Stories of Road Rage
Quoting Dr. Leon James
Summertime road rage Majority of incidents happen on hot, sunny days
By Jim Avila NBC NEWS July 3 As Americans scramble to get a head start on the
July 4th holiday, many will find rage growing on the American road. The numbers show
overly aggressive drivers on the rise, with sometimes deadly results.
ITS getaway day, and with more than 30 million drivers on hot summer
roads, its prime time for road rage. A 1999 AAA survey found that 68 percent of
aggressive driving incidents happen on hot, sunny days and 27 percent on Fridays, the
traditional getaway day. Road rage is like in the top five in regards to what the
citizen concerns are in the state, says Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Ron Woods. In
Denver, Colorado State Patrol units began a Metro Aggressive Driving Team this week.
Unmarked cars descend on rush hour hot spots in a road rage crackdown. We are
starting to see more road rage type incidents where there is really a lot of aggression to
the point that they are forcing people off the road and maybe brandishing a weapon,
At least 1,500 drivers are victims of road rage each year. In Sacramento, Calif. in
May, there was an incident where two men in their 50s exchanged hand gestures and
swear words, ending in death. Donald Bell was charged with shooting another driver to
death. Its the last thing in the world that I ever wanted to happen, said Bell
at the time. Distraught over his own road rage, Bell returned to the scene of the accident
two weeks later and shot himself to death. Its just not worth it, says Sgt.
James Lewis of the Sacramento County Sheriffs Department. The reality is, say
what you have to say under your breath and let it go. Advertisement
Who are the most aggressive drivers? Experts say younger drivers in any car. Men are
more aggressive than women when behind the wheel of sports cars or pick-ups. Women more
aggressive than men when driving SUVs and luxury cars.
Dr. Leon James, studies road
rage at the University of Hawaii and says no driver is immune. We discovered for the
first time in human history, that every driver behind the wheel has murderous
thoughts, says Dr. James. Its so widespread that the state of Georgia passed a
new aggressive driving law that takes effect this week weaving, cutting off or
tailgating with the intent to annoy, harass, or intimidate can result in a 12-month jail
sentence, $5,000 fine, and six points on the drivers record. One tip to avoid anger
behind the wheel comes from author Dr. Diane Nahl to amuse yourself Make
funny noises, says Nahl. Once you start doing that, its incompatible
with hostility. Its one suggestion for calming aggression on one of the
nations busiest travel holidays and a hot getaway summer day.
original story here (with video)
Honolulu Star Bulletin
Illustration by Kip Aoki, Star-Bulletin
Increased traffic and a competitive society has tempers
flaring on the highways
By Tim Ryan
A man driving a pickup truck in Ewa Beach follows four teen-agers in a pickup after a
verbal exchange, then rear-ends the youths' vehicle several times causing it to veer off
the road and roll over several times. A 75-year-old Salt Lake City man peeved that a
41-year-old man honked at him for blocking traffic followed the man until he pulled off
the road, hurled his prescription bottle at him, and then smashed the driver's knees with
his '92 Mercury. In Potomac, Md., an attorney and ex-state legislator knocked the glasses
off a pregnant woman after she asked him why he bumped her Jeep with his.
Throughout the United States, aggressive driving -- or "road rage" -- seems
to be taking over the nation's roadways.
According to the American Automobile Association, the rate of "aggressive
driving" incidents -- events in which an angry or impatient driver tries to kill or
injure another driver after a traffic dispute -- has risen 51 percent since 1990. In the
cases studied, 37 percent of offenders used firearms against other drivers, 28 percent
used other weapons, and 35 percent used their cars.
There are several reasons for increases in road rage, according to Leon James and Diane
Nahl, who have co-written the book "Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear
of Highway Warfare."
By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Diane Nahl and Leon James are authors of
Road Rage and
"Part of our cultural inheritance is rigged for road rage from an early age,"
said James, a University of Hawai'i professor of psychology. "We grow up watching how
our parents drive and how driving is portrayed on television and in the movies.
"What we observe from that young age becomes our cultural norm: being
America's competitive society, with its "zero-tolerance mentality," also
enters the picture, James said.
"We see driving as competition. Another driver's gain, like cutting in front, is
our loss. It becomes a football game where you're not supposed to give your opponent an
Because drivers are already inclined to road rage, all we need is "some trigger
stimulus" said Nahl.
People have convinced themselves that driving requires survival skills because
"other drivers are out to get us," James said. Aggressive drivers are seen as
"strong and tough;" "polite drivers are wimps," he said.
"So we train ourselves to be aggressive and retaliatory when another driver cuts
us off, tailgates, gives us the finger, or waves a fist," James said.
But for every action there is a reaction, James said. Overt actions are drawing
response such as deliberate and sudden braking or pulling close to the other car.
One Honolulu man who asked that his name not be used said he keeps his
windshield-wiper-fluid tank full so when someone tailgates, he turns on the wipers,
sending fluid over his roof onto the car behind him.
"It works better than hitting the brakes," he said, "and you can act
Another contributing factor is living in "a culture of disrespect," where
bigger has become synonymous with power and authority, Nahl said. "It's easier to act
out in a big car like a SUV because you feel more protected surrounded by tons of
steel," she said.
"A small person can suddenly be a big person."
Increased road congestion adds to the misery.
"More people are driving while road building has not kept up," Nahl said.
Since 1987, miles of roads have increased just 1 percent while the miles driven have
shot up by 35 percent. According to a Federal Highway Administration study of 50
metropolitan areas, almost 70 percent of urban freeways today -- as opposed to 55 percent
in 1983 -- are clogged during rush hour.
Demographic changes also have helped put more drivers on the road, James said.
Until the 1970s, the percentage of women driving was relatively low so many families
only had one car. Then women entered the work force and bought cars, something highway
planners hadn't foreseen. From 1969 to 1990 the number of women licensed to drive
increased 84 percent. Between 1970 and 1987, the number of cars on the road more than
doubled. In the past decade, the number of cars grew faster -- 17 percent -- than the
number of people -- 10 percent.
The peak moment for aggressive driving seems to come not during gridlock but just
before, when traffic density is high but cars are still moving briskly, James said. That's
when cutting someone off or forcing someone out of a lane can seem to make the difference
between being on time and being late.
"People have this value in their minds to spend as little time as possible
commuting," Nahl said. "It's like the less time we spend commuting the more
points we give ourselves.
"But if we leave as late as possible we set ourselves up for frustration; then
anyone who slows us down or gets in our way becomes the enemy."
According to both authors, young drivers are more aggressive in all driving behaviors
than older drivers; senior drivers are the least aggressive; men are more aggressive than
women when they drive sports cars and light trucks like the S-10, Ram, Ranger, F-150,
Silverado and Dakota; women are more aggressive than men when they drive SUVs and luxury
"Women are catching up as aggressive drivers though they're less overt," Nahl
said. "If they flip someone off, they might do it under the dash, or they verbalize
with the windows up so the driver in the other car can't hear. Women are more
But road rage also can be passive-aggressive.
© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin http://starbulletin.com
(CBS) For those who prefer to do their driving on the information superhighway,
where aggressive driving isn't quite as dangerous, the Web has a wealth of information
about driving, and driving safely.
Dr. Driving Teaches You Driving Psychology: Created by a psychology professor at the
University of Hawaii, this site is a compendium of information on safe driving. It
includes a section on the symptoms of road rage, a collection of interviews he's done with
the media, hints on how to avoid highway confrontations, and statistics about
SUPERIOR COURT DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA Rufus King III, Chief Judge
March 23, 2001
Administrative Order No. 01-07 It is hereby ORDERED that in cases where a violator is
convicted in traffic court the person will be required to complete educational programs
from the American Institute for Public Safety. This referral process does not change any
court administrative procedures. Records will be electronically transferred for processing
the violator through the educational programs. Violators who are convicted in traffic
court of a coded offense that carries 2-3 points against their driving record are required
to take the "Aware Driver" Defensive Driving Course.
Violators who are convicted
in traffic court of a coded offense that carries 4 to 8 points are required to take the
aggressive driver course, "RoadRageous". Violators who are convicted in traffic
court of a coded offense that carries more than 8 points will be required to take both
courses. This order applies to violators who are residents and non-residents of the
District of Columbia. This order shall be effective May 1, 2001.
Subject: Thank you for your Book
Dear Dr. James-
I had to write and tell you how incredible your book is. After having
written to you about a month ago and getting your supportive and helpful replies, I
ordered your book through Amzon com. I found it extremely useful and chock full of
practical suggestions. It has not only helped me as a spouse of rageful driving husband,
but he agreed to read it!! His agreement followed your recommendation of asking all the
family members to write him a letter of what his problem has cost us emotionally. My son
of 26 choose to tell him directly rather than write, but the talk was also very effective.
We are also utilizing your idea in contracting before riding together, and he is using
the more of "the supportive" driver techniques (rather than being oppositional
and so arrogant).( Progress not perfection!!) We both have a long road ahead of us- no pun
intended- but your help was a phenonmenal series of tools to aide in ameliorating this
life threatening problem. I have to add that I myself am a licensed psychologist in
private practice in Ohio and I am now recommending your book in recurrent cases where
wives (usually) complain of this concern.
