Stories of Road Rage
Quoting Dr. Leon James
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by Jo Goecke
July 11, 2000
"Once it accelerates, its like trying to stop a moving train."
- Leon James, Ph.D.
James has provided expert testimony before the United States Congress, conducted an
extensive road rage survey, written journal articles, and been interviewed by more than
250 TV and radio talk shows. James latest book, Road Rage and Aggressive Driving
(Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY) is soon to be released. I read the galleys. It should be
required reading for the nations 177 million drivers. Based on his extensive
research on the subject, he reports there is a strong need for traffic psychology to help
reverse aggressive driving and alter our driving styles. And, according to his research,
getting angry behind the wheel is a cultural norm in our society.
James teaches traffic psychology at the University of Hawaii to waiting-list-only
students. Respectfully and affectionately called "Dr. Driving," he and his
students maintain topics, including the social psychology of driving, on his Dr. Driving
website (http://DrDriving.org). His courses in traffic psychology are very popular and
emphasize interpersonal skills that encourage chivalry, charity, freedom, family values,
respect for the law, spirituality, morality, empathy, unity and creative driving
practices. James is dedicated to saving lives by helping people understand their anger.
For more information about his lectures and workshops on anger, check this website.
"Eventually drivers have to realize the spiritual dimension of driving, namely,
the character we have as a driver," he continued. "Whether supportive or
hostile, whether rational or impatient, whether calm or frustrated, we all need to
remember that driving is a social affair something we do together. It comes down to
either we support each other or hurt one another. The decision is ours."
James believes its an important decision because children are bombarded with
examples of how speed, power and independence are celebrated in movies, cartoons, and
commercials and in cars where the driver behaves badly. By the time they start driving
they have had many years of examples of how hostile attitudes and aggressive driving give
power to aggressive drivers.
Theres a larger truth on the horizon, according to James, a truth that rage now
casts a long, dark shadow across America. He warns us of the societal implications.
"They are enormous. The rage has expanded from the road to include pedestrian rage,
parking lot rage, office rage, bicyclists rage, high school rage, day-care rage
you can almost name your site. Were going to have to deal with it as a nation
and as a people," he concluded.
E-mail Jo Goecke at email@example.com. She is
a syndicated columnist and international motivational
speaker. Her column is distributed by
www.iSyndicate.com, the content marketplace.
original article posted at iSyndicate.com
Research indicates that a significant portion of commuters actually welcome the time they
spend in their cars. The time offers many drivers a rare space over which they have total
control, a breather in the breathless pace of work and home, phones and the Internet. In a
survey of drivers across the country for American Demographics magazine, 45 percent agreed
that "driving is my time to think and enjoy being alone.
Where did this new, nastier road rage come from?
By Vinay Menon
Toronto Star Pop Culture Reporter
The most remarkable thing about this high-octane exchange is how utterly unremarkable
it now is.
GTA roadways are blurred with speeders, pusize="3le-locked with tailgaters and increasingly
treacherous with a growing number of red-light runners.
Many experts agree: Our asphalt arteries are teeming with drivers who mutate - swiftly,
mysteriously - into uncivilized rogues when behind the wheel.
``The car is a liberating environment,'' observes David Wiesenthal, a York University
professor who has conducted many studies on aggressive driving with the LaMarsh Centre For
Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution.
``You are on a large road with lots of other cars which contain strangers, people you
won't see again. You have this anonymity. And the normal restraints that prohibit us from
behaving aggressively or rudely are less in effect.''
Over the past 20 years, driving has remained a reflection of urban culture. In 2000,
this means faster, meaner, less forgiving and fraught with simmering conflict.
``I often see people in small, compact cars zooming past me at 130 (km/h) and they are
sitting right on the bumper of something else,'' says Kathy Rippey, acting superintendent
with the Ontario Provincial Police traffic and marine bureau.
``It's the entire speeding up of life in general. The fact that we commute further and
further from home to work, and that is lost time. We rush to our recreation, we rush to
our hobbies. That's the nature of our life.''
Adding to this frenetic steel-and-glass chaos is the fact that many people don't
appreciate the dangers inherent in driving.
``I can't believe these people don't have a sense of risk,'' Rippey says. ``That they
don't understand you can't drive like that and expect to walk away unscathed.''
The problem is exacerbated by sheer volume.
At the start of this year, figures from Ontario's Ministry of Transportation show there
were 8,970,694 vehicles - including cars, trucks, mopeds, buses, off-road - registered in
Of those, 5,525,687 were passenger vehicles, including 1,027,678 in Toronto. The GTA -
about 50,000 square kilometres - includes 643 kilometres of highway and 800 kilometres of
Suddenly the territorial lane skirmishes that plague the streets seem a little easier
Arnold Nerenberg, a California-based psychologist, frames the driving issue in this
biological way: ``The competitiveness on the road is similar to what you see in all social
Last year, Nancy Herman, a professor of sociology at Central Michigan University,
surveyed men and women who had reported at least one episode of ``road rage.''
She found 63 per cent claimed the blow-up wasn't their fault but that the rage resulted
from some ``inborn personality trait.''
Other experts, like Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii and
author of the forthcoming Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, disagree. James believes
driving is essentially a series of learned behaviours.
``One of the reasons I refer to `road rage' as a culture tantrum is because we all
learn to drive with rage,'' he says. ``It's not like we need therapy and there's something
wrong with us; it's just something we learn. We pick it up as children.''
Although James rejects biological explanations, he believes a significant ``awareness
and self-perception gap'' exists.
He says a survey he recently conducted found that less than half of people don't
recognize when they're being aggressive. ``They deny it and that's where the danger comes
in. It's the age of rage, the age of disrespect.''
And a disrespect that seems to worsen as the collective time we spend in our cars
``People live at greater distances from places of work and people have increasingly
tight schedules,'' says Leo Tasca, a senior research adviser with the Ministry of
A worrisome observation, since there seems to be a relationship between commuting
times, congestion and driver frustration.
``When you add other stressors like heat, noise, construction - you also have people
who don't know their way around - these things all contribute to tensions we're now
seeing,'' York University's Wiesenthal says.
Over the past 25 years, there have been several changes to informal road etiquette and
For example, Wiesenthal says, today two cars usually turn left on a red light and fewer
people stop on an amber light. In fact, running red lights is ``the most deadly
infraction,'' notes Grant of traffic services.
In Toronto, there were 76 traffic fatalities in 1996, five of which involved drivers
running red lights. By last year, there were 91 fatalities; 17 of these involved red-light
In many respects, Grant says, the running of red lights symbolizes the me-first,
no-time-to-wait era we live in.
And the creature comforts designed into new cars likely aren't helping matters.
Still, perceptions of increased aggression must be reconciled with this reality: There
has been a drop in collision and fatality rates over the past few years.
In 1997, the number of people killed in motor vehicle collisions per 100,000 people in
Ontario was 7.8, and the number killed in motor vehicle collisions per 100 million
kilometres travelled was 1.1, relatively low when compared to other big cities.
No matter. On the road, perception remains reality.
