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Interview with Leon James:

Women and Road Rage Darwyn Carson  November 2000

RR related incidents

What can women do - for themselves and (working within the family) their

teens who may be approaching driving age - to arrest this peaking epidemic?

Is it my imagination or are there an increasing number of women involved in

these incidents?

Dr. James: ***Road rage and aggressive driving has become common and normal in our society, for men and women, young and old, professional and inexperienced. Driving with aggressive emotions is something we learn as toddlers being driven by parents and adults who express negative emotions towards other drivers. We get conditioned to a fast pace, a competitive attitude, and a lot of risk taking and stress. Men and women are equally exposed to these norms of driving so they experience similar traffic emotions, though the manner of expressing them is, as usual, gender dependent.

Isn't this going against how women are usually perceived - as the

peacemakers of society?

Dr. James: ***Yes, women are more aware of the negative effects of aggressive driving and feelings of hostility and rage. They write to us complaining about their husbands or fathers, many of whom seem to dominate the women who ride in their cars, imposing their level of preferred risk on passengers, and refusing to change their driving style. So women are both victims of aggressive drivers as well as perpetrators themselves, though they do not match the violence of men in road rage duels. Still, there was a court case recently in Alabama where a woman driver was convicted of manslaughter after shooting and killing another woman driver in a road rage duel that started with them taking turns cutting each other off.  (See details of news stories in this file)

Focusing on women - are these RR incidents erupting due in large part to

repressed anger as I read in your Website?

Dr. James: ***Since road rage and aggressive driving are culturally transmitted habits, every generation is going to inherit the cumulation of the prior generations. The next generation of road ragers will be more aggressive than ours, and we're breeding this next generation right now.  Adolescents start driving and pretty soon this basic underlying socialization training takes over, almost as if they're rigged for road rage, and they don't know why they feel so intense in traffic exchanges.

I also read that the criterion for training drivers isn't as strict as it

once was. Could this theory also contribute to increased aggressive driving?

"Defensive driving" used to be a key word regarding safety on the roads. Now

it seems that a lot of folks decide moment by moment whether or not they're

going to obey the rules of the road - leaving the concept of defensive

driving to others around them. The problem seems to be that everyone is

doing that. Is the concept of "defensive driving" obsolete?

Dr. James: ***Defensive driving is the first step to being safety conscious. Sometimes this defensive attitude turns offensive because defensive driving courses don't teach traffic emotions education and emotional intelligence as drivers. The second step is "supportive driving" which is the opposite of aggressive driving. As the term implies, it means driving in a way that facilitates the progress of others. Aggressive driving is competitive and risky, while supportive driving rests on the idea that driving is teamwork and a source of community cohesion if we're willing to turn the hundreds of driving mini-exchanges we have on every trip to positive exchanges, mutually beneficial and supportive. Our book describes a Threestep Program that enables drivers to transform themselves from aggressive to supportive.

Do you have a case in point anecdote that I could share in my article?

Dr. James: ***Please see this file where we keep a collection of news stories about road rage.

In keeping with the theory that one feels a sense of isolation and power in

the driver's seat, automobile commercials seem to play into that neurosis

(if you will.) Cars, from ordinary vehicles to high end luxury cars and

roaring SUV's now have the capability to perform with a comparable zip,

speed and agility as a sports car on a race track. Even if they (the auto

manufacturers) place a disclaimer at the end of the commercial stating in

small print "these tests were done in a controlled environment with

professional drivers" why use it as a selling point if you aren't, in fact,

perpetuating this type of behavior? Can you comment on this?

Dr. James: ***Yes, advertising plays up the aggressive driving feature of cars. We have proposed a new rating for movies and TV called DBB Ratings for "Drivers Behaving Badly."  You can find specific examples where we keep track of the program and the description of the driving scene with various ratings.

Do you know who originated the term road rage? When was the term first used?

What is "emotional intelligence" that you mention should be a teaching tool

for folks that drive too aggressively.

Dr. James: ***The phrase "road rage" seems to have started in London newspapers in the early 1980s and was first listed in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1997. It has been used in hundreds of media stories over the past three years.

Emotional intelligence as drivers is the ability to analyze driving situations accurately and to gain self-control over one's traffic emotions. For example, instead of thinking of another driver as "an idiot" for doing something dangerous, one can think of more objective labels for their error. We all make errors and that doesn't turn us all into idiots. Also, EIQ as a driver means that you are able to identify choice points and assign responsibility in driving situations and exchanges. Our book includes scenario analysis exercises to help people acquire more emotional intelligence as drivers.

I would like to place a few tips from your two books - the newest one in

particular - in the article as a guide. Could you give me a few ways women -

(single and well as married with children) might begin to deal with this


Dr. James: ***Please check Chapter 7 in our book--it describes activities mothers can do with their children in the car to get them involved in positive aspects of traffic and driving.

I'll end the piece by referring the readers to the full text of your books

for practical information when coping with this problem. If they wish to

contact you to speak before their organizations - or for further

information - is there a contact number or do I refer them to your Website?

***The book title is:

Leon James, Ph.D. and Diane Nahl, Ph.D.  ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare   (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000)  ISBN 1-57392-846-1

Excerpts and reviews of the book are available at DrDriving's Web site.

I hope these aren't too many questions. I don't want to take up too much of

your time. I'm studying other reports on the Internet and will probably be

able to fill in most of the blanks that way. However, after I receive your

answers, may I be allowed a couple of follow-up questions?



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