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Interview with Leon James

Ohio University in Athens, Ohio  Adam Blue February 26, 1998

Do you think having something like the DATABASE OF UNSAFE DRIVERS > ( ) , which lets web surfers vent their > frustrations along with posting license plate numbers of offenders, as > well as proposed punishments, perpetuates the problem of road rage?

Venting your anger is not good. It endangers your immune system and causes circulatory disease. Psychologically, venting anger only makes you feel better for the moment, but one tends to return obsessively to one's anger, pushing out all other feelings such as forgiveness, community spirit, and emotional intelligence.

As DrDriving I'm guest on various radio call in shows. People call in and complain about other drivers, venting their anger, expecting me to support them. But instead, I answer that they should get over it. It's irrational to think you can control or even modify the behavior of other drivers. It just can't be done. Further, you're braking the law by trying. People should realize that their anger stems from within themselves--specifically, the inability or unwillingness, to let go of the desire to control others, to punish them for being stupid, etc.

If this involvement with posting the license plates of drivers that angered you is a form of venting, then I don't think it's a good idea. If it's a method of punishment, it is not likely to work. Further, it has all sorts of problems in terms of creating suspicion between drivers instead of community building and support. A better idea, in my opinion, is to get together in small groups, each in our neighborhoods, and supervise one another's driving philosophy and improvement activities. I call these Quality Driving Circles or QDCs.

Since statistics confirm a large increase of the number of automobiles on the road today, do you think having expanded streets and highways could in any way help to alleviate the problem?

Yes. Increased congestion needs two solutions. First, more high tech engineered highways and parking spaces. Second, better training of drivers with regard to the emotional challenges of driving.

Young drivers seem to harbor a lot of anger and/or irresponsibility while behind the wheel. Is addressing road rage for teenagers during drivers' education another element that could help to alleviate road rage?

Yes. This realization has now been advocated in my latest proposals about driver's ed.

I've noticed in some interviews you've given on the topic or road rage, you refer to it as a "habit." As such, do you support or protest  its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)?

No I don't. Some therapists have discussed road rage in public in terms of a pathology, and perhaps they would favor such a DSM category -- see Google on "intermittent explosive behavior"

However what I deal with as DrDriving is the universal feeling of stress, frustration, and anger that every driver feels behind the wheel at some time. Some drivers feel it all the time, some most of the time, and some only some of the time. Still, anger behind the wheel is a cultural norm or habit we learn as children from parents and TV. It is not a pathology but a learned style of responding that can be unlearned with training and new values or norms.

At times, I've found myself getting angry just looking at a person who is on a car phone while driving next to or in front of me. Are external conditions such as car phones contributing factors to road rage?

Yes. Now that society is making driving more complex allowing for multi-tasking such as car computers and phones, we need to train ourselves to use these gadgets in a safe way. Above all, we need to develop our emotional intelligence so that we are more aware of how we affect other drivers when we talk on the phone or try to use gadgets such as GPS, or CD player.

You remember Jiminy Cricket was Pinocchio's conscience that gave Pinocchio human intelligence to discern right from wrong, and true from false. In a similar way all drivers have a "DrDriving" in their psyche which tells them to improve and be safe and supportive. The symbol of "DrDriving" is like Smokey the Bear, a symbol of highway preservation and community support. Every driver is Dr. Driving! Or should be...

In Bermuda, there is usually only one drivers license permitted per family. Without going to extremes like this, would making the actual act of getting a drivers license more difficult increase appreciation for the privilege of driving and perhaps decrease the number of road rage cases?

Restrictive or punitive measures will not work. What will work: re-training on a generational basis with lifelong driver's ed starting in kindergarten and going on through high school, then lifelong, through QDCs. Further: we need to see how TV and commercials are a factor in spreading aggressive driving styles through the symbols they portray. Take a look at how my students in traffic psychology at the University of Hawaii have developed a rating scale for DBB (Drivers Behaving Badly).

Are the current states of television programming and/or motion pictures a contributing factor to road rage?

Yes indeed, see my review here.

In reference to question, what are some examples of television and/or movies that may perpetuate road rage?

See my specific data on popular TV programs and commercials.

According to some interviews you've given, you favor self-help techniques and therapy as methods to curb road rage. Is there a "point of no return" when therapy or self-help are no longer effective?

It's not a question of so many therapy sessions then you're cured. As I said, it's a cultural norm, so we are just following others when we are being aggressive and hostile behind the wheel. This will continue until there is a new norm.

And if there is no new norm forthcoming, then I predict things will get worse and worse. Already in 1987 in an article in the Hawaii Mental Health Newsletter (see article at I predicted the rise of road rage. Now I'm predicting road rage to spread to pedestrian rage, parking rage, shopping mall rage, beach rage, etc. The more we allow people to vent their anger against other users of roads, spaces, lines, etc., the more we train them to vent some more. Aggressiveness is reinforced unless we act against it as a society.

Are some drivers too quick to cite road rage as their excuse for their irrational behavior while driving?

Irrational behavior behind the wheel is a form of road rage. There are many forms to road rage, starting from impatience and competition all the way to chasing and ramming. The source of all road rage, all aggressiveness, all hostility behind the wheel is the irrational idea that you can teach others a lesson and that they deserve it and you're entitled to to it as a victim of their stupidity.

This is not rational. You cannot teach other drivers in this way. And the reason you try is because you feel they deserve punishment. But the fact is that you are your own victim in road rage, causing your own anger by venting and feeling self-righteous. We need relief from this method of madness. We need alternative methods and better methods for managing our anger. In fact, we don't need to get angry in the first place. All we need is the right training and the willingness to try it.

You first acknowledge that you have a problem with being too aggressive; second, you witness yourself behind the wheel observing when and how often you get mad; and third, you modify your habits one at a time: for example: following too close; changing lanes too frequently; being overcritical of other drivers; feeling competitive; expressing your mood overtly; getting offended or insulted; venting one's anger; making threatening gestures or moves; yelling and cussing; etc.

Are some doctors too quick to cite road rage as a drivers reason for acting irrationally while driving?

I think if you take the broader view, as discussed above, all forms of irrational driver behavior are forms of road rage, that is rebellion against what is happening and inability to be tolerant of others' mistakes or needs.

While researching this topic, I've found it increasingly hard to find good information beyond anything I've found on the internet. Besides your upcoming book, are there any other books out there I should check out for my research?

Please check your public library for published sources such as Psych Info or ERIC (also on the Web) and search for "driving behavior." Some of these have been summarized by my students

Is there any other information you might wish to share that haven't been explored by these questions or the information available on your website?

I think it's important to think of the role of children. See my discussion on Children Against Road Rage.

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