``The car is something that is perceived as an extension of our homes,'' Leon James
says. ``And people feel safer to express hostility in a car because we are mobile. We can
"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 also a serious risk to our personal and social health. Using
easy-to-follow steps, their method shows us how to adopt a more gently paced
attitudeto stop racing against time and people to get someplace and truly enjoy
getting there. They show us how being better drivers can help us lead better, happier,
Paul Ka`ikena Pearsall, Ph.D.
author of The Pleasure Prescription and Wishing Well
"Everything you ever wanted to know about road rage and aggressive driving. [Leon
James and Diane Nahl] bring the scholarship desperately needed."
John A. Larson, M.D., F.A.P.A.
Road rage is a growing problem on highways and byways worldwide, causing more and more
deaths and injuries each year. Law enforcement and legislation alone cannot contain the
problem, so drivers themselves must find ways to change the cultural norms that permit
routine aggression and hostility behind the wheel.
In Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, driving psychology pioneers Dr. Leon James and Dr.
Diane Nahl offer an authoritative treatment of this subject, building the understanding
and awareness needed for current drivers to change the attitudes that lead to aggression.
Their lifelong driver self-improvement program offers solutions for everyone, from a
three-step plan to improve current driver attitudes to an early education proposal aimed
at future drivers.
Leon James, a.k.a. Dr. Driving, is the nations foremost authority on road rage
and aggressive driving. Diane Nahl is associate professor of information and computer
sciences in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. James
and Nahl are co-authors of the RoadRageous aggressive driving video course, used in
driving and traffic schools, and maintain a Web site, DrDriving.org, to provide services
and information to drivers of all ages.
In much of life, people feel they don't have full control of their destiny. But a
car--unlike, say, a career or a spouse--responds reliably to one's wish. In automobiles,
we have an increased (but false) sense of invincibility. Other drivers become dehumanized,
mere appendages to a competing machine. "You have the illusion you're alone and
master, dislocated from other drivers," says Hawaii's James.
But the real key to reducing road rage probably lies deep within each of us. Professor
James of the University of Hawaii suggests that instead of emphasizing defensive
driving--which implies that the other driver is the enemy--we should focus on
"supportive driving" or "driving with the aloha spirit."
June 2, 1997
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. "Driving and habitual road
rage have become virtually inseparable," says Leon James, a professor of psychology
at the University of Hawaii who specializes in the phenomenon.
"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
"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.
Society, Vol. 151 No. 1
January 12, 1998
Amazon.com: Where are you from? How--if at all--has your sense of place colored your
LJ and DN: We live in beautiful Hawaii. People are surprised to find out that two road
rage experts live in a paradise where surely there is no road rage. But there
is--everywhere. That's what our book documents.
Amazon.com: When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a
LJ and DN: We wrote several academic books and dozens of journal articles in
professional journals. but this is our first so called "trade" book. We worked
hard to change our style to make it appropriate to all readers.
Amazon.com: Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way? What books have
most influenced your life?
LJ and DN: In the past few years both of us have been reading Emanuel Swedenborg's many
writings. We love them and recommend them to anyone interested in a completely rational
perspective on everything. Surprisingly, love is at the center of Swedenborg's
rationality. But we also try to keep up with the best sellers everybody is reading. We
feel that it's our duty to read what everybody else is reading and talking about.
Amazon.com: What is the most romantic book you've ever read? The scariest? The
LJ and DN: The most romantic book we know is Swedenborg's Conjugial Love. We're still
investigating what's funniest, and we stay away from what's scary!
Amazon.com:: What music, if any, most inspires you to write? What do you like to listen
to while writing?
LJ and DN: We like to write in silence, but when we finished writing, we like to hear
relaxing, new age type music with sounds of forest, animals, nature.
Amazon.com:: What are you working on?
LJ and DN: We are working on more driving psychology books, especially for teen
drivers, children's notion of safety and civility, and a book for couples for whom we want
to describe what we learned form reading our favorite author Emanuel Swedenborg.
Amazon.com:: Use this space to write about whatever you wish.
LJ and DN: Our topic in this book is about the type of person we are behind the wheel.
People don't realize that driver ed begins in our infancy when we ride in our parents'
cars. Later we watch TV and absorb aggressive driver role models for many years. When we
finally get our driver's license we've had several years of training in aggressive
driving. It's not easy to change this hostile and competitive and risky personality, but
we show in our book that it is possible. This is a topic we care about and we'be been
researching it for 20 years.
Aggressive driving nothing new, but some say it's getting worse July 1, 2001
By CECILIA M. VEGA THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two men in England attack a man driving in front of them, bite him at least a
half-dozen times and chew off a piece of his ear.
For half an hour, a New Mexico man chases a school bus carrying kindergartners because
the bus cut him off.
Leo the dog is pulled from his owner's car and thrown into busy San Jose traffic by a
man angry because a woman bumped his sport utility vehicle.
And in Sonoma County, a man faces up to six years in jail because he slammed on his
brakes after a prolonged car chase, causing the driver behind him to swerve off the road
and into a tree, killing her 20-year-old passenger.
Road rage. It's everywhere.
"We're out on the road eight hours a day and it's rare that a week goes by that
one of our students driving the speed limit doesn't get yelled at or flipped off,"
said John Paternoster, owner of John's Driving School in Santa Rosa.
And whether it's as simple as a finger gesture or as bizarre as chomping off a body
part, the people who spend their day on the road say aggressive driving is getting worse.
It was just two years ago that a pair of drivers weaved in and out of traffic on
Highway 101, chasing or fleeing each other until their frustrations turned deadly.
On Thursday, a jury found Robert Williams, 48, guilty of vehicular manslaughter with
gross negligence. Williams and then-22-year-old Andrea Cuccaro dueled from Mare Island to
Petaluma, stopping only when Williams pulled in front of Cuccaro and slammed on his
Though Cuccaro was found not guilty on all charges, her life will never be the same.
Because of a single instance of lost tempers, her friend Lena Marie Guillett, who was
riding in her front seat, is gone forever.
"I think (aggressive driving) is getting worse because it's a sociogenic habit.
It's taught in TV. It's taught by generations," said Leon James, road-rage expert and
professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii.
Though there's nothing new about road rage, the concept continues to baffle many. It's
difficult for law enforcement to measure, tough for lawmakers to address and nearly
impossible for statisticians to study.
"Nobody really knows what the instance of it is ... the police don't have a
road-rage box on their ticket list," said Stephanie Faul, spokeswoman for the AAA
Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Road rage and aggressive driving are both attitudinal
A 1997 AAA study tallied at least 10,037 incidents of road rage, resulting in 218
deaths and more than 12,000 injuries between 1990 and September 1996.
And the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration says cases of violent
aggressive driving have grown by 7 percent a year.
But a 1998 study by USA Today looked at more than 500,000 accident reports over the
preceding decade and found that aggressive driving was no more prevalent then than it had
been 10 years ago.
What is road rage?
Part of the confusion stems from how the term is defined.
While some say aggressive driving consists of speeding, running a red light or a stop
sign, failure to yield the right of way or reckless driving, others say it includes
tailgating and other offenses.
