Dr. Gautham's

Neuro Centre

(Established in 1988)

A Neuro-Behavioral Medicine Clinic

Dr. Gautham's Neuro Centre
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Chennai, Tamilnadu 600031
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Road Rage

Aggressive driving can be described"Driving under the influence of impaired emotions resulting in behavior that imposes risk on others.  Aggressive driving behavior is a driver's attempt to respond to some type of situation or perceived problem using their available strategies. Unfortunately, these strategies are frequently ineffective or counter productive in resolving the issue and may ultimately result in the creation of greater problems for the driver and other road users. Aggressive driving demonstrates hostility, lack of awareness, resistance to change, lack of emotional maturity, and cynicism towards authority. There are 2 types of aggressive drivers: Chronic and situational.  

 

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Chronic aggressive drivers have adopted a driving style, which is out of step with normal traffic flow and accepted norms of courteous driving behavior. They argue that their driving style is not aggressive at all, in fact it is the safest possible driving or they admit that it is aggressive and justify it based on various personal motives.

Situational aggressive drivers are responding to external pressures imposed on them as a result of schedules, traffic flows, the behavior of other drivers, environmental or other factors. Their otherwise safe responsible driving becomes aggressive under certain circumstances. These drivers may admit to the inappropriate nature of there behavior after the fact or alternatively justify it in a similar way to the chronic aggressive driver.

All of us have indulged in some form of aggressive driving at some or the other, subject to our moods. This includes

  • Competitive driving, racing or showing off

  • Excessive speed

  • Prolonged, persistent, deliberate bad driving

  • Wanton and furious driving

  • Driving with disregard for road safety taking account of road weather and traffic conditions

  • Deliberate acts of selfishness, impatience or aggressiveness causing inconvenience including:

o    Cutting off, cutting in and slowing down.

o    Changing lanes in a reckless manner or, weaving through traffic.

o    Turning without signaling

o    Cruising in the passing lane and not moving over

o    Taking too long to turn or to get moving

o    Yelling, insulting or gesturing at other drivers.

o    Rushing or being impatient all the time.

o    Tailgating and following too close

o    Running a red light or speeding up to a yellow light.  

The trigger for the aggressive driver is usually traffic congestion coupled with a schedule that is almost impossible to meet. As a result, the aggressive driver generally commits multiple violations in an attempt to make up time. For example, an aggressive driver who resorts to using a roadway shoulder to pass may startle other drivers and cause them to take an evasive action that results in more risk or even a crash. Meanwhile, the offending aggressive driver continues on his or her way, perhaps oblivious of what he or she has caused. Rush hour crashes, which are frequently caused by aggressive drivers, are a major contributor to congestion and 10 percent of these rush hour crashes contribute to a second crash.

Road rage, on the other hand, is a criminal offense. This occurs when a traffic incident escalates into a far more serious situation. Drivers with road rage:

  • regularly experience hostile emotions and violent fantasies
  • are unaware of their errors and style of driving
  • resist change and lack the skills to change or to improve 
  • are unable to deal with their own emotions in traffic and lack the skills for self-control in traffic situations
  • live in a conflictual or cynical mental state, accepting traffic regulations in an ideal sense, but rejecting them in an actual sense (e.g., speed limits, blood alcohol level, signaling regulations, parking violations, moving violations, required maintenance, seat belt use, child restraints, etc.)

They generally know that the behavior that they are engaging in does not fit the description of"good driving� yet do nothing about it.  

Road Rage is loss of emotional control while driving. Frustration and anger are key components in the creation of road rage. Being in control of the vehicle and one�s self while driving seems a self-evident goal to most drivers, however external factors can affect a driver�s control over their emotional state and result in loss of emotional control to a greater or lesser degree.

 

In 1968, a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, which examined fatal accidents, showed that in 20% of the cases studied; the drivers had been involved in aggressive altercations within a six-hour period before their deaths. The danger is that an inability to effectively deal with anger may mean that aggression influences a motorist's own driving ability. A driver's aggression may be more dangerous to the person experiencing it than to fellow motorists.


Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. People who are easily angered generally have a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can't take things in stride, and they're particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake. There are 2 types of anger: Attributed anger and Instrumental anger.

 

 

 

Instrumental anger occurs as a result of the driver being frustrated in an attempt to achieve a goal . Attributed anger occurs as a result of hostile interpretations of ambiguous events. (The driver is cut off by another vehicle and sees this as a personal attack). Consider, for instance, a slow moving car in the your lane. Why is the driver going so slowly? You can attribute the cause to the traffic situation. You might think that the car is old or malfunctioning, or perhaps there is a child in the car, or someone is sick. But a driver with road rage attributes it to the driver's disposition. He might think that the person is inconsiderate, incompetent, stupid, dumb. Or he may attribute it to the driver's appearance, such as race, gender, age, or ethnic background.

There is a self-serving bias in the way drivers make attributions on the road. For example, when other drivers cut them off in a lane change maneuver, they feel outraged when making a dispositional attribution: "How annoying. They're being inconsiderate, rude and aggressive. What a jerk" But when it is our turn to cut someone off, we make a situational attribution: "I had to do that because I have to take the cutoff ramp soon," or, "because I am in hurry today."   

Other factors that give rise to road rage are mood. Stress and expectations. Being in a bad mood has a negative effect on driving behavior, especially for the "unsafe" driver, who is more likely to react to the actions of other road users with road rage. A driver may be driven (pardon the pun) to road rage by behaviour of other drivers that goes against his expectations.

A stressed out driver may react with road rage, to frustration in traffic or what he perceives as hostile attitudes of other drivers. A study which  looked at environmental factors that influence aggression showed that the following can cause rage in those with low frustration tolerance:

  • Noise: While not provoking aggression, noise has been shown to influence the intensity of a pre-existing case of aggression. Thus a person prone to road rage, who is under stress or in an irritable mood, may be "set off" by someone honking behind him.
  • Temperature: there was a direct relationship between temperature and driver aggression. The hotter it was the more aggressive the subjects became.
  • Overcrowding: This is a subjective environmental factor. In experiments where all the subjects agreed to the fact that conditions were overcrowded, and especially in the case of traffic congestion, aggression may reach detrimental levels. Noise and heat may exert the most influence on motorists in a traffic congestion situation.
  • Territoriality: individuals often view their vehicles as an extension of their home. At home, one sets standards for oneself that may be fine in the privacy of one's home but would not be acceptable in public. The car seems to straddle the boundary between private space and public domain.

Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them! Anger also affects risk tolerance.

Risk tolerance is the amount of risk that one would normally accept when driving. Someone with a low risk tolerance takes few chances and drives in a cautious manner. People with a very low risk tolerance may drive in an overly cautious way and hold up traffic by not taking acceptable gaps when turning or driving slow enough to delay or hold up others. High risk-tolerant people may be overconfident in their skills and abilities and take chances by speeding or they may be seeking the thrill of "being on the edge" and pushing the limits. Assertive drivers have a risk tolerance, which is appropriate to the situation and consistent with accepted standards. As a driver's emotional state changes, their risk perception and tolerance also changes. Drivers with road rage tend to have an inappropriately high level of risk tolerance and therefore pose a risk to themselves as well as others on the road.