Again, my massive thanks for a fantastic and much needed book.-
Marilyn - Ohio
Road Rage and Aggressive Driving is a winner! It will resonate with readers who have been
threatened on the road, trapped in a car with an irrational driver, or who want to shake
off learned habits of driver aggression. It gives us a peek at the distorted reasoning
behind driver aggression, as well as larger implications for our auto-centered culture. It
is a fascinating, accessible, and well-documented look at the rapid and sometimes bizarre
evolution of our experience on the road.
Dr. C. Winskowski
How we drive is how we love. It's how we connect with people and our
public announcement of what is truly in our heart. "What's your driving
temperament?" is one of the first questions I ask my patients. and their answers
reflect not only how they negotiate traffic but how they are traveling through their life.
Whether you are a raging or tranquil driver directly reflects and effects your emotional,
physical, and spiritual well-being.
We attract the kind of drivers we ourselves are and we can ultimately drive ourselves to
mean-spiritedness and ill health. Like the weather, everyone is talking about road rage,
but Drs. James and Nahl have finally done something about it. They show that what we call
"traffic" is really an ever-changing set of social relationship tests, and how
we engage in these auto-connections speaks volumes about the ultimate quality of our own
and others lives. They show that being a "Type R" behind the wheel is not only a
culturally acquired habit but one of the most serious risks to our personal and social
With strong documentation and easy-to-follow steps, they show us how to adopt a
more gently paced way to stop racing against time and people to get someplace and truly
enjoy getting there. They show us how being a better driver helps us lead a better,
happier, healthier life.
Paul Ka`ikena Pearsall, Ph.D. Author of
The Pleasure Prescription
By: Drivers.com staff
"The conference features seven papers which cover topics ranging from emotional
intelligence to actual studies of aggressive behavior in traffic. A literature review
brings visitors up to date on what science has to say about aggressive driving. A study of
complaints about bad driving on freeways around San Diego received by the California
Highway Patrol attempts to get the measure of who's doing what and how to catalogue
behaviors. An Australian researcher looks at attitudes towards speed and differences
between the sexes in this regard. Belgian researchers submitted a report on a special
educational program they developed for drivers caught in a tough crackdown on aggressive
driving in that country.
University of Hawaii psychologists Leon James and Dianne Nahl see aggressive driving as
"emotionally impaired" driving. The paper they've submitted for discussion views
driving style as a cultural phenomenon in which a stalemate now exists between, on the one
hand, the best efforts of traffic engineers, law enforcement, policymakers and auto
manufacturers to make driving safer, and on the other a competitive environment in which
individual drivers accept a level of risk in order to achieve their goals.
Driving, say Nahl and James, "is emotionally challenging because unexpected things
happen constantly." Emotional intelligence is a critical factor in safe driving. The
reason that U.S. traffic fatalities stubbornly resist efforts to bring them below the some
40,000 per year they've been sitting at for the past decade is, they believe, due to
cultural-environmental factors that work to maintain risk levels. A competitive society
which values individual aggressiveness helps to sustain the friction level on our roads.
In addition to this, the authors suggest that driving is not supported by a training and
education system that adequately prepares people for the volatile and potentially deadly
mix of traffic and emotion. As well, they write, attitudes such as badmouthing other
drivers and acting aggressively towards them are passed on from parents to children.
For the two psychologists, car advertising is adding to the problem by emphasizing
power and speed as selling points. A recent report from the Virginia-based Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) supports this view. Since 1981, states the report, the
percentage of new car buyers who say that safety features are "extremely" or
"very" important to them has increased steadilyfrom 64% to 84% in 1999.
But over the same period, the makers of car ads have pushed safety more and more into the
background. As a theme, it generally appears in fewer than 10% of advertising and has been
replaced by themes that emphasize power and performance. "Even when performance isn't
front and center in a commercial it's present on some level in about half of all the
ads," says IIHS vice president of research, Susan Ferguson.
As if to drive the point home, a recent TV advertisement for the new BMW M5 model
describes it as "The fastest sedan on the planet." The ad depicts it as faster
than an FXE rocket car blasting across the desertpresumably in search of a new land
As countries, states, and provinces around the world struggle to mount campaigns
against aggressive driving and support them with various programs and even laws, the
definition of aggressive driving is crucial. As James and Nahl point out, there isn't much
agreement. Laws proposed are often fusize="3y and amongst the public there is confusion. One of
their studies indicated that between 20% and 70% of respondents did not agree on whether
specific violations should be considered aggressive. In a Los Angeles survey, for example,
"50% did not agree that speeding up to a yellow light, honking or blocking the
passing lane are aggressive." And drivers typically saw others as more aggressive
Oct 16th to Nov 30th, 2000
Sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
In partnership with the Traffic Safety Village
Aggressive driving is America's car sickness du jour. But is there a cure for
thinking everyone else on the road is an idiot?
By Andrew Ferguson
It's a jungle out there. well, not really: it's worse than a jungle. It's a stretch of
roadway anywhere in America, and in place of the ravenous tigers and stampeding rhinos and
slithery anacondas are your friends and neighbors and co-workers, that nice lady from the
church choir and the cheerful kid who bags your food at the local Winn Dixie--even Mom and
Dad and Buddy and Sis. They're in a hurry. And you're in their way. So step on it! That
light is not going to get any greener! Move it or park it! Tarzan had it easy. Tarzan
didn't have to drive to work. It may be morning in America--crime down, incomes up,
inflation nonexistent--but it's high noon on the country's streets and highways. This is
road recklessness, auto anarchy, an epidemic of wanton carmanship. Almost everyone from
anywhere has a story about it, as fresh as the memory of this morning's commute. And no
wonder. Incidents of "road rage" were up 51% in the first half of the decade,
according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
More often the new ethos of road anarchy manifests itself in the mundane: the
unsignaled lane change by the driver next to you, the guy who tailgates you if you go too
slow, and the person ahead who brakes abruptly if you go too fast--each transgression
accented by a flip of the bird or a blast of the horn. Sixty-four percent of respondents
to a recent Coalition for Consumer Health and Safety poll say people are driving less
courteously and more dangerously than they were five years ago.
And the enemy is us. (...).
Anne has a clean driving record with scarcely even a fender bender to her name. But
when she takes to the highway, even her kids join the fun. "Make him move over!"
they shout as she bears down on a 55-m.p.h. sluggard in the fast lane. She flashes her
headlights. The kids cheer when the unlucky target gives in and moves aside. Back in town,
Anne specializes in near misses. "Jeez, I almost hit that woman," she chirps,
swinging the Suburban into the right lane to pass a car turning left at an intersection.
She makes the game two minutes late. "I don't think I'm an aggressive driver,"
Anne says. "But there are a lot of bad drivers out there."
Too true, too true. But the example of Anne--prosperous, well-adjusted Anne, loving
wife and mother--raises the overarching question of road anarchy. Residents of late 20th
century America are arguably the luckiest human beings in history: the most
technologically pampered, the richest, the freest things on two legs the world has ever
seen. Then why do we drive like such jerks?
The most common answer: What do you mean we, Kemo Sabe? Of course, you don't drive like
a jerk. Neither does Anne--just ask her. Very few drivers admit to being an obnoxious road
warrior. There seem to be only three types of people on the road these days: the insane
(those who drive faster than you), the moronic (those who drive slower than you)
and...you. But this merely confuses the issue. Surely someone is doing all that speeding,
tailgating, headlight flashing and abrupt lane changing, not to mention the bird flipping
and horn blasting. There's enough in the phenomenon of road rage to keep a
faculty-loungeful of social theorists thinking deeply for years--or at least until the
grant money runs out.
That won't be any time soon. With millions of victims and hardly any confessed
perpetrators, road recklessness has become the car-related sickness du jour, deposing (for
the moment) drunk driving from its long-standing reign. Like drunk driving, the issue has
energized America's vast machinery of social concern. The Federal Government is spending
money on research, Congress has held hearings, law-enforcement authorities have held
seminars and developed special enforcement programs, and psychologists are treating it as
a genuine, stand-alone disorder.
Aggressive driving, of course, has been around since the early decades of this century,
from the moment when the average number of automobiles on any given roadway rose from 1 to
2. It is partly a matter of numbers. There are 17% more cars in America than there were 10
years ago, while the number of drivers is up 10%. More to the point: the number of miles
driven has increased 35% since 1987, while only 1% more roads have been built.
But as the quantity of cars has risen, the nature of the problem has changed
qualitatively as well. Maybe the congestion is making everyone cranky. Americans are
famously attached to their cars; it's just the driving they can't stand.
habitual road rage have become virtually inseparable," says Leon James, a professor
of psychology at the University of Hawaii who specializes in the phenomenon. In the most
comprehensive national survey on driving behavior so far, a Michigan firm, EPIC-MRA, found
that an astounding 80% of drivers are angry most or all of the time while driving. Simple
traffic congestion is one cause of irritation, but these days just about anything can get
the average driver to tap his horn. More than one-third of respondents to the Michigan
survey said they get impatient at stoplights or when waiting for a parking space; an
additional 25% can't stand waiting for passengers to get in the car. And 22% said they get
mad when a multi-lane highway narrows.
