Road Rage…What Causes it?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

What really causes road rageYou’re driving down the road in your car and suddenly, somebody cuts right in front of you, causing you to slam on your brakes.



Which response would be most likely for you:

  1. Feel happy that you avoided a collision;
  2. Feel sorry for the other driver, who appeared to be stressed and hurried;
  3. Chase down the offending driver and cut him off in return;
  4. Chase down the offending driver and challenge him to a physical battle.
  5.  Just shoot the S.O.B. and be done with it.

Road Rage Is On The Rise

If you’re like 60% of all drivers living in America today, you probably did not choose options 1 or 2 above.  And if you’re like 10% of American adult drivers, it’s very likely your typical response would be to go for option 4.

These are the findings of a recent Harris poll commissioned by Career Builders and conducted with almost 4000 U.S. workers over age 18.  Among other surprises, this survey found that 61% of women and 56% of men reported that they were prone to feeling road rage.  These results have increased compared to similar surveys done in the past.

The AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety found that between 1990-1996, road rage contributed to 218 deaths and 12, 610 injuries.  The prevalence of road rage also increased nearly 7% per year for each year in that study period.  The AAA Foundation also estimated that aggressive driving behaviors were a factor in up to 56% of fatal crashes.

Road rage and aggressive driving behaviors can range from speeding, to running red lights, to dangerous lane changing, to yelling obscenities, to finger waving, to horn honking, tailgating, and even angry, physical confrontations.

Road Rage Is INSANE!

So that’s what road rage is, but why does it happen so frequently, and why is it on the rise?  The authors of both studies mentioned above have speculated that increasing work stress, the weak economy, longer commutes, and more distracted, inattentive drivers on the road are prime culprits.  But I believe there’s another, more basic reason.  I believe road rage is on the rise today because more and more people are prone to becoming temporarily INSANE!

After all, if you honestly look at road rage, you have to admit that it is little more than a form of temporary mental insanity!  Do you honestly believe that everyone should always drive the ways YOU might want them to?  Do you really think that when somebody slips into a parking space that you were considering “yours,” they were maliciously out to get you?

Do you really think that when somebody cuts you off in traffic that it’s a momentous, important criminal act, punishable by stern retribution leading up to physical assault and possibly even death?  Cut me a break.  In fact, cut me a whole bunch of breaks.

There may be something more inane than getting yourself all worked up because somebody violated one of your fundamentalist courtesy beliefs, but I can’t think of one right now.  Perhaps if you can, you could be so kind as to leave your suggestion as a comment below.

By the way, I used to regularly experience feelings of road rage, safely confined in my own secure vehicle.  But I don’t anymore.  Call me wiser, call me more mature, call me in the minority.  But please don’t call me INSANE anymore. That descriptive term should only be applied to people who still experience road rage today.  And if more of us started calling road rage exactly what it is—temporary mindless insanity—then maybe we’d start to see a little less of it as time goes on.

NOTE: This is the first of three blog posts on the topic of road rage that I will be publishing this week.  Stay tuned for my next two posts:

Road Rage…Why Does It Keep Happening?  (Wednesday, Aug 1, 2012)

Road Rage…What Can You Do About It? (Friday, Aug 3, 2012)




{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

igor Griffiths July 31, 2012 at 5:16 PM

Well Hello Doc

Your post brought back some fond and dark memories, one of my fondest was whilst reversing into a parking space on a high street. As I lined up and got ready to take my place, I was usurped by a British mini, of course the momentary insanity arose but that quickly switched to admiration for using such a small car the way it was intended.

I used to car-share with a driver who regularly participated in responses 3 and 4, 5 would have been implemented if we did not live in the UK where guns are still a rarity. After a while the other nervous passengers and myself finally called it a day and returned to using our own cars to steady our nerves.

The best solution I have found is to simply take a deep breath and blow out hard whenever you feel an unreasonable response rising inside you.

Look forward to the next post


Doc Orman, M.D. July 31, 2012 at 7:36 PM

Igor: Thanks for your stories. I think taking a deep breath to interrupt the automatic anger pattern is a good thing, but I also think it can help to use it as an opportunity to tell yourself the truth about your situation instead of remaining in a false reality, but with a little more air in your lungs.


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