Road rage begins with aggressive driving that ends in violence.
"I'm watching people who are backed up in traffic, and they are riding within feet
of the person in front of them. They're zipping in and out of traffic," said CHP
Officer Shannon King, who until last month patrolled the Santa Rosa corridor of Highway
"We just have more drivers on the road," she said. "And of course we've
had a huge increase of the population in Sonoma County. There are more people
Locally, King said reports of aggressive drivers outnumber those for drunken drivers.
A study of highway fatalities in 1996 rated the Santa Rosa area the 14th worst city in
California for aggressive driving.
The Surface Transportation Policy Project, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.,
attributed 17 deaths in the Santa Rosa area to aggressive driving incidents. At 7.9 deaths
per 100,000 people, that put the fatality ratio higher than larger areas such as Dallas,
Kansas City and Sacramento.
"You get a person with a gun handy, you never know what they could do," said
Dennis Lyons, driving instructor and owner of Lyons Driving Academy in Rohnert Park.
"We tell (students) that if someone is honking at them and flashing their lights,
just pull over to the side and let them go by because you don't want to deal with those
In his classes, he preaches patience.
"I always tell the kids that if you yell at somebody and flip them off, they might
have a gun."
It sounds drastic, but it's not far-fetched.
In December, an Alabama woman was sentenced to 13 years in prison because she shot and
killed another woman on a highway exit ramp.
Although the term "road rage" is a recent addition to the English language --
entering the Oxford English Dictionary in 1997 -- there's nothing new about it.
Nineteenth-century England had a furious driving law, aimed at horsemen who drove
wildly through town after a night of drinking, James said.
And in 1817, Lord Byron wrote about a situation in which he threw punches at a man
because he'd yelled at his horse.
"Road rage has existed prior to the invention of the automobile," Faul said.
Still, it wasn't until 1981 that a British newspaper coined the actual term.
Since then, "road rage" has become a common term for violence on the roads
caused by stress, traffic, bad driving and loss of civility.
"It doesn't have to be you that's doing it. It could be somebody else and because
of their mental state, what's in their head you don't know," said Jose Avila, who
teaches traffic school at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Statistically, most aggressive drivers are males between 18 and 26 years old, according
to the AAA.
Road rage is most likely to occur on a Friday afternoon, between 4-6 p.m., in sunny
weather and during the summer months.
Incidents are most frequently encountered in moderate congestion on urban freeways and
urban-area roads, a 1999 study shows.
"When I've been teaching kids how to drive, I've had people pull up right next to
me and yell, 'Get this kid off the streets,'" Lyons said. "It's just people.
They just snap, and they have a low tolerance for people who do anything they don't
Though California last year passed a law that requires judges to suspend driving
privileges or require anger management classes for road-rage offenders, some believe the
laws should be tougher.
"If you keep feeding this kind of culture then every generation is going to
increase it," James said. "Right now we're breeding the next generation, and
they're going to be worse than we are."
News Researchers Michelle Van Hoeck and Vonnie Matthews contributed to this story. You
can reach Staff Writer Cecilia M. Vega at 521-5213 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Huffman is chief operating officer of the American Institute for Public Safety, an
organization established in 1995 by Gary Alexander, founder of the Improv Traffic Schools,
as a reaction to America's road rage epidemic. Most recently, the institute collaborated
with such experts as Leon James, PhD, and Diane Nahl, PhD, to produce the nation's first
comprehensive course devoted to changing the attitudes and behavior of aggressive drivers.
Huffman is the former executive vice president of Cunard Line, Ltd., and a senior officer
at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Ltd.
Diane Nahl, PhD, has published dozens of articles in
professional journals on human-system interaction, testing search skills, technophobia and
information anxiety, and information science research methods. A professor in the
information and computer sciences department in the Library and Information Science
Program at the University of Hawaii, she researches affective and cognitive behaviors in
information searching and organization and their applications to traffic psychology,
personality testing, and applied social psychology. Her particular area of focus is
Leon James, PhD, has published more than 50 articles in professional journals in
psychology, information science, and education. His professional books have been published
with Prentice-Hall, Cambridge University Press, and Newbury House. He was appointed by the
mayor of Honolulu to the Oahu Traffic Safety Council. He serves on the Governor's Impaired
Driving Task Force of the State of Hawaii. He is a member of the Oahu Trans 2K, A
Community-based Transportation Vision for the 21st Century. He is professor of psychology
at the University of Hawaii, where he teaches courses in personality development and
ROAD RAGE IN EUROPE
UK's drivers overtake Europe for road rage
By Thomas Harding
Britain has become the road rage capital of Europe, according to a survey.
Ever-increasing traffic jams are thought to be the biggest cause of roadside
The Gallup International study questioned 10,000 motorists in 16 European countries,
defining road rage as anything from obscene gesturing to actual violence. In Britain, 80.4
per cent of drivers claimed to have been road rage victims; in Holland 78.1 per cent;
Greece (76.6); France (70); and Germany (69.8).
An AA spokesman said: "Road rage has become part of the British vocabulary in the
last five years and it's something that needs to be addressed. In other countries
motorists may suffer from the same rude gesticulations and aggressive driving but they
interpret it in a different way."
Road rage drivers are divided into two categories. Those who are already aggressive and
impatient in everyday life who take their bad habits out with them on the roads, and those
who are normally calm and peaceful but react very differently on the road.
Actions that spark off road rage include middle-lane drivers on the motorway, people
who cut in at the last moment at roadworks, those who do not use indicators or jump red
lights and discourteous drivers who fail to acknowledge being allowed to pass in narrow
The AA advises drivers subject to aggression to avoid eye contact and drive away from a
confrontation if possible, but if trapped to lock their doors.
original story here
From email@example.com Tue Jul 25 11:51:08 2000
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 11:47:58 -1000
To: Joey Loedford firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: Interview with the Lane Ranger
> I know from past interviews, plus comments in your book, that you are a
> reformed aggressive driver yourself. Do you ever backslide, and if you
> do admit this, what are the behaviors most likely to drive you to the
I was an aggressive driver back a couple of decades ago, then I started my lifelong
driver-self-improvement program, and now it will continue for the next two decades. The
problems I'm experiencing today are vestiges of my old rushing mania personality. This
week I've been working on unnecessary lane changes. Last week I was working on my tendency
to feel desperate and depressed when I'm "stuck" behind a truck or bus on a long
uphill near our house. For the past few months before that I've been working on not
breaking the speed limit. This is very difficult. When I travel at speed limit, or maybe 3
or 4 miles above, I always stay in the right lane and make sure cars can pass me. In fact
I observed 98% of cars pass me even when I hit 5 mph above speed limit.
These are some examples where I need to keep working on my driving style and emotions.
I feel that I'm successful and my wife who is a passenger also gives me positive points.
She feels more peaceful and safe as my passenger.
> You mention that you refused to endorse a road rage game. Are you
> concerned that today's video arcade games and home video systems are
> helping to perpetuate the road rage is OK and even fun attitude among
> our youth?
