Linda Lewis Griffith

How road-rage drivers are different from the rest of us

San Jose Mercury News

We’ve all been frustrated while driving. But road rage takes that irritation to a whole new level, as it involves shouting, gesturing and potentially endangering others’ lives.

One-third of all drivers commit road rage at some time, though a mere 2 percent engage in serious violent behavior, according to the July 2010 online journal Psychiatry. The vast majority of offenders are young males. But the behavior cuts across all age groups, with the exception of seniors.

Several factors contribute to the outbursts. Excessive daily mileage, heavy traffic and carrying a firearm encourage vehicular aggression. So do aggressive stimuli from billboards and building signs.

In his research on angry and aggressive driving, counseling psychologist Jerry Deffenbacher of Colorado State University found that high-anger drivers differ from low-anger drivers in five key ways:

▪  They engage in hostile, aggressive thinking. They’re more likely to insult other drivers or express disbelief about the way others drive. Their thoughts quickly turn to revenge, which sometimes leads them to cause physical harm.

▪  They take more risks on the road. They drive 10 to 20 mph over the speed limit, weave in and out of traffic, tailgate and enter intersections after the light changes to red.

▪  They get angrier faster and behave more aggressively. High-anger drivers are more apt to swear, name-call, yell at other drivers and honk their horns. They’re not only angry behind the wheel, but also throughout the day.

▪  They had twice as many car accidents in driving simulations. Plus, they report more near-accidents and get more speeding tickets.

▪  They possess psychological traits for high anger, anxiety and impulsiveness. So they are more likely to enter their vehicles angry and express that anger outwardly and impulsively.

But even road-ragers aren’t angry all the time. When driving in simulators along backcountry roads, they’re as calm as the low-anger subjects.

“Anger is not a chronic experience for high-anger drivers, but something prompted by different triggers or events on the road,” Deffenbacher wrote.

Helping them change their responses will keep the roads safer for us all.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

Tips for reducing road rage

  • Don’t take traffic problems personally. There is no traffic conspiracy intent on interfering with your trip.
  • Allow adequate time to reach your destination. When you’re rushed, you’re more stressed and more likely to take risks.
  • Avoid the passing lane. Aggressive and angry drivers frequent this lane.
  • Don’t tailgate. Following too closely is a major cause of accidents. If you’re being followed too closely, pull over and let the tailgater pass.
  • Don’t respond in kind. Never engage in a contest to see who performs the last gesture. There may be temporary satisfaction, but it only escalates the situation.
  • Avoid multitasking while driving. Spilled coffee, eating in the car and talking on the phone are all activities that could cause accidents.
  • Avoid eye contact. Don’t look directly at angry or aggressive drivers.

Source: University of Kansas Police Department