing traffic as individual competition
*holding on to a sense of entitlement (or "I have the right to do what I want")
*thrill-seeking or looking for excitement
*insisting on driving at your level of control
*me first mentality
*individual focus vs. focus on group
*hating diversity
*self-serving bias
*acting with civility
*being optimistic
*being tolerant
*showing obedience to legitimate authority
*viewing traffic as teamwork
*being conscientious
*accommodating to diversity
*being attentive
*accommodating
*feeling supportive
*acting cooperatively
*acting predictably
*being facilitative (or the "Be my guest" attitude)
*practicing  lifelong driving self-improvement activities (QDCs)
 

2

ANGRY
DRIVING
leads to
HOSTILITY
&
FEAR

VS.

EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT DRIVING
leads to
COMPASSION
&
SECURITY

*being vindictive or cruel to others
*demeaning others
*being over-sensitive to provocation
*being prone to territorial fights or turf wars
*acting with ritual opposition
*following the law of the jungle
*feeling wronged
*feeling thwarted
*feeling being taken advantage of
*acting with habitual hostility
*maintaining an adversarial attitude
*being cynical (or expecting the worst of others)
*dehumanizing others
*prone to vehemence (or insistence)
*self-righteous criticizing (or indignation)
*accepting aggressiveness
*being coercive or wanting to enforce domination
*showing mutual disrespect
*approving of retaliation
*continues in a chain of errors while feeling pushed by the other
*approving of mental violence (or " just thinking about it")
*approving of vengeance
*insisting on punishing or retaliating
*practicing road vigilantism
* maintaining a status-seeking mentality
*suffering an erosion of inhibitions to violence
*giving in to social pressure to take excessive risks (party atmosphere in car)
*exercising freedom of choice
*showing mutual respect
*acting with compassion
*fair-minded
*making emotionally intelligent choices
*exercising self-restraint and self-control
*being able to turn down a challenge
*backs out of errors
*willing to forgive and forget
*refusing to demean others
*ignoring provocations
*recognizing that roads are for a wide  diversity of people
*preferring a friendly atmosphere
*considerate of the legitimate rights of others
*disapproves of retaliation or vengeance
*rejects aggressiveness
*retains control of self and situation
3

ROAD RAGE
DRIVING
leads to
VIOLENCE
&
BREAKDOWN

VS.

RESPONSIBLE
DRIVING
leads to
ALOHA SPIRIT
&
COMMUNITY
BUILDING

*uncaring and willing to hurt others
*feeling alone and disconnected
*feeling alienated
*acting delusional or from fantasy
*acting on a lust for control
*acting recklessly with disregard for all others
*feeling depressed and worthless
*feeling violent or enraged and seeking an excuse to express it
*violentization through choice
*feeling depersonalized
*attached to reciprocal response leading to a chain of escalation
*general acceptance of violent behavior as normal
*excited by violent behavior
*failure oriented and acting self-destructively
*knee jerk desperateness
*refusing to back down no matter what
*feeling unable to stop
*reacting out of proportion to a provocation
*being socially responsible
*feeling connected in traffic (belonging)
*viewing traffic as teamwork
*acting from conscience
*choosing transformation to denial
*acting with integrity
*acting with dependability
*feeling interdependent
*success oriented and acting with prudence
*taking driving seriously
*willing to go through a driving personality makeover
*practicing lifelong self-improvement activities (QDCs)
*striving to be a better driver and person
*willing to come out swinging positive

based on our book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING


Drivers who do not consider these behaviors to be aggressive:

NATIONAL
percent

Making obscene gestures

14

Passing on the shoulder

17

Failing to yield to merging traffic

17

Pulling into a parking space
and making others wait for you

20

Flashing high beams at other drivers

32

Waiting until the last minute to merge
(not waiting in line)

40

Speeding up to a yellow light

42

Changing lanes without signaling

42

Blocking the left (passing) lane

45

Honking the horn

45

Going at least 10 mph over speed limit

53

Driving too slow
(at least 10 mph below speed limit)

74

Tailgating

12


DrDriving's HINTS on How to

Arrive alive || Drive smart  || Stay healthy || Be supportive || Help speed up traffic flow ||  Be a good role model to your kids  ||   Stay in control of the situation || Stay cool and maintain your composure