I think this is a serious problem. Playing video games that encourage violent behavior
and aggressive emotions simply strengthen these modes of responding in all areas--spouse
abuse, school bullies, workplace violence, road rage, air rage, desk rage (kicking and
damaging computers at work), etc. When violence becomes fun, social conscience is
> I loved the section about the noise making toys some drivers carry to
> "punish" offending drivers. Wouldn't you consider this a safe way to
> vent the bad emotions, or would you be more concerned the offenders
> would confuse the toys for real guns and escalate the war?
Of course this is safer than to express it overtly, yes. But it's not the solution
because venting keeps you a slave to your negative emotions, and this is unhealthy and
unpleasant. A positive solution would be to dislodge your competitive mentality and start
seeing driving as a community teamwork activity. By acting supportive (non-aggressive,
facilitative, protective), you're keeping yourself connected to other drivers and by
acting out positive actions, you will acquire positive emotions. These make life behind
the wheel safe and pleasant.
> How does your philosophy differ from Dr. John Larson's "Driving Yourself
> Healthy" approach? In reading your works and his, I see a lot of
> similarities. Agree? In what areas do you disagree with Larson?
Larson had this to say about our book: "Everything you always wanted to know about
road rage and aggressive driving. Leon James and Diane Nahl bring the scholarship
I don't disagree with Larson. Our approach is different and complements his book. Our
book is the first comprehensive psycho-legal examination of the aggressive driving issue
in our society. Our approach includes the idea of Lifelong Driver Self-Improvement with
K-12 driver education and QDCs for life after graduated licensing. None of these elements
are handled in Larson's book. We also deal with children's road rage, pedestrian road
rage, passengers rights, and we cover government and law enforcement. None of these topics
are dealt with in the Larson book. Finally, our approach is specific and behavioral using
the Threestep Program that drivers practice over a long time period. It involves keeping a
Driving Diary or Log book.
> I feel aggressive drivers are a lot like alcoholics in that neither is
> very likely to admit to having problems. Would you agree? And since it
> seems to take a breakdown or a serious accident for drunks to finally
> seek help, doesn't it stand to reason that's also likely for most road
Yes, aggressive driving is a cultural and behavioral addiction, and for some, a
personal addiction as well. It's a cultural addiction in the sense that we learn to be
aggressive drivers during our socialization process from parents and TV. It's a behavioral
addiction in the sense that it involves habits of thinking, habits of feeling, and habits
of acting out. All three types of habits need to be un-learned, and then new habits need
to be installed. I call myself a reformed driver in the sense that my current driving
habits are new habits I installed through years of self-modification activities behind the
wheel. I now operate a vehicle with my new habits.
Finally, it is a personal addiction when drivers insist (a) that aggressive driving is
good and (b) it's the other drivers who cause aggressive driving, those who go too slow or
are inattentive. About one in three drivers have this attitude that we call in the book
"automotive vigilantism" and it is a form of personal addiction. At its root is
the desire to dominate others, to have your own way, to punish others for their
"bad" behavior. You can tell if you're an automotive vigilante if you feel the
strong desire to retaliate or give the other driver a "piece of your mind" to
let them know how it feels--etc.
Take care and have a peaceful ride home today!
DrDriving Says...The way you drive is contagious!
A few smart psychological steps to take when you get angry
-- or the other driver does.
By Michele Pullia Turk
The psychologists' solution: prevention
But the root of the problem, according to Leon James, a psychology professor at the
University of Hawaii, does not lie in other motorists' poor driving habits or even the
traffic disturbance itself, but in your reaction to those things. "The trigger of
your anger is your own self-righteous indignation," he says. "As soon as you
remove that, you calm down."
To determine your aggression level
Tape-record yourself. Psychologist James recommends trying an exercise he used to keep
his cool in traffic: recording his thoughts and behavior on a tape recorder. What he heard
coming out of his own mouth shocked him. "I began to realize I wasn't such a nice guy
as a driver," says James, who teaches a course on traffic psychology and is known on
the Internet as Dr. Driving (www.drdriving.org).
September 5-7, 1997
Thu, 9 Jul 1998 08:18:16 -0500 (CDT) Dave Alan Coon (email@example.com)
Everyone in Sociology is very quick to dismiss biological explanations of any
phenomenon as "sociobiology." I am of the belief that biology, along with social
factors can combine to create social behaviors. I once spoke to a biology professor who
gave an explanation for Road Rage. He said that in traffic jams, there are higher
concentrations of mood-altering chemicals present in the air which can lead to violent
behavior. In normal traffic, these chemicals are dispersed into the atmosphere, but in
heavy traffic, he said that these psycho-trophic chemicals are much more highly
concentrated. If this is the case, I would argue that these chemicals are at least partly
responsible for ROAD RAGE. This is in part a follow-up to TR young's' post about he
biology of Jonesboro school shootings.
My question is this: Why haven't sociologists or biologists or psychologists
investigated this theory of ROAD RAGE?
Thu, 9 Jul 1998 10:53:08 -0700
Brent Myer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Well, looks like people are researching the topic. You mentioned a
biologists' theory, and although I don't know a lot about the research,
articles have appeared in the Times and Newsweek which interview experts on
road rage. So my guess would be that if you looked for research you would
I'm skeptical about the biologist's idea on road rage. Look back at the
famous experiment by Schachter and singer. To simplify, they found that the
person's experienced emotions were a result of chemical stimulation and
social experience. The chemicals arouse us, but don't tell us what to
think--we get that from our interpretations of the environment, from others.
Many things can create stimulation, perhaps chemicals air, but more likely
frustration in the situation--chemicals produced by the body (and there you
find a tremendous link to literature on the frustration-aggression pusize="3le).
His/her idea would also not explain road rage in non-congested areas, which
is part of the problem.
An Interview with DrDriving
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2000
From: mike archbold email@example.com
Subject: Road Rage at road constructions sites
My name is Mike Archbold, a reporter with the South County Journal in King County south
of Seattle. I'm doing a story on a major road closure that began Monday that has motorists
abusing flaggers on each end of the closure, from verbal abuse to spinning wheels to throw
gravel at them. I wonder if you might have a comment or two on why people behave so
Obviously they are inconvenienced but the flagger didn't close the road. Is this just
human nature? road closures tick people off and should cities design projects to minimize
disruption? The city did a lot of work with fliers and signs telling people of the closure
but they didn't seem to help.
Why Road Construction is an Emotional Challenge and what to do about it
A road closure, or other street construction work, creates an immediate new challenge
for the majority of drivers who have adjusted to traveling through that route and are
counting on it as part of their schedule. When the blockage begins there is an immediate
and overwhelming emotional demand placed on the drivers who have come to rely on that
Many drivers possess the personality resources that they can put into play, ways they
have learned in the past to manage themselves when emotionally challenged. They act
rationally taking steps to cope, like
finding about alternate routes
making changes in their normal schedule
giving themselves more time
re-adjusting their expectations about how long it takes to get there
being prepared with doing what they consider productive activities in the car, whether
it's listening to some recording or preparing for the next appointment, or talking on the
These skilled or excellent drivers are in the minority. The majority of drivers are
unprepared to handle it emotionally when the gridlock hits them. What they do then (as an
unexamined habit) is to perform a series of mistakes that chain themselves together to
produce in them the symptoms and ravages of rage. Unprepared to handle the slowdown,
sitting there fuming and venting and complaining and creating huge stress for themselves.
