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Interview with Leon James:

Gala December 2001

How common is "road rage" or aggressive driving today as opposed to 10 or
20 years ago?

Evidence by the AAA Foundation indicates a 12 percent increase per year. About 1200 road rage cases a year are reported by police as assault and battery, as well as vehicular homicide. About 200 people a year are killed in a road rage duel. A distinction is made between "road rage" which involves assault and battery, and "aggressive driving" which involves multiple traffic violations committed by a driver within a few minutes. No hard data is available on how many times drivers have insulting or dangerous exchanges due to anger but we estimate the number to be over 100 billion per year in the U.S. This involves the majority of the 125 million drivers on the road every day.

Why has road rage become more common over the years? Is it just a sign of
the times or a reflection on our society as a whole?

Road rage and aggressive driving are culturally promoted traits that we acquire during our socialization process. As children we are trained to be roadrageous drivers while riding in the back seat with aggressive drivers who yell and dart in and out of lanes. The majority of American drivers admit to this type of rushed and competitive driving style. In addition, children and adolescents are exposed to dozens of TV scenes where drivers are shown to behave badly and get away with it. This instills an unrealistic view of risk and lowers our threshold for routinely breaking traffic laws. As a result, aggressive driving is getting worse with every succeeding generation of drivers.

Give me a few examples or anecdotes (things you've seen or experienced) of
road rage during all of your studies and travels. (I bet you have some good

We don't have any personal anecdotes. Incidentally, we maintain a Web file
of news accounts of road rage cases here:

How does road rage affect all drivers--from the angry driver to the
unsuspecting drivers?

Because of our upbringing we drive around with an aggressive philosophy. One common form is the attitude of "Get out of my way." Another is "I can't let you get away with this." Drivers become vigilantes behind the wheel thinking they must teach the bad drivers a lesson so they don't keep doing inconsiderate things. Since we are cocked to react with hostility, even a small or unintended slip by another driver throws us into a self-righteous rage during which we lose control of our emotions, and sometimes, of our actions.

This may be a long shot, but do you have any comments or specific examples
of how road rage is being handled in North Carolina?

Yes, there is a comparative chart on aggressive driving deaths in the following file (when you get there give the Find on This Page Command (Edit Menu) and type North Carolina):

What advice or tips would you give to our readers/commuters who feel as if
they're going to blow their top and slide into aggressive driving? What can
they do to calm down and how will learning these techniques help their
overall health?

Here are a few pointers:

1. Leave earlier by 15 minutes. This alone could solve half of the

2. When you get to the end of your trip take a few minutes and make an
entry in a Driving Diary book
you keep in the car. How many minutes it
took and what situations you found stressful or emotionally upsetting.
Then ask yourself how you could reduce this kind of stress. (see below)

3. Tell yourself that the prime imperative for a good driver is to stay in
control of the situation, the vehicle, and self
. To react overtly to
another driver, for any reason whatsoever, is to lose control of the
situation since you do not know how that driver is going to react to you.
Many road rage duels start by someone yelling or gesturing or tailgating
or cutting off in retaliation. Stay in control, be safe. Do not respond.
Train yourself not to respond visibly.

4. Decide to change your driving philosophy. Start a systematic program of
self-change from an aggressive-competitive driver to a
proactive-supportive driver. The latter says, We all must get through
since traffic is a cooperative activity. Make more space when someone
wants to enter your lane. This will speed up traffic for all.

5. Teach your children who ride in the car with you. If you yell and they
can hear you, take it back and tell them this not the right way to behave.
If you cross the intersection that has just turned red, tell them this was
a dangerous thing to do. If you break the speed limit, slow down and tell
them the law is the law and it's safest that way. And so on. Take charge
of their driver education and realize that it starts in childhood.

6. Support Qualidy Driving Circles (QDCs) which are support groups for
drivers meeting regularly to change their driving personality on a long
time basis. Also, to learn how to use the new car gadgets safely--phone,
GPS, email, eating, managing children passengers, etc. We support the idea
that license renewal should be contingent on attending a QDC or else, on
doing it on your own.

Dr. James and Dr. Nahl are professors at the University of Hawaii.
They are the founders of the new field called Driving Psychology. In July
1997 Dr. James gave expert testimony to Congress on the new aggressive
driving epidemic. Subsequently Congress passed funding to support
aggressive driving laws and police initiatives to combat the problem.

Their book:
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)

Their Video Course Roadrageous is assigned by judges to drivers who have
been convicted of aggressive driving offenses. The video can also be
purchased for home use. Information and free articles are available on
their popular Web site:  where they also answer Dear
DrDriving Letters.

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