So not only are roads more crowded than ever, but they are crowded with drivers whom
science has now discovered to be extremely touchy. Modern life offers plenty of ready-made
excuses for bad driving, and here as elsewhere time seems to be of the essence: there's
just not enough of it. When police departments in the Washington area launched a program
to crack down on aggressive driving last year, cops handed out some 60,000 tickets in 28
days for offenses ranging from tailgating to passing on the right. The most common excuse:
Other road warriors are unrepentant. Alan Carter, 43, a computer specialist from North
Carolina and a self-described "aggressive driver," has his own vision of a
perfect commute: one with no other cars in sight. "I don't want anyone in front of
me. Any time. I think maybe this type of thinking has its roots in the minutiae of
territorial rights and typical American individualism. But I don't really think about the
deeper meanings. I just know that someone else is in my space or in the space I
Carter doesn't have to search for deeper meanings; that is a job for paid
professionals, of whom, in America, there are many. Their theories range from the
sociological to the psychological to the quasi political. "There is a greater
diversity of road users now than at any other time in history," says Hawaii's James.
"Therefore streets are not reserved for the optimum, skilled driver but accommodate a
variety of driver groups with varying skill, acuity and emotional control"--jerks, in
nontechnical lingo. And unlike in previous generations, the willingness to be a jerk on
the road is no longer confined to a single sex.
Ed Sarpolus, the head researcher for the Michigan study of driving behavior, was struck
by the gender breakdown of aggressive drivers: 53% of them are women. "There is a
tremendous cultural shift taking place," he says. "Men still outnumber women in
pure numbers, but women are not only increasing, they are not falling off as they get
older. Women have fought to be equal in the workplace and in society, and now they're
fighting to be equal behind the wheel. [Our] data are full of soccer moms."
This democratization of the highway has occurred simultaneously to a decline in
traditional driver's education, once a near universal part of the curriculum in America's
secondary schools--and a course beloved by generations of high schoolers, since the only
way you could fail was by running over the instructor's cat. According to Allen Robinson,
CEO of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, 15 years ago, nearly
90% of all new drivers had taken an official driver's education course. With budget cuts
chopping the course out of many public schools, that figure is down to 50%, perhaps as low
And Robinson questions the use of the courses that are still in place. Having
simplified the instruction of reading, writing and arithmetic, the American educational
establishment may have finally managed to do the impossible: it has dumbed down even
driver's ed. (What's next? Dodge ball?) Some states have backed off mandatory driver
training altogether, and elsewhere most courses demand no more than six hours behind the
wheel. In what was no doubt an exceptional case, last September a North Carolina driver's
ed teacher allegedly told his trainee to chase a driver who had cut them off, then got out
and punched the offending driver. The teacher (who later denied he had urged the student
to step on the gas) was arrested. The student was not ticketed, and the assault charge
against the teacher was dropped. "Our driving schools teach the mechanics of
driving," says John Larson, a psychiatrist who lectures at Yale Medical School,
"but they teach almost nothing about the psychology of drivers."
Driving is a curious combination of public and private acts. A car isolates a driver
from the world even as it carries him through it. The sensation of personal power is
intoxicating. Sealed in your little pod, you control the climate with the touch of a
button, from Arctic tundra to equatorial tropic. The cabin is virtually soundproof. Your
"pilot's chair" has more positions than a Barcalounger. You can't listen to that
old Sammy Davis Jr. tape at home because your kids will think you're a dweeb, but in the
car, the audience roars as you belt out I've Gotta Be Me. Coffee steams from the cup
holder, a bag of Beer Nuts sits open at your side, and God knows you're safe. The safety
belt is strapped snugly across your body, and if that fails, the air bag will save your
life--if it doesn't decapitate you. Little bells and lights go off if you make a mistake:
don't forget to buckle up! Change your oil, you sleepyhead! The illusions--of power, of
anonymity, of self-containment--pile up. You are the master of your domain. Actually
driving the car is the last thing you need to worry about. So you can pick your nose,
break wind, fantasize to your heart's content. Who's to know?
Road-rage experts have come up with various solutions to the anarchy of our streets and
highways. We could legislate it (lower speed limits, build more roads to relieve
congestion), adjudicate it (more highway cops, stiffer penalties), regulate it (more
elaborate licensing procedures) or educate it away (mandatory driver's ed). Others suggest
an option perhaps more typical of America circa 1998: therapize it.
"The road-rage habit can be unlearned," says James of the University of
Hawaii, "but it takes more than conventional driver's ed." He advocates teaching
"emotional intelligence" as part of any thorough driver training: how to
"deal with hostility expressed by drivers" and "how to be accepting of
diversity and how to accommodate it." He calls for a
new driver's ed program from
kindergarten on--to teach "a spirit of cooperation rather than competition"--and
grass-roots organizations called Quality Driving Circles. These, he told a radio station,
would be "small groups of people meeting regularly together to discuss their driving
problems and help one another do driving-personality makeovers."
Will it work? A better question might be, Do we want it to? Road-rage therapists come
perilously close to calling for a transformation of the national character--remaking our
rough-and-tumble, highly individualistic country into a large-scale version of a college
town where everyone recycles kitty litter, drinks latte, listens to Enya and eats whole
grains. Is that really what we want? For all its dangers, road rage may simply be a
corruption of those qualities that Americans have traditionally, and rightly, admired:
tenacity, energy, competitiveness, hustle--something, in other words, to be contained and
harnessed by etiquette and social censure rather than eradicated outright. Until then,
alas, anyone braving the streets and highways of America would be well advised to employ a
technique older than therapy: prayer.
--Reported by Sally B. Donnelly /Washington
Researchers Say Causes Are Mostly Psychological
December 11, 2000
KENT -- Road rage and aggressive driving are not simply byproducts of
traffic congestion. Gridlock isn't the only affliction that turns good drivers into
frustrated, vindictive, dangerous drivers.
Were it only that simple, say two leading researchers on the causes of road rage.
The growing national habit is directly and indirectly responsible for perhaps one-third
of the 40,000 deaths and 3 million injuries each year on our nation's highways, say Dr.
Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl.
The husband-and-wife psychologists from the University of Hawaii have been studying
road rage for years. James, himself a reformed aggressive driver, has testified before a
congressional subcommittee on the subject.
Their new book,
``Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway
Warfare,'' is hot off the presses. Together, they also maintain
DrDriving.org, a Web site
devoted to understanding road rage and offering solutions to it.
James and Nahl see the real causes of road rage as rooted deep in our culture. They say
it will take more than laws, enforcement and additional highways to deal with the problem.
``As a culture, we share certain experiences,'' James said in a recent interview. ``We
observe other drivers. We watch and absorb
television and video-game violence. Our parents
show levels of emotions behind the wheel. As toddlers, we absorb this.
``By the time we are 16 or 17 and start driving, we are rigged for road rage.''
That rage, they say, simmers below the surface for most drivers, many of whom blame
congestion for their aggressive driving habits.
``Congestion is a factor,'' Nahl acknowledged. ``It's not the only factor, and we don't
know the degree of influence. People like to say congestion is the cause.''
But road rage and aggressive driving happen worldwide and on two-lane rural roads as
well as on freeways.
Other factors have contributed to the dramatic increase in road rage: emotional
impairment, higher stress and a greater diversity of drivers with different levels of
The authors also contend there is a ``culture of disrespect'' in America that condones
anger as a response to most any perceived threat or insult on the highway.
Speeding, tailgating, changing lanes without signaling, yelling or swearing at other
drivers and trying to teach other drivers a lesson have become accepted behaviors.
``As a society, we need to change the symbolism of the car and symbolism of driving,''
James said. ``It is still focused on independence, superiority, freedom.
``These kinds of emotions continue this symbolism of aggressiveness. As a society, we
need to change that symbolism to driving as teamwork, not as individuals.''
Most bad drivers, however, are in denial about their aggressive driving tendencies.
Even some of James' family and friends quit reading the new book when they encountered
their own bad driving habits, he said.
In surveys conducted through DrDriving.org, only 30 percent of the respondents
acknowledged that they were aggressive drivers, Nahl said. Those same drivers, however,
said that 70 percent to 80 percent of other drivers are aggressive.
``We call this the awareness gap,'' James said.
Change on our highways will come one driver at a time, James and Nahl say. Like a
problem drinker finally admitting to alcoholism, an aggressive driver must take the first
and most difficult step by saying: ``I acknowledge that I need to retrain myself as a good
Sometimes a spouse, a child or another family member can provide the impetus for
change. Those are the people who often endure the fear of riding with an aggressive
James said he didn't change his bad driving habits until his wife and grandmother
finally confronted him. Then he did change his driving personality, and along the way he
decided to explore the problem as a social scientist.
In their book, James and Nahl offer a three-step driver improvement program that starts
with admitting the problem.
Next comes self-observation -- recording out loud one's thoughts and feelings while
driving. Writing them down in a driving diary allows a driver to review them later and
discover his or her ``true driving personality.''