The traffic is not their worst enemy, because they injure themselves emotionally and
physiologically, creating massive amounts of stress and unhappiness.
As they perform these automatic habits acquired in childhood, they also take risks and
act aggressively as an ineffective attempt to escape the emotional pressure they put
themselves under. They act impulsively to escape the panic of getting stuck, and in that
action they take risks, make mistakes, and add tremendously to the emotional difficulty of
the other drivers around them who are forced to meet their irrational level of risk.
Under the emotional panic, many drivers who have not prepared themselves--the majority
of drivers--will also express hostility and act aggressively and forcefully and
Other drivers are scared or injured
pedestrians are put at risk
the highway becomes a war zone
We document and describe this in our new book ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING: STEERING
CLEAR OF HIGHWAY WARFARE by Leon James and Diane Nahl (see our Web site at:
Here is what we recommend: TO THE DRIVERS WHO ARE AFFECTED
1) Leave earlier and expect to arrive later. Most drivers will discover this way that
the traffic doesn't have to be stressful. In fact, many can learn to love it and
appreciate it as quality time alone during which they can relax with their thoughts.
2) Before you start your engine take one minute to relax, to calm yourself, to prepare
for what to do when you feel emotional panic rising within, and you're frantically acting
out to escape or seek relief from it. At that point say STOP IT! Breathe slowly. Make
funny noises. Sing. But don't give in. Don't vent. Remain in control of yourself and of
the vehicle. This way you retain control of the situation and you arrive alive and
unbothered vs. bothered and possibly injured. Give yourself a reward each time you gain
victory over your emotional self. (See more details on traffic emotions training.)
3) Use this opportunity to take a good look at yourself as a driver. Most drivers are
unknown to themselves, ignoring their own mistakes while noticing the mistakes of others
and being very judgmental about it. Get to know yourself by keeping records for each trip.
You can do a recording while you think aloud behind the wheel and give a running
commentary of what's in your mind. Listening to the tape later on becomes both informative
and therapeutic. Or else you can stay in your car for a couple of minutes and write a few
notes about the trip, like how you felt or reacted and how strongly. Later you can read
your notes and ask yourself: "Why? Why do I have to feel this way?"
We need to remind ourselves that we started our driver education as infants and
children riding in our parents' cars, or with other adults. Add also a good dose of TV
scenes in which drivers are behaving badly, laughing at it, making it look like fun and
getting away with it. By the time we start driving, we've had years of exposure and
learning to the hostile environment on the road. It becomes natural to be a road warrior
or a rushing maniac. The majority of drivers make frequent mistakes and choose to violate
the law on a routine, daily basis.
The federal government and transportation professionals have declared that congestion
due to construction and more demand will increase significantly in the next 10 years and
beyond. Drivers cannot escape this emotional challenge by complaining or taking it out on
each other or construction workers. The only solution they have is a driving personality
makeover, that is, learning how to get rid of some old anti-social habits and learning how
to substitute new ones.
For more details, please visit the Web site: http://DrDriving.org
Leon James, Ph.D. and Diane Nahl, Ph.D.
Doc's orders: talk into a tape recorder and call me in the morning
By Jim Rendon
THE AFTERNOON SUN GLARES through my windshield as the traffic on 280 contracts to a
slow crawl at Page Mill. I look for openings in the automotive flow. The right lane sails
ahead of the crawling masses as far as the overpass. Then the far left lane begins to
move. Other people with vastly better pickup than my 10-year-old Toyota slip into openings
ahead of me and roll slowly past. Inevitably I am left festering in the slanting sunlight
behind a steaming tar truck, watching car after car leave me behind.
That, says Dr. Driving, is the fundamental conflict at the root of America's automotive
dysfunction. "In driving, you are put in an inherent conflict," the good doctor
explains. "There is an inherent conflict between the freedom that cars
represent--being able to go wherever you want, whenever you want--and being thwarted by
other cars that stand in the way."
Frustration builds to anger, anger to violent fantasies, fantasies to bad driving, and
from there the pavement really gets ugly. It's a well-worn formula by now.
But Dr. Driving , a.k.a. Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of
Hawaii, is hoping to throw a little sense into the road-rage mix. Since coming to terms
with his own terrible driving, James has helped to create a whole new area of psychology.
He teaches a class on traffic psychology at the University of Hawaii, he runs his own
website, www.drdriving.org, where he posts the extensive results of his research, and he's
coming out with a book on road rage next fall.
For decades, James readily admits, he drove like a jerk. He hurtled around corners,
sped up to stop signs, changed lanes and then looked to see if someone was in the way. He
sent his dear wife's mother lurching for the door handle around every curve.
One day, in 1985, when his wife complained about her poor mother rolling around in the
back seat, James told her off. It was like hitting rock bottom. He realized he had a
problem. James began to examine his own driving and finally came to realize that his wife
and mother-in-law had a point--he was indeed a terrible driver.
The gap between his understanding of himself and the very obvious problems with his
driving technique led him to believe that there was plenty of room here to apply his
During a decade of research, James has found that people who say they are great drivers
also tend to be the most aggressive. That in general men are more aggressive drivers that
women, but that women curse more than men. Dreaded SUV drivers really are a menace, and
motorists in Pennsylvania are more aggressive than Californians.
He's broken down the world of driving dysfunction into neat psychological categories
that he says people fall in and out of depending on their mood or circumstance. Someone
could easily go from being what he terms a supportive driver, following the speed limit
and allowing others to merge onto the freeway, to an automotive vigilante--someone who
cuts off other drivers or gestures or tailgates in retribution for some perceived slight.
There is the rushing maniac, whose panic is only pacified by tailgating and compulsive
lane changing, and every rushing maniac's best friend, the left-lane bandit, who drives 67
miles an hour in the fast lane because he or she knows best.
But what is most important is that James says he's found a cure for our intricate
The key is self-awareness. James has his students talk into a tape recorder as they
drive, detailing their thoughts and feelings as they drive. That helps them to deconstruct
and examine their own behavior. He calls it a driving log. Once the driver is willing to
acknowledge that there may be problems, the driving log helps him to determine what they
may be. And then, he says, students learn to modify behavior by focusing on one problem at
Like the owner of the Hair Club for Men, James is his own best customer. Since 1985,
his own driving has gone from abominable to safe and courteous 80 percent of the time, he
says. In another 15 years, he says, he'll be a good driver 100 percent of the time. And
best of all, James says, his relationship with his wife couldn't be better.
tips from the experts on preventing air rage
by Jo Goecke
August 30, 2000
Leon James, Ph.D., and Diane Nahl, Ph.D., are experts on the phenomenon of air rage.
