Hello Dr. Leon James,

I am a freelancer working on a road rage story in the California Bay
Area. I found your site and was wondering if you could answer a few
questions from my article about road rage. From your web site, it
appears you have been studying this condition for quite some time.
1) Do you think road rage is increasing? If yes, why?
2) What can people do to prevent road rage?
3) What causes road rage?
4) Is society and the government doing enough to halt or slow the
increase of road rage, if it is on the rise?

Any information about you can give for my article will be appreciated

Sheri Rickman
Freelancer for San Jose Business Journal


1) Do you think road rage is increasing? If yes, why?

Road rage has two different meanings.  One refers to assault, battery, and homicide. This type has been increasing but the total number of such occurrences is less than 2000 a year, and in relation to 125 million drivers on the roads every day, this is an extremely rare event. The second meaning of road rage refers to driving in an emotionally impaired state. This shows itself in terms of anger, hostility, competition, risk, and stress. These are all injurious to health and community.

In our book 'Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare' (Prometheus Books: Amherst, NY, 2000), we show how the steady rise of road rage is due to a generational process by which we acquire the habit of aggressive driving as children from two sources. First, by riding in our parents' cars, and second, by watching aggressive driving behavior being glorified on TV. We unconsciously imbibe our parents' attitudes behind the wheel and by the time we begin our own careers as driver, we've had years of exposure to aggressive driving role models. All of a sudden, we don't quite know why, we start acting aggressive, hostile, competitive, opportunistic, and rebellious of traffic regulations.

Right now we're breeding the next generation of road rage drivers and when they get to drive, I predict they'll be even more challenged emotionally than we are today. And it generalizes as a more aggressive public personality on the part of more and more people, hence we now witness air rage, parking lot rage, office rage, surf rage, line rage, and so on.

2) What can people do to prevent road rage?

I had to do it and hundreds of people I worked with came to recognize that they had to do it, that is, suffer themselves to go through a "driving personality makeover." It's a three-step program:  A-cknowledge, W-itness, M-odify. The first step is the hardest. People don't feel like recognizing or confessing that they are aggressive, hostile, risky, dangerous, and wanted by the law. And yet, that is what aggressive driving is. Each act of aggressiveness is a little road rage episode that impairs the driver emotionally. For example, a common thing to do, almost automatically, is to deny lane entry to a signaling car by closing the gap in front. Most people at first, are unwilling to acknowledge that this is aggressive and hostile--until the moment it happens to them and then they feel what it's like to be denied entry when anxiously seeking to catch an exit ramp. It feels negative, hostile, territorial, illegitimate, cruel, inhuman, in violation of human rights and dignity.


Once the first step is made following some soul searching about one's real values, step two is to W-itness yourself being aggressive and roadrageous. I carried a tape recorder for years, recording myself thinking aloud, and verbalizing what I thought and felt behind the wheel. Hundreds of others have done it and discovered to their true amazement the violent and dictatorial parts of their driving personality. It's a wonderful feeling to see oneself being re-tooled as a driver. I call myself a 'reformed driver' because of my commitment to new values I call "supportive driving." I came to it through my wife and co-author of our book. She was most instrumental in working to bring the supportive or positive part of my personality behind the wheel. It did not exist except in vestigial form, like a seed, or a possibility I idealized.


So some people might need a Driving Partner, like her. We have the text of such a contract we made at our Web site DrDriving.org  Other techniques are also described there and they all have to do with modifying your thoughts and emotions. First, acknowledging that they lurk in our culturally acquired habits, second, discovering what they are by monitoring yourself behind the wheel, and third, M-odifying one little habit at a time, trip by trip, over many months and even years. For instance, you can take a minute before you start the engine, to relax, focus mentally and emotionally, and write some notes in your Driving Diary. Choose some little habit that you're going to focus on on this trip, like following too close, or automatic gap closing, or presenting a mean face, or cussing and complaining to yourself. Only one of these. Then throughout the trip observe what triggers the response, when it occurs, what you do about it, how you feel when you do one thing or another. Follow this three-step procedure on a lifelong basis. It's needed, given how complex driving is getting with congestion and multi-tasking inside the car in traffic.


3) What causes road rage?

Road rage is an impaired emotion that causes total loss of control of the situation, the driver, and the vehicle--thus violating the First Star Trek Imperative. This impaired emotional state comes on and is held in place by our ingrained expectations and sense of entitlement. My partner Dr. Diane Nahl of ten notes that we come to our driving careers rigged for road rage. Without knowing why, we start keeping track of little things and feel threatened and depressed by them, or else elated and gleeful. For example, I used to count the number of cars that pass me in the other lane and feel quite depressed, anxious, even panicky. I started feeling worthless, like someone others can take advantage of or disconnected from the rest. It was awful. Many people feel bad when they have to use the brakes. They keep track how long they can coast without having to touch the brakes. Some people will let their car roll over double white lines or double yellow lines when they make turns. This is an aggressive thing to do for it threatens the car in the opposite direction that is sitting there waiting for the lights to change. These turning cars come awfully close to your bumper? Why? Because it takes a little extra effort to turn the wheel to prevent rolling over the double line. And this extra effort is felt like an imposition. We rather not do it, and too bad for the others whose risk we increase with our own risky behavior. This attitude is the cause of road rage.


4) Is society and the government doing enough to halt or slow the

A dozen states are looking at passing new aggressive driving laws and more are following the trend. There is an increasing awareness that we need more police initiatives along with education of drivers. So there is more focus on driver education, which has been neglected in the past couple of generations. For example, the California Assembly passed a new road rage bill last month that mandates that the driver ed. curriculum in high schools be amended to include a road rage prevention component. The courts are also beginning to recognize that aggressive drivers in trouble with the law need specific aggressive driving instruction that is not already covered by the defensive driving model. Diane Nahl and I  were the first to create such a video course for national distribution through AIPS. It's called RoadRageous and can also be taken on the Internet from one's home as well as from driving schools.


The future of society's well being is dependent on the automobile, and people will have to learn how to educate their traffic emotions given that congestion, according to experts, will always be with us. The alternative is more stress, more risk, more hostility, and more dangerous highway warfare for the next generation.

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