Interview with Leon James:

October 4, 1998

Georgia drivers high on aggression scale
By Joey Ledford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia ranks third in the nation in aggressive driving, according to an ongoing online survey compiled by a traffic psychologist (yes, that's right) who began studying road rage years before anybody named it.

Dr. Leon James, a University of Hawaii psychology professor also known as "Dr. Driving," began studying driver behavior 18 years ago after both his wife and mother said his driving scared them.

He is now a reformed aggressive driver who believes there are about 177 million of us who also need to chill out.

Doubtless, that includes a few million Georgians. In James' online poll on his Internet Web site ( ), Peach State drivers rank only behind those from Pennsylvania and Ohio in aggressiveness.

We're less likely to yield the right of way and more likely to speed 15 to 25 mph over the limit, protest the actions of other drivers and feel competitive behind the wheel.

The national average for aggressiveness on James' scale is 5.7. Georgians scored an average of 6.2.

Strangely, we are a little less likely to go through red lights, but clearly he didn't survey anyone who uses my commuting route.

"Almost everyone becomes kind of emotionally crazy behind the wheel," said James in a telephone interview from Honolulu. In other words, aggressive driving has become the norm rather than the exception.

James believes road rage is a habit acquired in childhood.

"Once they enter a car, children notice that all of a sudden the rules have changed," he testified before a congressional committee last year. "It's OK to be mad, very upset, out of control, and use bad language that's ordinarily not allowed."

Sound familiar? By age 16, they're virtual Mad Maxes.

Surprisingly, defensive driving isn't a solution, said James.

"Defensive driving has surely prevented many accidents, but it's essentially negative, a survival technique," he said. "If you feel provoked, wronged or impatient, your mellow defensive attitude can quickly turn offensive."

James differs from many experts in the fledgling field. Therapy, he said, is not the cure for road rage. He pushes a three-step self help program he calls AWM.

A is for Acknowledge, and is the toughest step. You must admit you are an aggressive driver. Many are proud of it. James says you shouldn't be.

W is for Witness. "Witness yourself being aggressive," he said. "That's why I use a tape recorder" in the car. "Get into the habit of speaking out loud. Act like you're giving a play-by-play description of your driving for a radio station. Witness your intolerance, your prejudices" on playback.

The final step, M, stands for Modify.

"You pick one thing at a time about your driving to modify--your following distance, how fast you accelerate."

Most people don't have the motivation or inclination to do this, so James advocates "Quality Driving Circles," groups of five to 10 people who meet regularly to talk about how they drive.

If that's not possible, you need a single driving partner and most won't like this cure: You have to accept and respect your partner's critical "backseat driving" and try to modify your behavior.

"There's a natural attitude of 'I'm the one behind the wheel. I don't need this. You're bothering me,' " he said.

If that's your attitude about "backseat driving," said James, you are a problem aggressive driver.

Learning to listen and accept is "a good first step," he said. Road rage burns within us all, James believes, from the suburban commuter angry about congestion to the country driver upset about plodding tractors.

We are quick to anger because we feel we are forever wronged by incompetent drivers who endanger us with their errors. Instead, said James, develop an "attitude of latitude."

That driver might be lost, unfamiliar with the road or distracted by something in their car.

"The New Testament counsels you to love your neighbor," said James. "That also means the other drivers on the road."

The original of this article is at:





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