Dr. James is a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, where he teaches a
course on traffic psychology, and Dr. Nahl is a research scientist in the Information and
Computer Sciences Department at the same university. They are co-authors of a new book,
Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, co-facilitate air rage workshops (point your browser to
http://DrDriving.org/rages for more information), and collaborate to write and
produce Dr. James web site http://DrDriving.org.
They provide the following professional travel tips and techniques for avoiding air
WHAT THE AIRLINES CAN DO FOR PASSENGERS
1) Each airline should provide accurate, updated travel information every five minutes,
using electric boards, signs, announcements, and personal contact.
2) Staff members should elevate the importance of each passengers comfort and
apologize, if for any reason, it does not meet this high standard. The staff should
compensate any passenger, who is not comfortable, with some tangible goodwill gesture.
3) Staff members should not expect passengers to stand in line when they can sit down
to wait. Nor should passengers have to compete physically with each other for a seat next
to their place in line. Do not make the passengers start forming a line until crew members
are ready to board the passengers.
4) Special trained staff members should provide community-building principles to create
a social group out of the anonymous passengers in the waiting room or on the airplane.
Encourage discussion among the waiting passengers. Form a passenger support group so they
can offer assistance to one another when help is needed.
5) Airline officials should provide tighter security in the waiting rooms so passengers
can nap without worrying about their personal possessions, such as carry-on luggage,
laptop computers, purses, briefcases, clothing, etc.
WHAT THE PASSENGERS CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES
1) Passengers should bring things to the airport to ensure personal comfortwarm
clothes, pillow, blanket, reading material, snacks, games, etc.
2) Passengers can form a mini-support group with one or more fellow passengers. Share
and consult with each other on whatever problems are encountered.
3) Passengers should come prepared with the right attitude and coping tricks.
4) Passengers should always have alternate scenarios worked out in case they do not
arrive when expected.
Freelancer for San Jose Business Journal
1) Do you think road rage is increasing? If yes, why?
Dr. James: Road rage has two different meanings. One refers to assault, battery, and homicide.
This type has been increasing but the total number of such occurrences is less than 2000 a
year, and in relation to 125 million drivers on the roads every day, this is an extremely
rare event. The second meaning of road rage refers to driving in an emotionally impaired
state. This shows itself in terms of anger, hostility, competition, risk, and stress.
These are all injurious to health and community.
In our book 'Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare'
(Prometheus Books: Amherst, NY, 2000), we show how the steady rise of road rage is due to
a generational process by which we acquire the habit of aggressive driving as children
from two sources. First, by riding in our parents' cars, and second, by watching
aggressive driving behavior being glorified on TV. We unconsciously imbibe our parents'
attitudes behind the wheel and by the time we begin our own careers as driver, we've had
years of exposure to aggressive driving role models. All of a sudden, we don't quite know
why, we start acting aggressive, hostile, competitive, opportunistic, and rebellious of
Right now we're breeding the next generation of road rage drivers and when they get to
drive, I predict they'll be even more challenged emotionally than we are today. And it
generalizes as a more aggressive public personality on the part of more and more people,
hence we now witness air rage, parking lot rage, office rage, surf rage, line rage, and so
2) What can people do to prevent road rage?
Dr. James: I had to do it and hundreds of people I worked with came to recognize that they had to
do it, that is, suffer themselves to go through a "driving personality
makeover." It's a three-step program called
AWM for short:
A-cknowledge, W-itness, M-odify.
The first step
is the hardest. People don't feel like recognizing or confessing that they are aggressive,
hostile, risky, dangerous, and wanted by the law. And yet, that is what aggressive driving
is. Each act of aggressiveness is a little road rage episode that impairs the driver
emotionally. For example, a common thing to do, almost automatically, is to deny lane
entry to a signaling car by closing the gap in front. Most people at first, are unwilling
to acknowledge that this is aggressive and hostile--until the moment it happens to them
and then they feel what it's like to be denied entry when anxiously seeking to catch an
exit ramp. It feels negative, hostile, territorial, illegitimate, cruel, inhuman, in
violation of human rights and dignity.
Once the first step is made following some soul searching about one's real values, step
two is to W-itness yourself being aggressive and
roadrageous. I carried a tape recorder
for years, recording myself thinking aloud, and verbalizing what I thought and felt behind
the wheel. Hundreds of others have done it and discovered to their true amazement the
violent and dictatorial parts of their driving personality. It's a wonderful feeling to
see oneself being re-tooled as a driver. I call myself a 'reformed driver' because of my
commitment to new values I call "supportive driving." I came to it through my
wife and co-author of our book. She was most instrumental in working to bring the
supportive or positive part of my personality behind the wheel. It did not exist except in
vestigial form, like a seed, or a possibility I idealized.
So some people might need a Driving Partner, like her. We have the text of such a
contract we made at our Web site DrDriving.org Other techniques are also described there
and they all have to do with modifying your thoughts and emotions. First, acknowledging
that they lurk in our culturally acquired habits, second, discovering what they are by
monitoring yourself behind the wheel, and third, M-odifying one little habit at a time,
trip by trip, over many months and even years. For instance, you can take a minute before
you start the engine, to relax, focus mentally and emotionally, and write some notes in
your Driving Diary. Choose some little habit that you're going to focus on on this trip,
like following too close, or automatic gap closing, or presenting a mean face, or cussing
and complaining to yourself. Only one of these. Then throughout the trip observe what
triggers the response, when it occurs, what you do about it, how you feel when you do one
thing or another. Follow this three-step procedure on a lifelong basis. It's needed, given
how complex driving is getting with congestion and multi-tasking inside the car in
3) What causes road rage?
Dr. James: Road rage is an impaired emotion that causes total loss of control of the situation,
the driver, and the vehicle--thus violating the First Star Trek Imperative. This impaired
emotional state comes on and is held in place by our ingrained expectations and sense of
entitlement. My partner Dr. Diane Nahl of ten notes that we come to our driving careers
rigged for road rage. Without knowing why, we start keeping track of little things and
feel threatened and depressed by them, or else elated and gleeful. For example, I used to
count the number of cars that pass me in the other lane and feel quite depressed, anxious,
even panicky. I started feeling worthless, like someone others can take advantage of or
disconnected from the rest. It was awful. Many people feel bad when they have to use the
brakes. They keep track how long they can coast without having to touch the brakes. Some
people will let their car roll over double white lines or double yellow lines when they
make turns. This is an aggressive thing to do for it threatens the car in the opposite
direction that is sitting there waiting for the lights to change. These turning cars come
awfully close to your bumper? Why? Because it takes a little extra effort to turn the
wheel to prevent rolling over the double line. And this extra effort is felt like an
imposition. We rather not do it, and too bad for the others whose risk we increase with
our own risky behavior. This attitude is the cause of road rage.
4) Is society and the government doing enough to halt or slow the
Dr. James: A dozen states are looking at passing new aggressive driving laws and more are
following the trend. There is an increasing awareness that we need more police initiatives
along with education of drivers. So there is more focus on driver education, which has
been neglected in the past couple of generations. For example, the California Assembly
passed a new road rage bill last month that mandates that the driver ed. curriculum in
high schools be amended to include a road rage prevention component. The courts are also
beginning to recognize that aggressive drivers in trouble with the law need specific
aggressive driving instruction that is not already covered by the defensive driving model.