Slowly count to ten While you force yourself to count slowly, your adrenaline in the blood goes back down to normal levels.  Take deep breaths as you do this.
Forgive and forget Think about the people who are waiting for you to arrive and how you don't want to disappoint them.  Tell yourself it's just not worth the hassle.
Make funny noises Laughter not only interrupts your negative thinking, it unloads the stress.  Try animal sounds or any nonsense noise--really get into it.
Use the Castanza Technique When you're in a bad mood, act the opposite of what you feel like.  It worked for George on Seinfeld--remember that episode?
Act as-if Do your courtesy waves and put on a pleasant face.  The way you drive is contagious.  You're influencing others' behavior, not by retaliating, but by peacemaking.
Shrink your emotional territory Develop an attitude of latitude. Think of positive reasons why drivers do things that annoy you. Perhaps they're sick or confused.  Maybe they're rushing to the bathroom. Maybe they just got some bad news. Maybe...
Come out swinging positive Don't be rude to the rude. Seize control by defusing anger. Apologize, don't argue, be sympathetic. Don't challenge anything. Go out of your way to appear friendly and peaceful.
Drive with emotional intelligence It's intelligent to choose positive explanations, rather than negative because they are less disturbing, more community oriented, less alienating, and ultimately more satisfying than the "you stupid clown" approach.
Commit yourself to a Lifelong Program of Driver Self-improvement
Keep a Driving Log or Diary and make appropriate entries after each trip. Or, you can record yourself while driving, speaking your thoughts aloud.  What a revelation when you listen to it later!  It's a wake-up call to a driving personality makeover.


Definition of Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving is driving under the influence of impaired emotions. There are three categories of impaired emotions:

  1. Impatience and Inattentiveness
  2. Power Struggle
  3. Recklessness and Road Rage

The majority of motorists drive in an emotionally impaired state at certain times. Some motorists drive in this state more often than others, and pose a serious risk to themselves and others. Driving violations can be identified by reference to these three categories of impaired emotions. Each category of impaired emotion leads to different types of traffic violations.

Category 1: Impatience and Inattentiveness

  • Driving through red
  • Speeding up to yellow
  • Rolling stops
  • Cutting corners or rolling over double line
  • Blocking intersection
  • Not yielding
  • Improper lane change or weaving
  • Driving 5 to 15 mph above limit
  • Following too close
  • Not signaling when required
  • Erratically slowing down or speeding up
  • Taking too long

Category 2: Power Struggle

  • Blocking passing lane, refusing to move over
  • Threatening or insulting by yelling, gesturing, honking repeatedly
  • Tailgating to punish or coerce
  • Cutting off in a duel
  • Braking suddenly to retaliate

Category 3: Recklessness and Road Rage

  • Driving drunk
  • Pointing a gun or shooting
  • Assaulting with the car or battering object
  • Driving at very high speeds


New Jersey bill

In a New Jersey bill, the aggressive driver is defined as

Anyone who operates a motor vehicle in an offensive,
hostile or belligerent manner,
thereby creating an unsafe environment for the remainder of the motoring public.

The aggressive driver is identified through the following violations of New Jersey's traffic regulations:

  1. Speeding
  2. Following Too Close
  3. Unsafe Lane Change
  4. Driving While Intoxicated
  5. Reckless, Careless or Inattentive Driving
  6. Disregard Of Traffic Signs and Signals
  7. Improper Passing
  8. Driving While Suspended

One Arizona bill defines aggressive driving as:

Traveling at a stated number of miles per hour above
the speed limit and driving in a generally threatening and reckless way.

The bill sets stiff penalties, including a 30-day license suspension for first-time offenders. Drivers could be charged with aggressive driving if they are cited for a combination of any three of the following charges:

  1. reckless driving
  2. excessive speed
  3. passing on the right or on the shoulder
  4. tailgating
  5. failing to signal lane changes or to change lane properly
  6. failing to yield the right-of-way
  7. running a red light or stop sign

A similar bill in Arizona classifies aggressive driving as a class 1 misdemeanor and requires drivers convicted of the offense to attend driver training and education. Defines aggressive driving as occurring when a driver

  1. speeds
  2. commits two or more listed offenses that include failing to obey a traffic control device
  3. drives over the "gore" area entering or exiting a highway
  4. drives recklessly
  5. passes a vehicle on the right by traveling off the pavement
  6. changes lanes erratically
  7. follows too closely
  8. fails to yield right of way
  9. is an immediate hazard to another person or vehicle.

A Connecticut bill allows the commissioner of Motor Vehicles to require a driver with two or more moving violations in one year to attend a class about controlling aggressive driving. Creates a penalty for aggressive driving of not more than $250 and a 30-day driver’s license suspension. Aggressive driving is defined as

  1. driving in a manner that evidences a pattern of dangerous conduct contributing to the likelihood of a collision or necessitating evasive action by another operator of a motor vehicle to avoid a collision.
  2. driving recklessly
  3. failing to stop when directed by a police officer

A Hawaii bill creates the offense of aggressive driving and is punishable by a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $2,500 and jail time for not less than one month nor more than one year. The court will assess 5 points against the driving record of people convicted of this offense. The offense is defined as operating a vehicle:

  1. In a contentious or antagonistic manner that endangers the safety of another or of property
  2. With a willful and wanton disregard for the life, limb or property of another
  3. While either the driver or a passenger is brandishing a firearm, or any object similar in appearance, in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another
  4. In a threatening or intimidating manner with intent to cause another motorist to lose control or be forced off the highway.
  5. In Illinois aggressive driving is made into a class B misdemeanor and a second offense is a class A misdemeanor. Road rage violations result in mandatory driver’s license revocation. Particulars:
  6. Creates the offense of road rage for any person who intentionally drives a vehicle, with malice, in such a manner as to endanger the safety or property of another.
  7. Aggravated road rage occurs when the violation results in great bodily harm or disfigurement to another and is a class 4 felony.
  8. Also creates the offense of aggressive driving when a person operates a vehicle carelessly or heedlessly in disregard for the rights of others, in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any property or person, or committing three or more traffic offenses.
  9. In Maryland a bill requires the Motor Vehicle administrator to assess points for multiple violations committed by a driver. Creates the offense of aggressive driving when a person
  10. drives a motor vehicle in a deliberately discourteous, intolerant, and impatient manner that evidences a pattern of dangerous conduct contributing to the likelihood of a collision or necessitating evasive action by another driver of a motor vehicle to avoid a collision.
  11. is convicted of four or more violations occurring at the same time or three violations with one of the offenses being exceeding the speed limit by at least 30 mph.

Requires curriculum in driver improvement courses to address aggressive driving:

  1. to raise awareness of the behavior
  2. modify aggressive driving behavior
  3. provide information on alternative methods for dealing with impatience, frustration, anger and intolerance on the roads.

The Nebraska bill amends the offense of reckless driving to include

  1. driving in a threatening or intimidating manner
  2. flashing headlights
  3. honking the horn repeatedly
  4. following too closely
  5. pointing a firearm or weapon while driving

The New York law requires

  1. pre-licensing education about aggressive driving as a prerequisite for obtaining a driver’s license
  2. provides for driver's license suspension or revocation for violations
  3. prohibits a reduction in insurance premiums for any course which fails to address aggressive driving.

Classifies aggressive driving as a class E felony and creates the offense of aggressive driving that includes:

  1. operating a vehicle in a reckless manner that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another
  2. displaying a weapon or what appears to be a weapon in such a manner to place another person in reasonable fear of injury or death
  3. operating a vehicle in such a manner as to place another in reasonable fear of physical injury or death
  4. driving with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person in a manner contrary to law
  5. changing lanes or speed in a manner that serves no legitimate purpose and creates a substantial risk of injury or death to another
  6. recklessly creating a substantial risk of serious injury or death or driving with intent to place another in fear of injury or death
  7. intentionally displaying a weapon with intent to harass or alarm another
  8. intentionally causing a collision

Requires that pre-licensing and defensive driving courses devote a minimum of 15 minutes of instruction to road rage awareness. Topics to be covered include

  1. the hazards of driving while under the influence of "road rage"
  2. the sanctions for road rage related violations
  3. biological and medical effects of the development and expression of road rage.

In Virginia, aggressive driving constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $2,500 and jail time for no less than one month nor more than one year, 48 hours of which will be a minimum mandatory sentence. Requires driver’s education programs offered through the school system to include instruction concerning aggressive driving. Creates an aggressive driving offense defined as:

  1. operating a vehicle with a wanton disregard for the life, limb, or property of another
  2. driving and brandishing a firearm or weapon in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another
  3. operating a vehicle in a threatening or intimidating manner with the intent to cause others to lose control or be forced off the highway.
  4. operating a vehicle with a reckless disregard for the rights of others or in a manner that endangers any property or person
  5. committing any two or more violations in a single act or series of acts in close proximity to another vehicle
  6. changing lanes unsafely
  7. following too closely
  8. failing to yield
  9. speeding
  10. driving too fast for conditions
  11. failing to signal and racing

The Washington bill defines the first violation as a misdemeanor and carries a fine of not less than $350 nor more than $5,000 and jail time of a minimum of 24 hours. Creates the offense of aggressive driving and defines it as

  1. committing any two or more acts of aggressive driving within five consecutive miles in a manner that intimidates or threatens another person
  2. failing to obey traffic control devices
  3. passing improperly
  4. following too closely
  5. changing lanes improperly
  6. failing to yield right of way
  7. signaling improperly
  8. overtaking and passing a school bus
  9. speeding
  10. stopping on the roadway
  11. driving with wheels off the roadway
  12. throwing glass or other sharp objects on to the road.

For additional information on legislative bills, consult DrDriving's Law Enforcement site.