The final step is modifying that personality. Taking it step by step, by working on one
specific habit at a time, is less daunting, James and Nahl said.
The book tells of one young man whose plan for changing his behavior included staying
in the right lane most of the time, staying at least four car lengths behind the car ahead
on a fast-paced highway, repeating that ``pedestrians always have the right of way''
whenever one was seen, and fighting his bad mood when congestion occured.
The ultimate goal, the researchers said, is to replace the culture of disrespect on the
highways with a culture of support, where all drivers give up battling for position and
try to help one another get where they want to go.
Checklist: Your road rage tendencies
For each statement, circle ``yes'' if it applies to you reasonably well, ``no'' if it
1. I swear a lot more in traffic than I do elsewhere. Yes No
2. I normally have critical thoughts about other drivers. Yes No
3. When a driver in a parking lot tries to steal the space I've been waiting for, I get
furious. Yes No
4. I fantasize about doing violence to other drivers (e.g., using guns, blowing them up
or sweeping them aside), but it is just fantasy. Yes No
5. When drivers do something really ``stupid'' that endangers me or my car, I get
really furious, even aggressive. Yes No
6. I think it's good to get your anger out because we all have aggressive feelings
inside that naturally come out under stressful situations. Yes No
7. When I'm very upset about something, it's a relief to step on the gas and give my
feelings an outlet. Yes No
8. I feel that it's important to force certain drivers to behave appropriately on the
highway. Yes No
9. Pedestrians shouldn't have the right to walk slowly in crosswalks when cars are
waiting. Yes No
10. Pushy drivers really annoy me, so I bad-mouth them to feel better. Yes No
11. I tailgate when someone drives too slow for conditions or in the passing lane. Yes
12. I try to get to my destination in the shortest time possible or else it doesn't
feel right. Yes No
13. If I stopped driving aggressively, others would take advantage of my passivity. Yes
14. I feel unpleasant emotions when someone beats me to the light or when someone gets
through and I'm stuck on red. Yes No
15. I feel energized by the sense of power and competition I experience while driving
aggressively. Yes No
16. I hate speed bumps and speed limits that are set too low. Yes No
17. Once in a while I get so frustrated in traffic that I begin to drive somewhat
recklessly. Yes No
18. I hate large trucks and I refuse to drive differently around them. Yes No
19. Sometimes I feel that I am holding up traffic, so I start driving faster than feels
comfortable. Yes No
20. I would feel embarrassed to get ``stuck'' behind a large vehicle on a steep road.
Give yourself one road rage point for every ``Yes'' answer.
1-4: You are not an aggressive driver; your road rage is manageable.
5-10: You have moderate road rage habits.
11 and up: Your road rage tendency is out of control, enough to compromise your ability
to remain calm and fair in certain routine but challenging driving situations.
Source: ``Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare'' by Dr.
Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl, published by Prometheus Books.
ASSESSING YOUR RANGE OF ROAD RAGE HOSTILITY
How far down the road rage path do you go?
1. Mentally condemning another driver.
2. Verbally denigrating another driver to passengers in your vehicle.
3. Closing ranks to deny someone entry into your lane because you're frustrated or
4. Giving another driver the ``evil eye'' to show your disapproval.
5. Speeding past another car or revving the engine as a sign of disapproval.
6. Preventing another driver from passing because you're mad.
7. Tailgating to pressure a driver to go faster or get out of the way.
8. Fantasizing physical violence against another driver.
9. Honking or yelling at someone through the window to indicate your displeasure.
10. Making a visible obscene gesture at another driver.
11. Using your car to retaliate by making sudden threatening maneuvers.
Lesser Mayhem Zone
12. Pursuing another car because of a provocation or insult.
13. Getting out of the car and engaging in a verbal dispute on a street or parking lot.
14. Carrying a weapon in the car in case of a driving incident.
15. Deliberately bumping or ramming another car in anger.
16. Trying to run another car off the road to punish the driver.
Major Mayhem Zone
17. Getting out of the car and beating or battering someone as a result of a road
18. Trying to run down someone whose actions angered you.
19. Shooting at another car.
20. Killing someone.
NOTE: The majority of drivers tested said they have gone as far as number 13.
Source: ``Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare'' by Dr.
Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl, published by Prometheus Books.
Daily newspaper content from http://www.eastsidejournal.com
© 2000 Horvitz Newspapers Inc.
By LEON JAMES and DIANE NAHL
Special to Newsday
Today there are two kinds of drivers -- sports utility vehicle owners and haters. SUV
owners love the vehicle, while SUV haters passionately despise everything associated with
SUVs, especially their arrogant and selfish drivers.
Then came the great tire-recall debacle that shook many SUV owners to the roots.
SUVs came to our attention while we were researching the aggressiveness of drivers in
general. We wondered why SUV drivers confessed to significantly more aggressive acts on a
daily basis than the rest of the population. For instance, in comparison to economy- or
family car owners, SUV owners rate themselves higher on aggressiveness, admit to more
speeding and driving through red lights, yelling and swearing more, and feeling less
compassion for other drivers. This pattern of results reveals the two kinds of drivers on
the road today, those who drive "tough" cars like SUVs, light trucks and sports
cars, versus the rest who drive "soft" cars like economy and family cars and
But there are new signs that some of the toughs are in trouble, their self-confidence
shaken by the tire betrayal. Already disturbed by the rollover threats, SUV owners are
showing a newfound caution springing from prudence and their broken trust in the tires.
Suddenly, they feel vulnerable instead of strong, act carefully instead of aggressively
and are slowing down. This incident makes it clear that SUV drivers are capable of a less
assertive driving style that is safer for everyone.
If they can hold on to this more accommodating driving style long after the tire
recall, they may be able to rehabilitate their reputation.
Drivers of other cars regularly complain that they feel threatened by the size and
weight of SUVs towering above them in traffic, bearing down on them on freeways, weaving
to gain the advantage, pushing into lanes and parking spaces, forcing others to yield,
taking up too much space and blocking visibility, crowding parking lots, straddling lanes,
blasting headlights into rearview mirrors of smaller vehicles and blinding the driver. SUV
drivers are seen as overbearing, inconsiderate, inattentive, pampered and arrogant. SUVs
are also assailed for gas gusize="3ling and polluting the environment.
While SUV drivers have become the poster children for aggressive driving, our research
shows that the majority of drivers are aggressive, no matter what they drive. One positive
outcome of the tire scare is that everyone is reminded of how fragile our highway survival
is, and that we all need to tone down, to become more tolerant, and give each other
latitude instead of attitude.
Many SUV drivers do not fit the negative stereotype, but they have to live with it and
try to compensate for their size by keeping greater distance between vehicles, slowing
down, letting others in and using other accommodating gestures. They can't afford to
ignore their physical impact on others, otherwise SUV haters might act on their negative
One confessed SUV hater wrote: "Commuting on Highway 101, I have a recurring
vision of myself, a 30-year-old woman who tries to avoid killing ants and spiders,
smashing the windshields of random cars or trucks with a baseball bat. Like TV darling
Ally McBeal, who is haunted by a dancing baby, a symbol of her ticking biological clock, I
am taunted by this bat -- a symbol of my deep-seated anger toward bad drivers, cell phones
But a vigilante mentality creates a problem for both SUV owners and the vigilantes
because it is unhealthy to hate passionately and to routinely vent anger.
The new era for SUV drivers was initiated by the Firestone recall affecting 1 million
SUVs and 6.5 million tires. News articles report that many SUV owners are changing the way
they drive. They keep both hands on the wheel, watch the speedometer and watch out for
rising temperatures that make a tire failure more likely. One driver said, "I think,
oh my God, I'm going to fall to the freeway below. I'm holding onto the steering wheel
where it's digging into my hands." What the rollover issue couldn't accomplish, the
tire scare did.
Who could have imagined that SUV drivers would voluntarily choose to slow down at a
turn that mere economy cars zoom around? People are scared enough to cancel trips or leave
the SUV in the garage and cram the kids into the subcompact. Another driver still goes 65
to keep up with the flow but turned off cruise control to avoid a rollover when she hits
the brakes during a tire failure. With a shortage of replacement tires, people feel
trapped because they're driving on "death tires" that are impossible to replace
Owners are so committed to these vehicles that they are willing to separate the tire
debacle from the car. Despite hesitations expressed by some motorists, Ford Explorer sales
remain robust. We predict that the passion SUV owners have will increase rather than
decrease under the latest attack from the tire recall. A well-known phenomenon in social
psychology -- called the "when prophecy fails syndrome" -- predicts that
passionate believers strengthen their faith after a damaging revelation comes to light
about a weakness or untruth they didn't know about. SUV owners will rally behind the
vehicles, change tires and hope against hope that their trust will not be broken again.
The good news is that SUV owners are discovering their softer side and integrating
themselves into the rest of the driving community. A kinder, gentler SUV driver is aware
and cares about the concerns of all who share the road. The tire crisis provides an
opportunity to repair relationships and calm the fears of other drivers.
James and Nahl are professors at the University of Hawaii and are the authors of
"Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare."
