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Interview with Leon James and Diane Nahl:

Live chat with Epotec  Dale Dallabrida   February 2001

How do you define "road rage"?

Road rage is the inability to let go of the desire to punish or retaliate. It is an emotionally impaired state of anger leading to aggressive behavior in words, gestures, assault, or battery.

How do you define "aggressive driving"?

We define aggressive driving as forcing on others one's preferred level of risk while driving. For example, switching lanes without signaling or failing to yield properly are aggressive because these acts raise the level of risk or danger on the road for everyone. This is a hostile act.

What we call the "aggressive driver syndrome" is made up of the following driver behaviors:

  1. Feeling more stress

  2. Swearing more often

  3. Acting more frequently in a hostile manner

  4. Speeding on a regular basis

  5. Yelling more at other drivers

  6. Honking more at other drivers

  7. Making more insulting gestures

  8. Tailgating more often

  9. Cutting off more often

  10. Expressing road rage behavior more often

  11. Feeling enraged more often

  12. More often indulging in violent fantasies

  13. Feeling more competitive with other drivers

  14. Rushing more of the time

  15. More often feeling the desire to drive dangerously

  16. Feeling less calm and levelheaded behind the wheel

Is aggressive driving on the increase?

The answer is probably "yes," but not everybody agrees. If you look at surveys that ask people, "Do you think that aggressive driving is worse now?" as many as 2 out of 3 drivers say "yes." We think, but we have no proof, that this is higher than what people would have said 10 years ago. There is also evidence that road rage violence reported to police has been on the increase. But accurate figures are not available.

However, we do believe that every generation of drivers passes on the aggressive driving mentality to the children riding with the adults and picking up their mentality and hostility. The next generation of road ragers will be more aggressive than ours, and we're breeding this next generation right now. We can call the back seat of the car road rage nursery.

Road rage is ubiquitous in America today. Evidently the average commute in our cities, towns villages and on our highways across the country is filled with anxiety, stress, antagonism, discontent, and fear that encourages such incidents. Most of the victims recognize a dramatic increase in road rage. See our collection of road rage news stories.

What states have the biggest problems with aggressive driving?

These are the states with the highest "aggressive-driving death rates"

(deaths per 100,000 people), according to the Surface Transportation Policy


1. South Carolina 15.1

2. Wyoming 13.9

3. Alabama 13.7

4. Kansas 13.7

5. Oklahoma 13.6

6. New Mexico 12.9

7. North Carolina 12.4

8. Arkansas 12.4

9. Idaho 11.9

10. Florida 11.7

Why is aggressive driving so widespread?

The reason that aggressive driving is now the norm in society is that we as toddlers in the back seat, absorbed our parents' driving emotions and attitudes, including how fast they usually drive, what they say out loud to or about other drivers, how they handle distractions inside the car, who they blame after an incident, and their ongoing feelings in the vehicle. Also, aggressive driving is reinforced by repeated media portrayals of drivers behaving badly.

What kind of actions by another driver most often triggers someone to drive aggressively?

The top complaints by drivers are:

1. Tailgating

2. Cutting off or cutting in too soon

3. Not signaling lane changes or turns

4. Running red lights

5. Hogging or driving slow in the passing lane

6. Making an obscene gesture

I try not to be aggressive, but people who don't follow road signs and cut me off do make me really angry. Any tips for coping with all the idiots out there?

Slowly count to ten.
While you force yourself to count slowly, your adrenaline goes down to normal levels. Take deep breaths as you do this. Forgive and forget. Think about the people who are waiting for you to arrive and how you don't want to disappoint them. Tell yourself it's just not worth the hassle.

Make funny noises.
Laughter not only interrupts your negative thinking, it unloads the stress. Try animal sounds or any nonsense noise -- really get into it.

Give "courtesy waves" to other drivers, and put on a pleasant face.
The way you drive is contagious. You're influencing others' behavior, not by retaliating, but by peacemaking.

Develop an "attitude of latitude."
Think of positive reasons why drivers do things that annoy you. Perhaps they're sick or confused. Maybe they're rushing to the bathroom. Maybe they just got some bad news. Maybe... Come out swinging positive. Don't be rude to the rude. Seize control by defusing anger. Apologize, don't argue, be sympathetic. Don't challenge anything. Go out of your way to appear friendly and peaceful.

Drive with emotional intelligence.
It's intelligent to choose positive explanations, rather than negative, because they are less disturbing, more community oriented, less alienating, and ultimately more satisfying than the "you stupid clown" approach.

Use the Castanza Technique.
When you're in a bad mood, act the opposite of what you feel like. It worked for the George Costanza character on Seinfeld -- remember that episode? When your first reaction to an incident is negative and hostile, show the opposite of what you feel. For instance, if you swear and feel like giving the other driver a piece of your mind, pretend you're happy with that driver: put on a happy face, yield, make room, try to be helpful and polite. The way you drive is contagious! If you drive in a hostile manner, you invite aggressiveness in return. If you maintain civility and helpfulness, you invite such behavior from others.

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