 


Rating of the Strength of Aggressive Driving Language in Legislation

Legislation directed at controlling road rage has actually been introduced in 17 states and many other bills are under development (5). Definitional problems and concerns about conflicts with current traffic laws are barriers to passing aggressive driving legislation. Many of these statutes are perceived as unenforceable due to ambiguous wording that allows for too much interpretation by law enforcement officers (35)(42)(12)(43)(37)(48). The Mid-America Research Institute conducted a series of focus groups for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Group participants included judges, prosecutors, public defenders, defense attorneys and police; none of the groups believed that specific legislation was needed to address road rage (30).

From a AAA Study in 1998

 


Aggressive Driving legislation

More States are passing Aggressive Driving legislation. Some of the language used to define the offense calls for subjective assessment by the officer of the intent of the driver and the style of the driving. This kind of language is rated vague because it allows errors of judgment due to field situations and the officer's attitudes. Other language is strictly objective calling for visually observing the occurrence of some behavior and the number of times it occurs. This kind of language is rated specific because it is not influenced by the officer's attitudes and depends only on honesty and professional accuracy. A review of the aggressive driving bills makes it evident that a mixture of vague and specific language is used by most states. Here is a representative sample. Legislators and law enforcement officials can use this Table to avoid using vague language in their future bills or to amend existing ones.

State Laws

Language
vague=calls for officer's subjective judgment
specific=objectively observable or measurable

Rating

Washington committing any two or more acts of aggressive driving within five consecutive miles specific
Washington failing to obey traffic control devices specific
Washington passing improperly vague
Washington stopping on the roadway specific
Virginia operating a vehicle in a threatening or intimidating manner with the intent to cause others to lose control or be forced off the highway vague
Virginia operating a vehicle with a reckless disregard for the rights of others or in a manner that endangers any property or person vague
Virginia driving too fast for conditions vague
New York operating a vehicle in such a manner as to place another in reasonable fear of physical injury or death vague
New York driving with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person in a manner contrary to law vague
New York changing lanes or speed in a manner that serves no legitimate purpose and creates a substantial risk of injury or death to another vague
New York intentionally causing a collision vague
Nebraska driving in a threatening or intimidating manner

following too closely

vague
Nebraska honking the horn repeatedly specific
Nebraska pointing a firearm or weapon while driving specific
Maryland drives a motor vehicle in a deliberately discourteous, intolerant, and impatient manner that evidences a pattern of dangerous conduct contributing to the likelihood of a collision or necessitating evasive action by another driver of a motor vehicle to avoid a collision vague
Maryland is convicted of four or more violations occurring at the same time or three violations with one of the offenses being exceeding the speed limit by at least 30 mph. specific
Illinois creates the offense of road rage for any person who intentionally drives a vehicle, with malice, in such a manner as to endanger the safety or property of another vague
Illinois when the violation results in great bodily harm or disfigurement to another and is a class 4 felony specific
Illinois operates a vehicle carelessly or heedlessly in disregard for the rights of others, in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any property or person, or committing three or more traffic offenses vague
Hawaii operating a vehicle in a contentious or antagonistic manner that endangers the safety of another or of property vague
Hawaii operating a vehicle while either the driver or a passenger is brandishing a firearm, or any object similar in appearance, in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another specific
Hawaii operates a vehicle with a willful and wanton disregard for the life, limb or property of another vague
Connecticut driving in a manner that evidences a pattern of dangerous conduct contributing to the likelihood of a collision or necessitating evasive action by another operator of a motor vehicle to avoid a collision. vague
Connecticut driving recklessly vague
Connecticut failing to stop when directed by a police officer specific
Arizona Drivers could be charged with aggressive driving if they are cited for a combination of any three of the following charges:
  • using excessive speed
  • driving recklessly
  • changing lanes erratically
  • being an immediate hazard to another person or vehicle.
vague
Arizona Drivers could be charged with aggressive driving if they are cited for a combination of any three of the following charges:
  • committing two or more listed offenses that include failing to obey a traffic control device
  • passing on the right or on the shoulder
  • tailgating or following too closely
  • failing to signal lane changes or to change lane properly
  • failing to yield the right-of-way
  • running a red light or stop sign
  • driving over the "gore" area entering or exiting a highway
  • passing a vehicle on the right by traveling off the pavement
specific
New Jersey

An aggressive driver is anyone who operates a motor vehicle in an offensive, hostile or belligerent manner, thereby creating an unsafe environment for the remainder of the motoring public.

vague
New Jersey The aggressive driver is identified through the following violations of   traffic regulations:
  • Speeding (breaking the speed limit)
  • Following Too Close (less than safe distance)
  • Driving While Intoxicated
  • Disregard Of Traffic Signs and Signals
  • Driving While Suspended
specific
New Jersey The aggressive driver is identified through the following violations of   traffic regulations:
  • Unsafe Lane Change
  • Reckless, Careless or Inattentive Driving
  • Improper Passing
vague


THE ARIZONA AGGRESSIVE DRIVING LAW

28-695. Aggressive driving; violation; classification; definition

A. A person commits aggressive driving if both of the following occur:

1. During a course of conduct the person commits a violation of either section 28-701, subsection A or section 28-701.02 and at least two of the following violations:

(a) Failure to obey traffic control devices as provided in section 28-644.
(b) Overtaking and passing another vehicle on the right by driving off the pavement or main traveled portion of the roadway as provided in section 28-724.
(c) Unsafe lane change as provided in section 28-729.
(d) Following a vehicle too closely as provided in section 28-730.
(e) Failure to yield the right-of-way as provided in article 9 of this chapter.