Tuesday, April 10, 2001; Noon EDT
Today, Bobs guest is Dr. Leon James, co-author
of the book, Road Rage and Aggressive Driving.
Do you try to get where youre going in the shortest time possible? Do you cuss at
or retaliate against pushy drivers? Do you ever feel like giving tailgaters a brake
job? Do you regularly take risks and exceed speed limits? Join Bob Levey and the
author of Road Rage as they explore these aggressive driving maneuvers and how
to avoid becoming victim to them.
Road Rage examines the psycho-legal context of a growing social epidemic
and provides instructions for putting the brakes on highway aggression by restoring
civility and safety to our roads.
University of Hawaii professor Leon James is a co-founder of driving
psychology. He is the nations foremost authority on road rage and aggressive
driving and is co-author of the RoadRageous aggressive driving video course used in
driving instruction. James also operates the DrDriving.org web site.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online
discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts
can decline to answer questions.
Bob Levey: Good morning, Dr. James (it is unquestionably morning in Hawaii!), and
thanks very much for joining us. Let's begin with a question about remorse. Do those who
give vent to road rage ever feel it? Do they ever apologize to their victims?
Dr. Leon James: Unfortunately anyone may uncontrollably explode, though the point at
which we do this, and why, and how, depend on individual differences and background. But I
have found in my research that all of us are at risk of rageful behavior, though most of
us have strong inhibitions against expressing it as violence.
Bob Levey: Pet theory: We'd have far less road rage if people viewed their cars as
machines, and not as extensions of their very selves. You agree?
Dr. Leon James: Yes, many drivers have unrealistic attitudes about their cars. This is
something we all have to some extent since we're all raised on TV and its images.
Sterling, VA: Do you think the fact that many drivers are not paying attention to their
driving because they are using cell phones, eating, reading, etc. is contributing to this
rage? I know I get aggrevated by a person's inattention to driving that causes me to miss
a light that will require a 3 minute wait. One of these is bad enough, but when it is two
or three times per communte, it does get frustrating. I think it is time that drivers be
ticketed for inattention to driving.
Dr. Leon James: Inatention or "distracted" driving is the cuase of many of
the 6 million crashes we have in this country every year. I've always advocated that we
train ourselves to use the new car equipment like phones and interactive services. If
people won't take time to train themselves I think the government will have to step in
with new licensing regulations, courses, etc.
Bob Levey: Isn't it true that in a trip of 20 miles, if you cut in and out of traffic
and go 60 miles an hour instead of 55, you'll save only about two minutes and 30 seconds?
Dr. Leon James: I recommend that everyone who is a "rushing maniac" at the
wheel (like I used to be before I became a "reformed driver") actually monitor
their traffic time. Write down when you start and drive your usual way. Write down when
you get there. Next day do the same but drive differently, I would say more peacefully and
courteously, with less stress and pressure. Now compare the the two times. I predict no
more than a ten percent difference. The average US commute is 30 mminutes (surpisingly
short!) and so on the average it would make only a 3-min. difference on whether you rush
like a maniac or drive peacefully.
Virginia: I drive a sporty, fast car and often find that people want to race with me.
I'm not normally that type, but when someone challenges me, I find myself becoming
competitive and I tend to play along.
Any suggestions on how to turn off these emotions and ignore the challenger?
Dr. Leon James: Good you asked that question--because, as you realize, you're at risk
of ending up doing something that could be a disaster and the end of your enjoyment of
riding around in your beloved car. Please read our book for actual exercises you need to
do when you drive. These are "mental" exercises because the problem has to do
with your, and everyone else's, habits and thoughts about cars and drivers. We get these
mental and emotional habits from childhood onward through many things in our society.
Also, you can go to our Web site to see many of these exercises and "driving
personality makeovers"--Web address is http://DrDriving.org
NYC: You say that most people have strong inhibitions against violence. But do you
think that as more and more incidents of violent road rage are reported that people start
to think that it's ok to act out? An "everyone else is doing it..." kind of
mentality? It used to be that we had inhibitions against being rude to others or saying
rude things we were thinking, but those inhibitions seem to have been removed. I'm also
concerned that most discussions about road rage seem to place blame on others, rather than
questioning am I doing these things?
Dr. Leon James: Excellent way of putting it! Yes, this is the crux of most of the
**200 billion hostile warlike threatening exchanges in the US per day among the 125
million drivers on the road every day
**over 6 million major injuries (that's 40 million in ten years!!!
**42,000 deaths a year in this country alone (it's a worldwide phenomenon)
Driviing is the most dangerous thing we do on a routine basis--let's train ourselves
seriously to cut most of the problem. This means training our attitudes--What is our
contribution to this problem of highway warfare? It takes sytematic self-observation--as
we explain in the book
Bob Levey: I have never cursed out a fellow driver (or taken a whack at him with a tire
iron). But when I find myself "trapped" behind a slowpoke, I tend to root for
him in an ironic kind of way. "Come on, babycakes, you can do it," I'll say,
aloud, even when I'm alone in my car. Am I candidate for Dr. James's couch, or am I
handling highway stress the way I should?
Dr. Leon James: When we start monitorin ourselves behind the wheel--we call it
"self-witnessing myself as a driver"--we discover that we were raised to be
aggressive behind the wheel. This includes competitive and hostile, even denigrating. It's
a mental habit, automatic, almost unconscious. It's a cause of stress and negativity--both
very bad for our health and happiness. The challenge is to change this mental set from
negative to positive. We say from being an "aggressive driver" to a
Bob Levey: As a major non-fan of SUVs, I have to ask..... Do you see more road rage
episodes that involve drivers of these hugh machines, as opposed to people who drive
Dr. Leon James: Up to last year our research about the attitudes of drivers showed that
SUV drivers saw themselves as more aggressive and described themselves on the polls as
doing aggressive things more often than drivers of other cars (except sports cars--their
drivers also described themselves as more aggressive). But now this may be changing since
so many more people drive SUVs and since SUVs have had problems aired in the media. Tos
ees some of the results, look in this article:
DC: Dr. James,
You live in Hawaii. Do you see less evidence of road rage there, or is the problem just
as bad as it is elsewhere? The reason I ask is because Hawaii is known to be more relaxed
and laid back.
Dr. Leon James: Yes, Hawaii is indeed a paradise. But unfortunately we can be in
emotional torture and stress anywhere. When Hawaii drivers sit in traffic for one hour on
their way to work, and then something unexpected happens to make it worse, they are
emotionally challenged in the same way as all drivers everywhere. It's the same emotional
dynamic. Our news media regularly cover road rage duels in our paradise. Some of these
you'll find on my site at:
Bob Levey: My favorite road rage story: a man approaches a four-way stop at the same
time as a car to his right. He motions to that driver to go ahead. The other driver slams
his car into "Park," hops out, angrily approaches the man who was trying to do
him a favor and accuses him of making an obscene gesture! Comments?
Dr. Leon James: We discuss in our book the need for "emotional intelligence"
as a driver and we have some exercises that help you improve your Emotional IQ. Your story
exemplifies the general tendency we all have of misreading cues. We are in a rageful state
when we drive--seething with anger and frustration underneath, or in the open. In this
mentality, our thoughts are skewed or biased, even irrational. So one exercise to improve
your Emotionl IQ as a driver is to try to think of all sorts of reasons why somebody is
doing something that you think is strange or offensive. Flipping me off or:
**Exercising his finger (he's got a cramp in it) (he's a magician and needs his fingers
to stay quick)
** You give the next one (if you make it funny your rageful mood could depart from you
for a while...)
Arlington, Va.: We currently medicate children that act out aggressively in school. Do
you think we should start doing the same thing for chronic road rage "problem
(Providing we could catch them, tie them down, and jam the pills in their mouths, that
Dr. Leon James: We can all give in to all sorts of fnatasies--it's a symptom of rage.
We delight in them--that's another symptom. We laugh at them and like to tell them to
others--that's a symptom of rage. The point is: there is no benefit to all this--it's
negative. We've got to take charge of our thoughts and emotions--clean things up. Why not
reduce stress, be a civil person, feel connected to others on the road like it's ahighway
community? OK, it's not easy, but it's worth the national effort. It's worth it.
Bob Levey: One of the tips you offer in your book is to budget extra time before a car
trip so you won't get upset if someone or something slows you down. But oh-so-often, this
is impossible and impractical. What then?
Dr. Leon James: Yes, it's difficult--but not impractical, not impossible. It's just
another habit we need to break, and we must remember that this takes time and persistence.
People who are busy and then more busy and then start not managing and losing
control--when they finally change their approach and decide to follow scheduling rules,
what do they find: more free time than they thought they had. (So they can be more
busy--or take time out to relax and enjoy positive spaces.)
Tysons VA: Hi. I'd like to suggest a solution to easing the stress of driving. It works
for me sometimes. The next time someone cuts you off, gives you the finger, drives to the
front of the exit lane and then butts in line, gives you a dirty look, tailgates you,
drives the speed limit in the left lane, turns into your lane and then slows down or goes
half the speed of traffic, just think of someone in your family that is known for terrible
driving habits. Would you want someone retaliating and cussing at your 99 yr old grandma
in the left lane just because she gave them a dirty look and the finger? Didn't think so.
