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Interview with Leon James

 Men's Health UK

Rob Kemp interviewing Diane Nahl and Leon James Professors, University of Hawaii

Question: Are there any specifically identified reasons why men are more prone to road rage?


If road rage is defined as assault and battery, then men do commit more road rage. Historically and culturally, men have had more role models for violence and aggression than women. Men are conditioned to value aggressiveness, and it is a strategy for exercising control that works for men in every domain of their lives, including relationships, work, and competitive sports, including driving. However, women have begun adopting similar values and the trend for driving is that women are approaching the same level of aggressiveness.

Recent studies at the Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine and Public Health show that men drivers are 3 times more likely than women to be killed in a car crash. On the other hand, women are involved in somewhat more crashes than men even though they drive 75% less miles per year. However, age is an important factor. Teen males average 20% more crashes per mile driven than teen females, but between the ages of 20 and 35 years, the risk of being in a crash is equal for men and women. After the age of 35 years, women have a greater risk of being in a crash than men.

Perhaps at one time men did most of the aggressive driving but today this is no longer true. Last year we conducted a Web based survey of 1200 drivers of all ages from around the country and Canada. On one question they rated their driving aggressiveness on a scale of 1 (not at all aggressive) to 10 (aggressive all the time). Men had a mean of 5.9 and women 5.4. Even though women see themselves as less aggressive, the difference is only about 8 percent. But when we looked at individual behaviors that law enforcement considers aggressive driving, there were definite patterns showing that for some behaviors women are equally or more aggressive than men.

For example, the majority of drivers report swearing behind the wheel but more women report this than men: 65 percent vs. 58 percent (a statistically significant result). Interestingly, this was related to the type of car they owned. For sports cars, women out swear men 73 percent to 64 percent, but for light trucks and SUVs they were both at around 66 percent. But with economy or family cars, only 50 percent of men report swearing but 65 percent for women driving these types of cars.

Another example, speeding, is a common driver behavior considered aggressive because it raises the risk for other drivers and road users, not just for the speeding driver. Drivers who admit speeding: men 46 percent, women 41 percent. But here too there are differences depending on the type of car driven. For sports cars, more men report speeding than women—62 percent vs. 41 percent. For economy cars, more women report speeding than men—42 percent vs. 31 percent. And for SUVs, the same percentage of men and women report speeding—about 47 percent.

Driving through red is considered aggressive because it endangers other drivers and pedestrians. More women reported this aggressive behavior than men: 12 percent vs. 9 percent. Even tailgating, the same percent of women report this as men—16 percent. When it comes to enjoying fantasies of violence while driving, more men report this than women (3.6 vs. 2.1, which represents a 42 percent difference). Men still outdo women when it comes to thinking about what they wish they could do to some drivers that cross their path.

Incidentally, when it comes to positive feelings behind the wheel like compassion, young and middle-aged women report more of it than men, but for older drivers, men and women report equal degrees of compassion.

In conclusion, our findings indicate that in general women drivers tend to be as aggressive as men though there are differences with respect to age, type of car driven, and how the aggressiveness is expressed.

Note: These results along with the full article may be read on the Web at:

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Question:  What can be done to reduce the likelihood of our readers 'losing it' behind the wheel.


The best way of protecting oneself from responding aggressively to provocative behavior is to be prepared in advance to avoid responding to presumed insults, negligence, discourtesy, disrespect or provocation. It’s critical to remember the prime directive for drivers: Remain in control of the vehicle, the self and the situation. The instant you respond overtly to another driver’s “bad behavior,” you lose control over the situation since you cannot predict how the other driver will react. Many road rage tragedies began with a loss of emotional control after an aggressive maneuver, gesture or word, and then things escalated quickly, leading to tragedy or fear, stress and inconvenience. By not responding to the provocative behavior of others, the driver retains control over the situation. Men may fear that this strategy makes them appear weak, however, it is actually a position of strength because it does not increase risk to self and others on the road.

Don’t try to make other drivers behave. Men may be concerned that if they let bad drivers get away with discourteous or dangerous behavior it will only get worse on the road. But this retaliatory attitude is even more dangerous because it increases risk for everyone, and many drivers are not competent to manage higher levels of risk due to age, impairment or inexperience.

Ultimately, the best prevention for the stress and dangers of aggressive driving and congested traffic is to become a supportive driver. This means never oppose any driver who is trying to do something. Never block the passing lane where drivers want to go faster, and don’t try to keep another car from entering the lane ahead of you. Just be supportive of whatever they want to do—this provides the maximum prevention. This seems counterintuitive, but studies have shown that traffic flows faster and smoother when people accommodate each other.

Most drivers today were raised to have aggressive driving attitudes by parents and television. No one is going back to school to learn to be considerate, alert and safe on the road. Individuals can change the culture on the road by changing their own behavior. Changing from a competitive to a supportive driver requires persistent practice. We developed a three-step self-help method as described in our recent book:  Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare (Prometheus Books, 2000).

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