2. The person's driving is an immediate hazard to another person or vehicle.
B. A person convicted of aggressive driving is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.
C. In addition to any other penalty prescribed by law:

1. A person convicted of a violation of this section shall attend and successfully complete approved traffic survival school training and educational sessions that are designed to improve the safety and habits of drivers and that are approved by the department.

2. The court shall forward the abstract of conviction to the department and may order the department to suspend the person's driving privilege for thirty days.
D. If a person who is convicted of a violation of this section has been previously convicted of a violation of this section within a period of twenty-four months:

1. The person is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

2. In addition to any other penalty prescribed by law, the court shall forward the abstract of conviction to the department. On receipt of the abstract of conviction, the department shall revoke the driving privilege of the person for one year.
E. The dates of the commission of the offense determine whether subsection D of this section applies. A second or subsequent violation for which a conviction occurs as provided in this section does not include a conviction for an offense arising out of the same series of acts.
F. For the purposes of this section "course of conduct" means a series of acts committed during a single, continuous period of driving.28-695

 


Track your growth

The following 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.

Emotional Intelligence

LEVEL

State
of

FEELINGS

Sequence

of

THOUGHTS

Type

of

ACTIONS

 

1

 

Oppositional

 

Irrational

selfish, reckless, impulsive and hostile; constantly expresses criticisms; feels insulted and insecure

 

2

 

Defensive

 

Logical

Suspicious, wary and competitive but prudent and restrained; expresses worries and complaints

 

3

 

Supportive

 

Prosocial

helpful and friendly; gives others the benefit of the doubt; expresses enjoyment and optimism

based on our book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING


Level 1--Oppositional Driving

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.

Level 2--Defensive Driving

Defensive driving teaches motorists to concentrate on the safety of the vehicle, driver and passengers. This preparedness philosophy helps reduce irrational decisions and encourages more logical thought patterns, such as, "What would happen if..." and "If I do that they'll respond with that..." As a result, actions are more prudent than in level-1. However, a level-2 orientation has disadvantages because it encourages a competitive environment on the road. As defensive drivers we can still measure success competitively in terms of how fast we get there, how many cars we leave behind, or how long we can coast without having to touch the brakes. Driving defensively does not provide immunity to negative thoughts, to impatience and intolerance of the faults of other drivers. While defensive driving is more mindful than oppositional driving, it leaves us in a state of competition or suspicion.

Level 3--Supportive Driving

Level-3 driving overcomes the disadvantages inherent in oppositional and defensive driving orientations. Supportive driving is a mental orientation that enables drivers to manage other motorists and the traffic using a positive approach that avoids the built-in negativity of oppositional and defensive driving styles. The key to acquiring a supportive driving mentality is to practice prosocial thought patterns that promote helpful actions and a benign demeanor. Supportive driving styles encourage us to be prudent and safe as well as tolerant and friendly by focusing on the enjoyment of driving while remaining unfazed by its hassles. Oppositional driving incorporates antisocial thought patterns, while defensive driving incorporates negativity as a normal part of driving. Supportive driving is a mental orientation that emphasizes the positive bias, opposite to the automotive vigilante mentality. Instead of finding fault with the other driver, find an excuse (e.g., "Look at that air head forgetting his blinkers on. Oh, I take it back. Maybe he's really preoccupied, or confused. We all make mistakes, including me. Etc."). The key in maintaining a supportive driving orientation is witnessing your antisocial statements and immediately neutralizing them with prosocial statements. Do this consistently and you become a supportive driver.

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?

NEGATIVE & ANTI-SOCIAL

ORIENTATION

POSITIVE & PROSOCIAL

ORIENTATION

Focus on blaming others and retaliating

Focus on self and how to cope

"They're bone heads!" "I'm feeling very impatient today!"
"How can they do this to me!" "I'm scared and angry!"
"They make me so mad when they do this!" "I make myself so mad when they do this."
"I just want him to know how I feel!" "It's not worth it."
"They better stay out of my way!" "I need to recognize that everybody has to get to their destination."
"How can they be so stupid talking on the phone while driving!" "I need to be extra careful around these drivers."

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.