[edited for space}
Dr. Leon James: Good advice.
Alexandria, Va.: Any thoughts on how to avoid tailgating? Often times I don't even
realize that I'm doing it as I have so much on my mind. My husband is the one who often
brings it to my attention when he's riding as a passenger.
Dr. Leon James: You've got the solution of how to retrain yourself if your husband is a
passenger and is willing to remind you without getting mad or impatient or harsh in his
tone--these things are so automatic. Id did for years to my poor wife when I was driving
and she was trying to tell me about "passengers have rights too." So I had to
change--as we describe in our book.
Also, do this exercise from our book: At the start of your trip remind yourself you're
going to monitor your following distance. Do so throughout the trip--your husband can help
write it down or you can dictate to a tape recorder, or take notes at the end of your
trip. So keep track of what happens:
**When you follow too close **When does your attention wander **What is your reaction
Then remind yourself and think of things like this to help you stay focused:
**Is this dangerous? **What would happen in a chain reaction? **What is my
responsibility to keep the driver behind from crashing in to me? **etc.
This will bring results in just a few trips of doing the exercise--and it will
generalize to other aspects of your driving that may need modification.
Good luck. Let me know what happens:
DC: At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna... the thing I've found that will calm me
down when someone does something particularly stupid or annoying when I'm driving is to
take the next opportunity to do something nice for someone, like let them in or wave them
on. Otherwise I just get more and more annoyed.
Dr. Leon James: Excellent advice! And you can extend this your thoughts to encourage
having positive thoughts about people (compassion, tolerance) rather the automatic
negative ones we now have (intolerant, derogatory, over critical).
Pittsburgh, PA: Dr. James-
What are some of the solutions for better enforcing aggressive or distracted driving
laws- unlike speeding, these things are hard to catch (there's never a cop around when you
need one....) and hard to prove.
Dr. Leon James: Our society is struggling with this issue--how to go about it, how to
stay in the middle road between too much governmental control and electronic surveillance
and not keeping up with problems we are facing every day relating the dangers of
aggressive driving, road rage, distracting driving, hostility and stress. In our book we
review some of the new aggressive driving laws and their language--the problem, as you
point out, of proving the aggressive driving offense in court.
We conduct workshops for law enforcement to help them understand what is
"behavioral" language in describing offenses and what is "judgmental"
language that cannot be proven. Some of these are also reviewed on our site here:
Bob Levey: What strikes me about road rage is not that it exists, but that it exists
among so-called "nice people." You might expect a guy who wears chains and has
132 tattoos to be violent behind the wheel. But what we're seeing now is doctors, lawyers,
housewives threatening to kill their fellow motorists. Comments on this apparent
Dr. Leon James: Yes, it's a sociological
puzzle but we understand it now. This is what
we call being "rigged for road rage." It's how we are brought up: parents, other
drivers, TV, commercials, car talk, car symbols, time pressure expressed in rage, and so
on. Yes we are all at risk of exploding into rage when the right combination of
circumstances occur. But we can change this, fortunately. It's something we can do on our
Arlington, VA: Despite efforts by our Dr. Gridlock and others to get truly aggressive
drivers to explain why they drive like they do, no
one seems to come forward to say - I'm
an aggressive driver and proud of it. Are people in denial?
Dr. Leon James: Yes. At our book signings people would pick up our book and add
"It's not for me. It's for..." And when you read the stories people tell about
driving things happening to them, you can see that they enjoy and are proud of being
aggressive--when circumstances happen that they can define as outrageous. They, and most
of us, feel that our rage is justified and the other bad person deserves to be punished,
or at least, should be taught a lesson for the sake of their amendment. This is what we
call "automotive vigilantism" and one in three drivers is proud of being one.
But we think this is not to their benefit or to the benefit of other drivers.
Bob Levey: Road rage seems to have become a huge issue just in the last 20 years. In
that same period of time, the nation's population has grown by about 40 million, but the
number of superhighways has grown by only a very small amount. Could this be the
cause--just a simple matter of more rats in the same-sized maze?
Dr. Leon James: This is what I call the "occasion" for road rage. We are not
rats and we don't do things for the same reasons as they do. So if we act like they act,
we are doing so by choice. So we use any "occasion" or opportunity to perform
our rage behavior, and we all have our favorite opportunities. But we can retrain
ourselves and be safer, happier, more community oriented. Why not turn the highway into a
community from what it is now--warfare.
Arlington: Great topic. I am a very impatient driver and often yell at other cars
during my 35-min. commute along Rte. 7 ("oh, you idiot!" is a common refrain).
Even now, outside the car, I am firmly convinced that THEY ARE ALL TERRIBLE DRIVERS, not
me. I hate seeing that angry, selfish side of me and would LOVE to be able to walk to work
My question: With more cars on the road every year and congestion just getting worse,
is it realistic to think road rage will subside any time soon? Improving individual driver
well-being may be possible but restoring civility to our roads overall? Not likely.
Dr. Leon James: Not likely if we just let it continue. Congestion and construction are
not going away for the next 20 years, or ever, according to experts. So we have got to
learn to live with it. We can. It's better, much better, to manage and control our
emotions as drivers, then to just let it spat and destroy and kill.
Bob Levey: Many thanks (and happy motoring) to Dr. Leon James. Be sure to join us a
week from today, April 17, when our guest on "Levey Live" will be Vance
Peterson, president of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. That show
will begin (as "Levey Live" always does) at noon Eastern time.
Thanks to Leon James, and to everyone who joined us.
How To Address Air Rage
By Annette Santiago/AviationNow.com
From regulators to flight attendants and passengers, everyone is responsible for
passenger safety. But when it comes to air rage, no one is quite sure how to keep everyone
Following the much publicized Global Zero Air Rage Day in July, there has been much
discussion about the how and why of in-flight violence, but little agreement.
The FAA's new leaflet on bad behavior - "Safety Is Everyone's Responsibility"
- came out almost a month after the U.S. flight attendants' union accused government
agencies of failing to protect them, and airline passengers, from "the dangers of air
But even flight attendants, on the front lines of air rage, think Feinstein is missing
the mark. Limiting the amount of alcohol that can be served on flights could be
potentially more damaging, and a few flight attendants cite its ability to calm the nerves
of some airline passengers.
"Carriers need to adopt responsible alcohol policies," says Candice Colander,
a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) Air Safety and Health Dept.
"The airlines should train flight attendants to recognize drunken behavior and how to
effectively cut off passengers who have had too much."
United was the first airline to distribute the FAA leaflets at hubs across the country.
The AFA points to figures from United for air rage incidents - higher than those kept
by FAA - as evidence that air rage incidents, while still freak occurrences, are growing.
"We think the issue [air rage] is prevalent," says United's Meagher.
"It's an industry issue and affects our flights and crew."
A sampling of ASRS reports from cabin crewmembers between October 1999 to February 2000
showed that 16 of 50 reports involved incidents of unruly passenger behavior. Three of the
sixteen were alcohol-related, two of the sixteen were alcohol/tobacco-related, and one was
solely tobacco-related. There was also a drug-related incident involving PCP and two bomb
If alcohol is not a factor in all cases of air rage, then what is it that causes
law-abiding citizens to act in a way that not only endangers themselves but others?
"We are living in the age of rage, where more of the 'me' generation times the
millions of travelers equals explosive situations," says Leon James, Ph.D., a
professor of traffic psychology at University of Hawaii and co-author of Road Rage and
Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare.
"Air rage is so common that most travelers are unaware that they have it. It's
just part of the background feeling that goes along with the stress of travel and
transportation," James says.
The AFA, in its air rage report card, pinpointed many of these stresses: oversold
flights, crowded planes, small seats, frequent delays, and flight cancellations.
James believes the airlines should, among other things, provide a continuously updated
stream of accurate information and elevate the importance of the travelers' comfort.
"Apologize if you can't provide decent seating," he recommends.
James and his colleague Diane Nahl are members of a small community of scholars
studying traffic psychology. In 1997 he testified before the House Transportation and
Infrastructure subcommittee about aggressive driving and road rage. He believes that the
government can approach air rage the same way it has approached road rage, by giving
grants to airlines and airports for proper crowd control management training.
"Air rage, like road rage, is the inability to cope with the challenges of
congested traffic," he says.
The FAA does not have any immediate plans for action in the fight against air rage, but
hopes that the leaflet is a first step in educating the public about the penalties for
Road rage could become No. 1 road safety problem
Behavioural scientists Dr. Leon James
and Dr. Diane Nahl of Hawai maintain that Road Rage - the aggressive driving epidemic -
has already become the number-one transportation problem in the US. They have warned South
Africans and drivers in other countries that it is now a world problem - and getting
"Road rage simmers below the surface for most drivers," they say. "This
emotional state is a habit we acquire in childhood while we're being driven by parents and
other adults. This hostile and rebellious attitude behind the wheel is further reinforced
by watching years of television where we're exposed to daily scenes of drivers behaving
badly or dangerously, and having fun at it and getting away with it without consequences.