Diane Nahl and I were the first to create such a video course for national distribution
through AIPS. It's called RoadRageous and can also be taken on the Internet from one's
home as well as from driving schools.
The future of society's well being is dependent on the automobile, and people will have
to learn how to educate their traffic emotions given that congestion, according to
experts, will always be with us. The alternative is more stress, more risk, more
hostility, and more dangerous highway warfare for the next generation.
"THE EPIDEMIC OF MADNESS ON THE ROAD"
NORTH MIAMI, FL NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw recently focused on
the solutions to aggressive driving and road rage. The national story featured the
American Institute for Public Safety's (AIPS) aggressive driver course,
RoadRageous The first comprehensive course in the nation addressing aggressive
driving and road rage. The course teaches drivers how to avoid becoming a victim of an
aggressive driver as well as controlling their own aggressiveness. It provides the tools
to reduce stress and improve the quality of life, health and wellness on today's roadways.
In the news story, reporter Kerry Sanders and his camera crew featured, in part, the
RoadRageous course and the two-dozen students who attended the eight-hour
class. RoadRageous is being used in the Miami-Dade County court system as a
pilot program for violators.
"Through the help of national and local media, the public is learning that the
American Institute for Public Safety has the cure for what has become a national epidemic
of aggressive driving and road rage. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA), aggressive driving and road rage is now a greater concern to
drivers than DUI " says Chris Huffman, AIPS' chief operating officer.
Said NBC's Sanders in his national news report, "The problem (is) so urgent, angry
drivers are now responsible for four times as many deaths on the road as drunk
NBC also interviewed the co-authors of the course. Dr. Arnold Nerenberg, who is
recognized as America's road rage therapist and Dr. Leon James, a professor of Traffic
Psychology at the University of Hawaii who is also known as Dr. Driving. Both are members
of AIPS' National Advisory Panel.
"Aggressive driving is like a virus. It's contagious. You see it happen
frequently. There's a tendency for other drivers to imitate that same behavior," said
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Henry Rockel.
As Dr. Leon James stated on the NBC report, "There are 177 million licensed
drivers today and the entire generation has grown up with the norm of
Reporter Sanders concluded his report this way, "Shortly, road rage classes will
also begin in the Dallas court system utilizing the home study version of the program, a
possible solution to the epidemic of madness on the road."
AIPS is the pioneer in using interactive teaching methods, including humor, as a
training technique. AIPS uses its proprietary "Interactive Edutainment"
technique in all of its attitude and behavior modification courses, classroom and video
distance learning. The company has offices in Florida, California, Colorado and Indiana.
Driven to rage
Road rage: it's not just the other guy
Are you an aggressive driver? If you havent had any tickets or accidents lately, you
probably dont think so. You probably think youre an excellent driver. You may
break a few rules, or get angry behind the wheel. But only because those other bad drivers
are just not letting you get where you want to go.
Well according to traffic psychologist Dr. Leon James, youre not alone in your
way of thinking. People rate themselves as nearly perfect drivers despite admitting to
running stop signs and red lights, speeding and making obscene gestures.
People will rate themselves as excellent drivers -- while admitting to tailgating and
running red lights
I asked people to rate themselves on a scale of one to 10 on how good a driver they
were, says James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii. Most
Canadians and Americans pick nine just about perfect, they cant improve any
more! But at the same time, 50 per cent admitted they speed, 70 per cent make gestures, 35
per cent yell, 60 per cent tailgate. These are the very same people who consider
themselves nine on a ten-point scale of excellence.
So whats going on? Are we all merely delusional? How can otherwise sane people
think tailgating is okay? Well, James says, its part of the road rage
phenomenon, which hes been studying since 1980. Road rage, can encompass everything
from aggressive lane changing to fist fights and gunplay between pissed-off drivers who
are upset about aggressive lane changing. And its becoming an increasing concern all
over the world as more incidents of traffic madness make the news.
But when James started to look into the area two decades ago, he was teaching
personality theory psychology. He wanted to look at aggressive driving from inside the
drivers head, but found that most of the research didnt look at it from that
viewpoint. So he developed the self-witnessing technique placing a tape
or video recorder in a car with a driver, and asking him or her to think out loud.
It's a cultural norm to use hostile languages and gestures when driving
Its an excellent sampling of your thought processes and feelings, James
explains. It looks at what triggers that rage or ridicule response behind the
What did this research show James? That the triggers of rage behaviour behind the wheel
are very similar for different individuals. But those triggers, James explains, are not
really the actions of the other drivers, but the common psychological mindsets that
drivers have, and which handed down from parent to child as we grow up riding in cars. And
boy do they ever sound familiar
The mind set behind the middle finger
The first psychological state that James refers to is a sense of entitlement.
We learn 'car legends' of territoriality, personal space, James says.
Whenever someone invades that space we feel outraged. If we have to enter a lane to
make a turn and another person prevents this, our sense of entitlement is outraged.
The second state he refers to is cynicism. You think, if Im in a
public place and you endanger my life, you deserve to be punished, you deserve to be told
that you did wrong, that youre an idiot Im a nice person, but if you do
this to me I'm not going to be nice to you, James describes it.
Its a cynicism because theres a loss of civility and its
civility that George Washington called the glue that holds the nation together.
People will try to get ahead by changing lanes -- when research shows it doesn't work
The third mindset James lists is the one that lets you rate yourself as an excellent
driver while you run red lights -- its okay to break traffic rules.
People find ways of justifying their behaviour while still saying theyre
law-abiding, James explains. People pick their own rules to break, like stop
signs they say, 'this is ridiculous, there shouldnt be a stop sign here,
Im just going to ignore it.' Or running red lights people shouldnt jump
on the green, they should just wait for me as I cross at the last second.
The fourth psychological state James refers to is competitiveness.
Its saying, Im going to get from the home to the office and Im
going to act like Im a bullet, says James. Anybody in my way better get
out. Its a competitive, individualistic focus, I win you lose, no compromise,
cooperation or community.
What allows people to take on these embarrassingly familiar stances when driving
but not, say, in a line-up at the grocery store? According to James, its a question
of cultural norms.
There are definite social norms -- and they may vary -- that govern the
expression of aggression, James explains. When you stand in line in most
public places, the norms do not let you express hostility, you have to keep it to yourself
or youre marked as a bully. When driving, the norm is youre allowed to express
Those norms do vary from nation to nation, says James although he claims that things
are pretty similar in Canada and the United States overall.
In Italy, youre allowed to yell and make gestures and you just get it back,
but nobodys going to stop and pick a fight with you, says James. But you
try to do that in the U.S. and you have a fight.
There are also some key local differences.
Road rage can end up deadly when drivers begin to use their cars as weapons
For instance, in Philadelphia more people run red lights, James says. In
Florida, women drivers yell more than anybody. In fact in Florida, in grocery line-ups
people behind you do yell at you!
How do you change a cultural norm?