Driver Competence Skills

NEGATIVE DRIVING

POSITIVE DRIVING

Your Driving

Focus on Positive Roles vs. Negative Roles

Emotionally Challenged

Emotionally Intelligent

Add your own words.

1. Focus on self vs. blaming others or the situation "This traffic is impossibly slow. What’s wrong with these fools. They’re driving like nutcases." "I’m feeling very impatient today. Everything seems to tick me off."  
2. Understanding how feelings and thoughts act together "I’m angry, scared, outraged. How can they do this to me." "I feel angry, scared, outraged when I think about what could have happened."  
3. Realizing that anger is something we choose vs. believing it is provoked "They make me so mad when they do that." "I make myself so mad when they do that."  
4. Being concerned about consequences vs. giving in to impulse "I just want to give this driver a piece of my mind. I just want him to know how I feel." "If I respond to this provocation I lose control over the situation. It’s not worth it."  
5. Showing respect for others and their rights vs. thinking only of oneself "They better stay out of my way. I’m in no mood for putting up with them. Out of my way folks." "I wish there was no traffic but it’s not up to me. These people have to get to their destination too."  
6. Accepting traffic as collective team work vs. seeing it as individual competition "Driving is about getting ahead. I get a jolt out of beating a red light or finding the fastest lane. It’s me vs. everybody else." "I try to keep pace with the traffic realizing that my movements can slow others down—like switching lanes to try to get ahead."  
7. Recognizing the diversity of drivers and their needs and styles vs. blaming them for what they choose to do "How can they be so stupid? They’re talking on the phone instead of paying attention to the road." "I need to be extra careful around drivers using hand held cellular phones since they may be distracted."  
8. Practicing positive role models vs. negative "Come on, buddy, speed up or I’ll be on your tail. Go, go. What’s wrong with you. There’s no one ahead." "This driver is going slower than I'd like. Now I can practice the art of patience and respect for the next few minutes."  
9. Learning to inhibit the impulse to criticize by developing a sense of driving humor "I can’t stand all these bozos on the road. They slow down when they should speed up. They gawk, they crawl, anything but drive." "I’m angry, I’m mad. Therefore I’ll act calm, I’ll smile and not compete. Already I feel better. Be my guest, enter ahead."  
10. Taking driving seriously by becoming aware of mistakes and correcting them "I’m an excellent driver, assertive and competent, with a clean accident record with hardly any tickets." "I monitor myself as a driver and keep a driving log of my mistakes. I think it’s important to include thoughts and feelings, not just the overt."  

based on our book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING


DRIVING WITH EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Transforming Oppositional Symptoms into Intelligent Remedies

Oppositional Symptoms

Statements We Say In Traffic

Emotionally Intelligent Remedies

 

1

 

Obsessing about slow traffic

  • "At this rate we’ll never get there."
  • "I feel like I’m going backwards."
  • "Now I’m stuck behind this slow driver."
  • "What a royal waste of time--I can't stand this waiting."
  • Etc.
  • Leave earlier.
  • Give up getting there on time.
  • Distract yourself with calming talk radio or music.
  • Admire the scenery.
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Etc.

 

 

2

 

 

Feeling combative with self-righteous indignation

  • "This fiend just cut me off, gotta give him a piece of my mind."
  • "I don’t deserve to be pushed around."
  • "Nobody gives me the finger and gets away with it"
  • "Nobody messes with me and gets away with it"
  • Etc.
  • Make funny animal sounds to yourself.
  • Make up some possible excuses for that driver.
  • Think about your parents and children who might do the same thing.
  • Think about being an angel.
  • Etc.

 

3

 

Feeling excessively competitive

  • "Darn, that guy made the light and I didn’t"
  • "How come that lane is faster than this one?"
  • "Those pedestrians better watch out 'cause I’m coming through."
  • Etc.
  • Tell yourself it’s just a habit from childhood to feel anxious about not winning, or being left behind.
  • Remind yourself it feels good to be civil and helpful.
  • Etc.
 

 

4

 

 

Being over-critical

  • "Look at that idiot who forgets to turn off his signal"
  • "I can’t stand it the way he slows down and speeds up, slows down and speeds up"
  • "He can't pay attention to the road if he’s babbling on the phone."
  • Etc.
  • Tell yourself it’s human to make mistakes.
  • Recall your own mistakes.
  • Remind yourself that patience is a virtue.
  • Try to maneuver away from that car.
  • Etc.
 