"This simmering road rage shows itself in many ways, if you care to observe
yourself behind the wheel.
"Do you swear and cuss and feel like flipping others off? Do you feel gleeful when
you make it across the lights, but depressed when you don't and you're 'stuck' on red? Do
you break the speed limit every time you drive? Do you enjoy fantasies of revenge on
another driver? Do you drive and drink? Do you party in the car while driving? Do you
think only of yourself when thinking about being in a crash?
"We recommend you keep a Driving Diary. You can take notes at the end of each
trip, or you can think aloud while driving and recording yourself, then listen to it
later. It will show you where and when you have road rage simmering under the surface.
Another useful activity is 'partnership driving' where you have your driving partner or
passenger tell you what makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable about your driving.
"This way you can have a realistic assessment of yourself as a driver, and not
leave it to your own reputation or fantasy of yourself as driver."
The Hawai researchers have written what is being hailed as the definitive book on road
rage. You can find out more, complete self-tests of your own driving habits and find out a
lot of other driver behaviour and accident prevention information by going to
Tips from around the world on how to avoid becoming a road rage victim - and preventing
your own anger at the wheel getting out of control
Road rage is now such a serious problem that the Internet is a rich resource of advice
on how to protect yourself from it.
From: "PL" <pl@xxx>
Subject: New Book
Hello Dr. Driving,
The new book is great!
I have a comment on chapter 8. In the motorist to motorist communication section, the
slowdown, danger ahead piece makes some good recommendations. Here's one that I use often,
and seems to work fine. When I see debris in the road or traffic ahead of me stops
suddenly, in addition to tapping my brakes, I also turn on my hazard lights (emergency
flashers). This is what they are for, no?
I'll keep reading the book until it's as close to automatic as I can get it!! Still
some room for improvement from all of us out there!
Airport Security Tech
Thanks for the good advice, Mr. Lubbers. Turning on the emergency flasher shows your
concern for others--supportive driving, as we call it. That's the best--congratulations.
Remember, the way you drive is contagious!
As an airport security technician what issues do you see happening in terms of
aggressive drivers or pedestrians?
The Century's Top 10
By Deborah Kreuze
Peaceful coexistence between human beings and machines requires clear communication.
The best systems convey information so elegantly that we hardly think about the power they
give usboundaries dissolve and we become one with our technologies. The editors of
TR picked 10 of the most ingenious and important.
When African-American businessman Garrett Morgan patented the traffic light in 1923,
trains had been using automated lighted signals for some time. But trains run on set
schedules, in single file, and its no small task to stop; therefore, the default
message from a train signal is proceed. Traffic lights for automobiles have a
quite different task, and more often than wed like, its to tell us to stop.
We hate being told to stop. Road-rage expert Leon James, professor of psychology at the
University of Hawaii, says we link self-esteem to the gas and brake pedals. If you
see a light turning yellow, you have to accelerate. If you have to stop because the light
turned red, you feel crestfallen. James calls the intersection a psychodynamic
zone. If so, its a zone increasingly under the dominion of the superego rather
than the id. Some new traffic lights can take pictures of the license plates of cars that
run red lights. The offender later receives a ticket in the mailor a printed driving
lesson. Others show drivers their current speed. At a traffic light, says James, a
lot can be done between the city transportation department and the driver. Its a
Live Events The Neuro Center
Thursday, September 28, 2000 -- 4:00 PM EDT
Do you ever feel like giving a tailgater a 'brake job'? Do you try to get where you're
going in the shortest possible time? Do you curse at or retaliate against 'pushy' drivers?
Join our experts to learn about putting the breaks on overly aggressive driving.
We are a nation of aggressive drivers. How long can we continue as a society when we
kill each other on highways at an annual rate five times greater than wars have killed our
soldiers since the beginning of the century? This year at least 40,000 people will lose
their lives on our highways and more than 3 million will go the hospital with injuries and
economic losses of over 200 billion dollars, according to the American Institute of Public
Safety. Psychologically, motorists are at war with each other. In 1999 more than a dozen
states passed aggressive driving laws and law enforcement around the country has stepped
up various initiatives to curb aggressive drivers, and psychologists are now starting to
view road rage as a very real disorder.
Leon James, PhD, and Diane Nahl, PhD, are the founders of "driving
psychology" and the nation's foremost authorities on road rage and aggressive
driving. They are the authors of the RoadRageous aggressive driving video course and a
related book, Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare. Check
out their web site, at DrDriving.org.
Chris Huffman is chief operating officer of the American Institute for Public Safety.
The institute recently collaborated with such experts as James and Nahl to produce the
nation's first comprehensive course devoted to changing the attitudes and behavior of
Putting the Brakes on Road Rage
WebMD Live Event Chat Transcript with Moderator Jon
Event Date: 9/28/2000
Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live. Our guests today are Leon James, PhD, Diane Nahl,
PhD, and Chris Huffman. Dr. James and Dr. Nahl are the founders of "Driving
Psychology" and the nation's foremost authorities on road rage and aggressive
driving. They are the authors of the RoadRageous aggressive driving video course and a
related book, Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare. Check
out their web site at: www.DrDriving.org. Chris Huffman is chief operating officer of the
American Institute for Public Safety. The institute recently collaborated with such
experts as Dr. James and Dr. Nahl to produce the nation's first comprehensive course
devoted to changing the attitudes and behavior of aggressive drivers. If you don't mind,
I'd love it if you could tell us a bit about yourselves and your backgrounds in all of
Dr. Leon James: I am Dr. Leon James. I am a professor of social psychology at the
University of Hawaii. A few years back, I became interested in driving personality
makeovers, so that is when I realized that driving is a very deep habit, that it is
reflective of one's personality; it is difficult for individuals to become aware of what
kind of driver they are and what their driving personality is. So our work has to do with
discovering what people think and feel behind the wheel. With that information, we are
going to find better ways for people to learn how to modify their driving personality.
Dr. Diane Nahl: I am a professor at the University of Hawaii in information science. I
have been interested in this since 1980 professionally, but I have also been interested in
this area for most of my life, as I was raised by aggressive drivers. I was very afraid to
drive myself, and I noticed that, among the people I had to drive with as a young person,
they were very unwilling to take my fears into account. I got a degree in psychology and
later in communications. I wanted to focus on this problem because I saw it as a public
Chris Huffman: Well, my background is, I spent the first 22 years making cars (AMC-Jeep
for 11 years, Rolls Royce and Bentley Motor cars for 11 years). I lived in England,
building cars for people to drive, the safest car being the Rolls Royce. Then, I went to
work for the Cunard Cruise line. In the maritime industry, safety is the top point --
making it safe for passengers. For the past two years, I have been with the American
Institute of Public Safety, saving lives and saving taxpayer dollars, focusing on the
success of road rage courses. The American Institute for Public Safety has a web site at:
Moderator: What are the most common misconceptions that you encounter about your work?
Dr. Diane Nahl: People think we're driving instructors, but actually we're driving
psychologists, so we're much more concerned with how people think and problem solve and
respond emotionally while they're driving. The other most common misconception is that
nobody thinks that they are an aggressive driver, when really we all are, to some degree.
A very common misconception is that driving aggressively is comfortable, that it's better
to vent your anger than to hold it in, which isn't true, because if you vent your anger,
it becomes intensified, so the effects of it become even more negative. Another
misconception would be that you can teach someone a lesson and control the way they drive.
This is what we call the 'vigilante spirit.' This is wrong because you can't control the
behavior of other drivers, only your own behavior.
Chris Huffman: Another common misconception that we have to deal with as an educational
company is that aggressive driving and treatment education is not the same as a defensive
driving course, meaning, aggressive drivers require behavior modification education, which
is very different from teaching defensive driving skills. When we talk to the prosecuting
attorneys, we emphasize this: In order to change behavior, you need a behavior
modification approach. It's about changing your attitude. One other misconception is that
DUI's (driving under the influence) are the No. 1 problem on the road today, but they're
not. There has been a lot of progress made in that regard. According to Secretary of
Transportation Rodney Slater, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA), aggressive driving is responsible for two-thirds of driving fatalities. DUI's are
responsible for one-fourth of the deaths on the roads today. Aggressive driving kills four
times more people than driving under the influence, so something needs to be done about
burtt_msn: When I was a driving student, there was not education or training on driving
courtesy or "rules of the road." Is that changing for young drivers?
Chris Huffman: Virginia is the first state to pass a law requiring that driver's
education classes contain education on aggressive driving behavior. I believe that this
trend will expand across the country as the recognition of the size of the problem grows.
Dr. Diane Nahl: Chris is right, and there are many states now adding these components
on aggressive driving to their aggressive driving laws. The California State Assembly
recently passed a bill requiring an aggressive driving component in all driving education
courses. This trend will continue, because the solution to this problem is education.
