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Driven Insane: The Science of Road Rage

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The editors at Best Counseling Degrees decided to research the topic of:

Driven Insane: The Science of Road Rage


We've all been there. The driver behind us is tailgating, the driver to our left won't let us over, and the driver in front is blabbing on their cell phone and driving 10 miles below the speed limit. Sometimes it's difficult not to fly off the handle. But aggressive driving, better known as "road rage," is the leading cause of traffic deaths and, unfortunately, incredibly common. Let's take a look at the science behind road rage, as well as statistical trends and the worst states in the U.S. for road rage incidents.

It's Deadly

-The number of car crashes that occur annually in the U.S.
More than half
-Fatal car crashes that are the result of aggressive driving.
-The worst offenders are males 19 and younger.
Most common provoking behaviors:
-Obscene gestures
-Cell phone use
-Excessive horn use
-Headlight flashing

It's Growing

-The increase in road rage incidents since 1990
-Percentage of commercial drivers who will most likely be involved in a road rage incident

It's Worse in Certain Areas

Many people can probably guess what some of the worst states are regarding road rage incidents. Here is a list of the top 10 cities when considering traffic, commuter time, accident rates, reported road rage incidents and population.

-New York City
-San Francisco
-Los Angeles
-Washington D.C.

It's Physiological

Let's take a look at what actually happens in our bodies when we become enraged. It may shed some light on the reckless and impulsive decisions many drivers make when angered on the road.

Your heart beats faster, pumping oxygen, adrenaline and sugar into your bloodstream.
Your breathing quickens.
Your blood pressure rises.
Your muscles tense.
Testosterone levels increase.
The left part of the brain is stimulated.
Being prone to outbursts of explosive anger can actually be considered a disorder in some cases.

Some people actually have what is called "Intermittent Explosive Disorder." It affects 7.3% of adults and can account for many acts of road rage. It causes exaggerated, sudden feelings of rage that can be the catalysts for violent behavior.

It's Emotional

Your body isn't just affected physically. When you become angry, your emotions flare and wreak equal havoc on your actions.

Feeling like you've been personally offended or slighted has a big impact on your psyche.

Generosity is easier to forget, but offensive actions stick in the brain. This leads to dwelling, which only escalates anger. People are more likely to exaggerate feelings of hurt than feelings of happiness.

Stress is a main component in road rage.

There is a reason why a majority of road rage incidents occur during rush hour. The more stress a driver is under, the more emotionally distraught they are and the more likely they are to succumb to aggressive driving. Stress heightens our potential for aggression and causes a "fight or flight" response that can lead to hostile spontaneity.

It's Avoidable

Though many people have a naturally short fuse and are prone to bouts of rage easily, there are things that a driver can keep in mind to keep from driving aggressively.

Avoiding aggression while driving
  • Play relaxing music or perhaps even a comedy CD. Anything to lighten the mood inside of your vehicle.
  • Try to think of the other cars on the road as other humans, not other machines. Act as though you were walking in a crowded area; you probably wouldn't give the middle finger to someone who accidentally walked in front of you, especially if they apologized.
  • If others are riding with you, make light or funny conversation with them.
  • Remember to breathe and if provoked, count to 20. This will ensure that you consider your reaction before acting on a whim.
  • Recognize that those around you are also prone to acting impulsively and that their actions or offensive gestures are not personal attacks.