 

5

 

 

Love of risk taking

  • "I like to go fast, but I’m careful."
  • "I can make this light if I speed up."
  • "I can squeeze into that opening if I time it right."
  • "I can insult that driver ‘cause I can get away fast"
  • "I feel the need for speed!"
  • Etc.
  • Think of how you would feel if you did something to hurt someone.
  • Think of how your loved ones would feel if something happened to you.
  • Tell yourself you prefer to be a mature and prudent person.
  • Etc.

based on our book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING


Scenario Analysis Exercises

One way to begin is to examine in detail the thought sequence involved in a road rage exchange, especially to identify the decision points of the protagonists--where they could still back out of the sequence of choices leading to the tragic end point. The following Traffic Emotions Education (TEE) card illustrates the critical thinking process with a real-world road rage event.

TEE Card No.30C6 Scenario Analysis--Newspaper Stories:
Road Rage Shoot Out in Fender Bender

Instructions: First read the entire news story in the left hand column. Then read the comments on the right, going back to the story to examine the elements being discussed.
Road Rage Shoot Out

A hit-and-run "gone terribly wrong" was how sheriff's officials described a fender-bender between two pickup truck drivers that ended in a shootout Thursday night in northeast El Paso County. One man was killed. The other remained at Penrose Hospital on Friday with a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

The shooting stemmed from a crash that occurred about 7:30 p.m. Thursday on Powers Boulevard just south of Stetson Hills Boulevard. The man in the red Dodge Dakota was "driving erratically" when he bumped Bispo's blue Ford pickup, Hilte said.

The Dakota driver then wheeled around Bispo's Ford and sped north on Powers Boulevard, Hilte said. Bispo, a civilian employee at Fort Carson, followed as the driver turned east onto Dublin Boulevard and parked on the shoulder.

"He pulled over about a car length back, and it just went bad from there," Hilte said. Both men got out of their vehicles wielding handguns.

Words were exchanged.

 

 

These two drivers got into a road dispute, the result: one is dead, the other was wounded and faces serious charges. It has happened hundreds of times this year, where one driver ends up dead, while another is facing homicide charges. The one who killed had not planned to do so. Could this happen to you? The fact is that most of the "killers" in road rage disputes were taken by surprise at the ferocity of their own over-reaction.

Notice these elements in the newspaper story on the left:

The first driver was driving in an alcohol impaired state. He chose to do so, which led to the next event.

The first driver left the scene of the crash after causing a fender bender with a second car. He chose to do so, which led to the next event.

The second driver went in pursuit to obtain the license number. Pursuing another vehicle is dangerous and illegal. But the driver had a second motive: to confront the fleeing driver. Evidence: he did not just get the license number. He chose to stop, when he could have just driven off after getting the plate number, which led to the next event.

The first driver chose to stop. This may have been an attempt to confront the second driver, or something else. We do not know. The second driver saw this, and he did not know either.

The second driver chose to stop behind the first car. This then set up the next event. If he had not stopped, or if he had stopped some distance away, the first driver may still be alive.

The second driver chose to approach the first car, or at least, chose to exit his car, which led to the next event. He could have stayed in the truck and waited for police to arrive.

Shots were fired.

Blood was spilled. Bispo's girlfriend was still on the phone with 911 dispatchers when the shooting started. On-scene investigators found about a dozen shell casings - two from the Dakota driver's revolver, the rest from Bispo's 9 mm semiautomatic pistol.

While enlisted in the Army, Bispo qualified as a sharpshooter with an M-1 rifle, according to military records. The Dakota driver died of a gunshot wound to the chest shortly after the shooting. Neither driver was licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

The second driver also chose to exit his car with a weapon. This weapon was visible to the first driver, which led to the next event.

The first driver chose to shoot, which led to the next event. If he had not started to shoot, he might still be alive today.

The second driver chose to shoot back. The first driver was hit and died.

In these 9 steps, each driver had several opportunities to back down and to choose not make the next move that led to disaster. Is this a road rage case? Yes, because it involves two drivers making a series of escalating moves that lead to a violent exchange, when either one of them could have broken the deadly dual by not going along with the next violent step in the series of decisions to act. Remember: it takes an unbroken series of links in a long chain of bad choices to get into a road rage shoot out.

based on our book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING

Exercise: Scenario Analysis to Develop Critical Thinking

Dear DrDriving,
I'm a 16 year old boy and I was driving in tandem with a friend who is unfamiliar with driving in that area and on the freeway. It was almost midnight and we were driving to our homes. I had a friend from work who invited us to a party but we couldn't find his place so we drove back. I lost the address and all we did was drive around then started to go home. We did not have anything to drink and nobody had taken any drugs.

We got onto the freeway and while we were driving, a black SUV pulled up really fast and close behind my friend's car-who was in the center lane. I was in the left lane and wanted to stay close to my friend so he would not get lost. The SUV swerved around my friend's car to the slow lane and went past really fast. He started to swerve around all the other cars ahead of us and we thought he was gone.