Dr. Leon James: George Washington is known to have copied, collected, and written up a
bunch of rules that he called "rules of civility in life." This has now been
reprinted on the web, so I just want to point to one statement he made, which is:
"Civility is the glue which holds the nation together." So what has been
happening on our highways is warfare, that is, highway warfare, which, by the way, is the
subtitle of our book: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare. So unless we get civility or
driving courtesy back into the expected behavior of drivers, we will weaken the bonds of
Dr. Diane Nahl: I'd like to add that we have to practice civility to be good at it. We
have to flex our "civility muscles" to get good at it. It has to become a new
Chris Huffman: I would like to add that for any parents or students who want to take
the road rage courses, we have a distant learning home version that can be ordered by
contacting us through one of our web sites at either www.DrDriving.org, or the American
Institute for Public Safety at www.AIPSNews.com. There are a lot of states that have
graduated drivers licensing for teenagers. In some of those states, there is ongoing
driver's education training outside of the schools, meaning the parents are responsible.
Moderator: How did things get so bad on our roads?
Dr. Diane Nahl: Our most general answer is that aggressive driving is a learned habit,
and that we learn aggressive driving from our parents and others who drove us as children.
Children are not passive agents in the car. They actively learn and internalize the
behavior and attitude of the driver. They don't realize they're learning these things.
When they get their license at age 15 or 16, then they act as aggressive drivers without
realizing where it came from; in other words, it's normal to be an aggressive driver.
Dr. Leon James: Another aspect of this question is to ask, "Why is it so difficult
not to be aggressive?" This goes deep into the meaning and symbol that our culture
has for cars and driving. For example, we acquire competitive ways of keeping track of
what's going on around us on the highway. For instance, how many cars pass us by? Oh, that
feels bad. How many cars did we pass? Oh, that feels good. So we acquire automatic habits
of keeping track of competitive incidents, and we gunnysack so that we become angrier than
the incident itself could explain. It's a boiling over of accumulated aggressive exchanges
with other drivers. So we are cocked to be triggered by some unimportant incident.
Chris Huffman: In the last 15 years, there are 35 % more miles driven with an increase
of road capacity of 1%, and as Dr. Nahl said, there are a slew of reasons, including the
sense of anonymity one has when they are behind the wheel of the car. Dr. James refers to
the driving community, but when you feel anonymous and protected by 4,000 pounds of metal,
most of us don't consider the roadway a community; we consider it our sole territory, that
"Only I have the right to the space ahead of me."
Moderator: mflint asks: "I have heard a lot of anecdotal information about studies
done on aggressive driving behavior. I have also reviewed your web page with its 1,000+
citations, yet I still haven't seen or read a lot of quality research-based studies done
on the topic. Do you know of any?"
Dr. Leon James: That's partially true in the sense that organized research hasn't
really tackled the problem. It's very difficult to do research on the thoughts and
emotions of the live driver in traffic. There are driving simulators, and quite a bit of
research has been done using simulators. In fact, they are also now beginning to use these
simulators in high schools for their driver's education classes. There is a greater
recognition on the part of society in general that driver education needs to address,
specifically, the issue of the driving responsibility. The RoadRageous video course is
unique in this respect, because it focuses directly on what the driver's responsibility is
and connects it to the driver's conscience, giving the driver the capacity to develop and
strengthen the positive community aspects of driving.
Dr. Diane Nahl: The study of driving behavior, like any social behavior, is very
complex and must address multiple factors. One set of studies by George Wilde addresses
the issues of driver's risk management, and these are important because he discovered that
while engineering can make safety improvements in the vehicle and on the highway and with
law enforcement activities, to the degree that the road and car are made safer, to that
degree people just increase their level of risk to their comfort level. So this means that
people need to actually unlearn those comfort levels of risk, because safety improvements
will not increase their risk aversion.
Chris Huffman: As safety equipment is added to automobiles such as antilock brakes, you
may actually have people thinking they can take greater risks. We actually have a paradox.
The safer the cars, the more risks people take.
burtt_msn: Personally, I have observed the two most common driving faults to be:
failure to stay to the right in multilane roads, and just plain inattentiveness. Both of
these may be linked to the use of cellular phones. What are your views on cellular phone
use and legislation?
Dr. Leon James: First of all, some research that has become well-quoted in the last
couple years has shown that drivers who use cellular phones behind the wheel aren't
training themselves for it. They become four times more dangerous to themselves and
others. In other words, they get into more crashes when they are using the phone. My
reaction to this research, and it is quite preliminary right now, is that it applies to
drivers multitasking when they don't appropriately train themselves. So what I recommend
is not legislation against the use of cellular phones, as some countries have done,
(including many states and counties). I would say that instead, what we need to take more
seriously is the idea that you cannot start using communication devices in cars while
moving until you train yourself appropriately.
Dr. Diane Nahl: The whole notion of inattention and distraction are very serious, and
the questioner is right, those are the two most frequent complaints that we receive.
However, cellular phones are not the only or most significant form of distraction. There
are many distractions: passengers talking incessantly; children throwing a fit; or even
controversial talk radio topics. The other day here, a woman bent down to pick up her
wallet that had slid onto the floor of the car. Before she came up, she had hit another
car and killed someone. There are many such incidents, besides cellular phone use. So we
can't legislate against all of these devices. They do add value to the car and to the
driving experience. People want to use them and often need to use them for work, so
training and education are the only solutions.
Chris Huffman: I agree that legislation is not the answer; it lies in education. In
regards to aggressive driving and cellular phones, there are two components that I want to
address. One is my personal experience using a cellular phone. When I am having a normal
conversation in the car using the cellular phone, I believe I am still a relatively safe
driver. When I begin to get emotional in that conversation, I believe I become a dangerous
driver. When I am behind someone who is using a cellular phone and is driving erratically,
I become mad and aggressive. One of the key messages in the aggressive driver's course is
to acknowledge, witness, and modify our own behavior. What saves me from riding up the
escalator of emotions is that I have learned from the course to see myself getting
emotional, and then I am able to modify my behavior and emotions. Without the education
and training, people cannot modify their behavior and recognize what they are doing to
others and themselves.
Moderator: Well, it's certainly been a pleasure having all of you here today. Do you
have any closing thoughts?
Dr. Diane Nahl: I'd like to say one basic thing about aggressive driving, and that is
that aggressive drivers are aggressive because they are imposing their own preferred level
of risk on others. It doesn't matter how good they are at driving, others may not be as
skilled and may not be able to handle maneuvers the aggressive drivers impose on them.
Chris Huffman: Just a couple of messages: acknowledge, witness, and modify. You have to
tell yourself it's just not worth it. It's not worth putting your own well-being at risk
by reacting to someone else's erratic behavior. The choice is yours!
Moderator: Our guests today have been Leon James, PhD, Diane Nahl, PhD, and Chris
Huffman. Dr. James and Dr. Nahl are the founders of "Driving Psychology" and the
nation's foremost authorities on road rage and aggressive driving. They are the authors of
the RoadRageous aggressive driving video course and a related book, Road Rage and
Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare. Check out their web site at:
www.DrDriving.org. Chris Huffman is chief operating officer of the American Institute for
Public Safety. The institute recently collaborated with such experts as Dr. James and Dr.
Nahl to produce the nation's first comprehensive course devoted to changing the attitudes
and behavior of aggressive drivers. You can find the web site for the American Institute
for Public Safety at www.AIPSNews.com.
|------ For those of us that have been personally involved with "Road
Rage"; for those of us who have witnessed "Road Rage"; for those of us that
understand "Road Rage" truly exists and is a serious issue for the motoring
public, this is a page turner. Leon and Diane have defined the issue, shown what it has
cost us and most importantly ----Given Specifics for us to prevent from participating in a
"Road Rage" incident or being the victim of "Road Rage".
This is a must read for young drivers, experienced drivers and professional drivers
alike-----Remember that it's about personal behavior! Who better to discuss this issue
than Social Psychologist, Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl.
Manager Safety Information Systems
M.S. Carriers Inc.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police
Crime Prevention Tips--Prescription for Prevention--Automobile Safety
Assault With a
Deadly Steering Wheel
by Ron Corbin, PhD - Crime Prevention Specialist
The rapid population growth in Las Vegas, which brings in more vehicles, which creates
the need for more street construction, which causes more congestion, all contribute to
more impatience on the part of drivers. As impatience intensifies, tempers shorten and
"driving courtesy" becomes non-existent. Safe driving habits become forgotten
and are replaced by reckless ventures in tailgating, speeding, running stop signs and red
traffic signals, excessive lane changes, all of which are many times preceded by a hand
wave from the driver using only "one finger". Worst case scenarios are when
tempers lead to high speed chases, or the shooting of a handgun from one vehicle towards
This problem goes even deeper in the psychic of a person. More people today are
acquiring an arrogance of "To 'Hell' with everyone else, I've got mine,"... or a
"Me first" attitude. Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of
Hawaii (USA Weekend, Sept 5-7, 1997), states that the root of the problem for people's
reaction to these type traffic disturbances is caused when a "...person's anger is
triggered by their own self-righteous indignation."
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, "Aggressive Driving" can
be defined as "an angry motorist attempting to intentionally injure or kill another
driver because of a traffic dispute." However, many accidents are caused by those
drivers who really don't intend to injure or kill others, but allow their "Road
Rage" mentality to override their common sense.
Newspaper Stories of
Road Rage Quoting Dr. Leon James