A little bit later he was held up in the traffic and my friend and I were both in the left lane and passed him. My friend and I had to change to another freeway that had only two lanes for a while. The SUV took the same exit and my friend and I thought it was funny that he was behind us and we slowed down in both of the lanes (stupid plan). He pulled up behind me and then behind my friend and began pointing a gun. We got really scared and did everything we could to get away. He followed us really fast but never tried to pass us. This went on for miles. We were all swerving through traffic. I think I was driving about 90 miles an hour. Sometimes we thought he was gone and then we would see that he was just kind of hiding behind other cars. We got close to our exit and I started to flash my lights and honk at my friend so that he knew to take the exit. When we took the exit we saw the SUV follow us then pull over on the off-ramp.

When we got onto the road we were met by lots of police cars. We ended up with tickets for reckless driving and we are going to plead not guilty. We think that this driver did something illegal and could have caused an accident. We know that we were stupid and added to the problem but we think that he's an adult and he was the one who was making it into a battle. What do you think? Do you have any suggestions how to handle this? Thanks.

 


Chain of steps

The Chart below identifies the specific chain of steps that together make up this road rage incident. There are 13 bad driving behaviors these two teenagers performed in sequence, as evidenced by their own description of the events (middle column). Your comments should answer two questions: (a) how does each step contribute to their trouble (focus on the bold words in column 2), and (b) how could they have backed out of it at each step by doing something else. Have your friends or family members also complete the exercise, then get together to compare and discuss everybody's solutions. Doing this exercise will strengthen your emotional intelligence as a driver by making you more aware of how your behavior influences other people's behavior on highways.

Scenario Analysis of Teen Drivers' Unrecognized Road Rage Behavior

Emotionally challenged behavior

Segment from the letter

State how each step contributes to trouble.

Suggest smarter behavior.

1. Playing games on the highway. "I'm a 16 year old boy and I was driving in tandem with a friend."    
2. Driving after curfew "It was almost midnight"    
3. Losing the address and going anyway "I lost the address and all we did was drive around then started to go home"    
4. Driving abreast occupying center lane and fast (left) lane "I was in the left lane and wanted to stay close to my friend--who was in the center lane"    
5. Blocking the way so the SUV had to pass in the right (slow) lane "SUV pulled up really fast and close behind my friend's car-who was in the center lane"    
6. Discounting the seriousness of the incident "we thought he was gone"    
7. Not realizing they were doing something provocative "My friend and I were both in the left lane and passed him"    
8. Not realizing that the incident has now escalated into a potential duel "The SUV took the same exit and my friend and I thought it was funny that he was behind us"    
9. Finally realizing this is trouble but still acting like they're in a duel, escalating the fight instead of backing down "we slowed down in both of the lanes (stupid plan). He pulled up…and began pointing a gun."    
10. Engaging in reckless driving--weaving through traffic at high speeds getting away from a chase "We got really scared and did everything we could to get away. He followed us really fast but never tried to pass us. This went on for miles. We were all swerving through traffic. I think I was driving about 90 miles an hour"    
11. Engaging in further provocative behavior by ignoring its potential effect on the pursuer "I started to flash my lights and honk at my friend so that he knew to take the exit"    
12. Trying to diffuse their own responsibility in the sequence of events, as a sort of denial "We think that this driver did something illegal and could have caused an accident"    
13. Hiding behind inadmissible excuses, avoiding to admit what they did wrong, and refusing to think objectively about it "We know that we were stupid and added to the problem but we think that he's an adult and he was the one who was making it into a battle"    

based on our book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING

Home

Articles on Road Rage and Aggressive Driving
by Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl

  1. Dealing with stress and pressure in the vehicle. Taxonomy of Driving Behavior:  Affective, Cognitive, Sensorimotor
  2. 9 Zones of Your Driving Personality
  3. Citizen Activism in Driving Issues
  4. Acts of Kindness while Driving
  5. Road Rage and Aggressive Driving Book 
  6. DBB Ratings--Drivers Behaving Badly Movie Ratings
  7. Distracted Driving
  8. Driving Psychology Principles
  9. Gender and Driving--Men vs. Women
  10. Hawaii Road Rage and Driving Issues
  11. Driving Personality Makeovers
  12. Social Psychology of Driving
  13. Partnership Driving
  14. Philosophy of Driving
  15. Principles of Driving Psychology
  16. Psychology and Driving
  17. QDC--Quality Driving Circles or Support Groups
  18. 3-Step Program for Changing Your Driving Habits
  19. Congressional Testimony on Road Rage by Dr. Leon James
  20. Workshop on Getting a Grip on Anger while Driving
  21. Violence and Driving--A Mental Health Issue
  22. Music and Driving
  23. Seeing Red, Feeling Blue--our new Book
  24. Chart of Your Driving Personality
  25. Aggressive Driving is Emotionally Impaired Driving
  26. Road Rage Overview
  27. Driver Personality Test

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