The United States is also plagued with violent and fatal road rage incidents, like the
1997 Ohio case of Tracie Alfieri. The 23-year-old mother of two who was convicted of
aggravated vehicular homicide for giving another driver a brake job: breaking
suddenly, on purpose, in front of another vehicle she claimed had cut her off. The driver
of the other vehicle, a 29-year-old pregnant woman was thrown from the car, and the fetus
she was carrying died. And in his report to Congress, Ricardo Martinez, Administrator of
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that about one-third of
vehicle crashes and about two-thirds of the resulting fatalities in the U.S. every year
can be attributed to behavior associated with aggressive driving.
According to Leon James, three out of four people surveyed say road rage is their top
driving worry and at least 14 states have introduced aggressive driving
legislation. Such legislation targets drivers observed making a number of infractions over
a given distance for instance, three offences over a length of five miles. But
James also says any real change in aggressive driving will have to come from forces
inside, not outside, the driver.
People are doing more in their cars -- like using cellphones and computers -- but they
aren't being trained to cope with it
Were not teaching drivers to deal with congestion and multi-tasking,
James points out. People are doing much more in their cars -- using cell phones,
internet connections, computers, map systems. The more driving gets complicated, the more
training you need and we arent doing that.
James also advocates a sort of Zen philosophy to driving that he developed after he
found his own driving under fire from his wife. It was this criticism, James
confesses, that sparked his driver soul searching in the first place.
My wife said her grandmother, a little old lady in her 90s, didnt think I
was a very good driver, James recounts. She explained that I take my turns too
fast, so the old lady was knocked against the door. My reaction was well, she can just
hold onto the door! Diane said, she doesnt want to, its not dignified;
she wants you to drive the way she wants to be treated. That was a whole new idea
James eventually came up with his theories of emotional intelligence" and
co-operative driving, which tackle the negative psychology that makes road
rage so common.
It requires a different philosophy that must be built up trip by trip, says
James. Visualize not a bullet going through traffic, but traffic as the circulation
of blood in the human body. You flow within the veins with the other cars, as a
transportation system, so your interest is how can I facilitate everybody getting to where
they want instead of stopping them so I can get to where I want.
James claims that when you adopt the co-operative driving philosophy, your whole
driving style changes. For instance, if a person stops you from changing lanes by closing
the gap, you say to yourself, that other person did it by habit or some other reason, not
personally to exclude me.
Instead of trying to block someone from entering a lane, you say be my guest
and you feel good about it because its a community gesture, explains
James. Its a random act of kindness as a driver it makes you more
relaxed and you benefit psychologically and physically.
Want to learn more about road rage and the pleasures of co-operative driving?
Visit Leon James Dr. Driving website.
In Pa., a Unique Campaign Against Road Rage
Oct. 6 If motorists on a
particularly frantic stretch of Philadelphia roadway dont know the dangers of road
rage yet, officials there hope new signs will serve as daily reminders.
Beware of Aggressive Drivers blares one black and orange sign, while others
read Dont Tailgate and Slow Down Save a Life.
Communities across the nation are grappling with road rage, the anger that boils within
some drivers and causes them to weave in and out of traffic, drive too fast on crowded
highways, tailgate, scream at fellow motorists and toss occasional obscene gestures.
At best, road rage creates a harrowing atmosphere on roadways, at worst it can cost lives.
While statistics released this week show highway traffic deaths remained about the same
last year from 1998, speed-related fatalities increased slightly from 12,509 to 12,628 in
1999, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Drive Nice, Win Latte
Leon James, author of Road Rage: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare, said New Jersey had
recently posted temporary road signs urging people to Drive Friendly, and a
St. Louis bridge repair bore signs warning drivers: Expect to Be Frustrated.
The approach is slightly different in Berkeley, Calif., where traffic cops are known to
hand out coupons for free gourmet coffee drinks to drivers who stick to the speed limit.
But James says the Philadelphia effort is the first where permanent warning signs have
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation began posting the messages in a northern
Philadelphia suburb last week near busy Interstate 476 hoping to calm problem stretches of
highway. More signs were to be planted today on other state routes.
Targeting driver behavior is crucial to reducing accidents, said DOT spokesman Ron
Young. There is no room to build new roads, so we have to make the best of what we
have, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. original here
Steering clear of road rage.
Signs to warn drivers of high-risk highways
By Jere Downs
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
With black letters on a Day-Glo orange background, the new road signs will be hard to
"Beware of Aggressive Drivers"
"Slow Down - Save a Life"
These messages - a unique effort to change motorists' behavior - will be seen on stretches
of two area roads, and possibly on more to come, as the Pennsylvania Department of
Transportation acknowledges what many drivers have known for some time: It's nuts out
"People drive like it is the Indy 500. I get clammy hands, and then I start to
sweat," Jennifer Middleman, 34, an Acme Markets clerk, said yesterday from her Dodge
Durango on U.S. Route 1 in Delaware County. "Those signs won't make any difference on
This was a common reaction among motorists to what are believed to be the first
permanent road markers of their kind.
The orange signs sprouted last week along Route 1 near the Blue Route. They will go up
today on a brake-stomping, manic-merge stretch of Route 611 in Bucks County.
These are just two of the many local roads where aggressive drivers have caused more
than 250 crashes each in the last five years, according to PennDot, by tailgating,
improperly changing lanes, speeding, and other impulsive acts.
The signs are a marked departure for a department that traditionally builds and repairs
"We can't reduce accidents unless we address driver behavior," PennDot
spokesman Ron Young said. "There is no room to build new roads, so we have to make
the best of what we have."
In the road zones colored bright red on PennDot's internal maps, where
"frustration levels are high and . . . concern for other motorists is low," the
advice is to stay calm.
"To respond in kind will only aggravate the situation," warned Andrew Warren,
PennDot district administrator. "By working together, we can help make sure we reach
our destinations safely and return home to our families at the end of the day."
PennDot's statewide pilot program - being paid for with maintenance funds from each of
the state's 11 highway districts - is the first of its kind nationwide, according to
James, a University of Hawaii expert on driving psychology and roadway aggression.
"This is the first time I have heard of permanent signs anywhere," said
James, author of the new book Road Rage: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare.
To be fair, New Jersey recently sponsored temporary road signs that say "Drive
In St. Louis, construction warning signs saying "Expect to Be Frustrated"
recently greeted motorists approaching a bridge being rebuilt, James said.
Like New Jersey and Delaware, Pennsylvania has relied on police traffic-safety blitzes
to curb wayward motorists.
"People have no respect for the other driver," said Chris Fetters, 39, a
landscaper who had stopped to gas up his Dodge. "They are in a hurry. They just want
you to get out of their way."
Many drivers said that if people ignore speed limits and other signs, they will also
flout PennDot's pointed reminders.
Since the traffic and limited road space are here to stay, PennDot would do well to
remind drivers of more positive messages, too, counseled James, the expert from Hawaii.
"The signs should say . . . 'Think of other drivers.' . . . Let's form a
community," James said. "Yes, it is congested, but we all have to get
"Since we are in this together," he added, "people need to be reminded
that they can help each other."
From: Roger Jellinek
RE: Feature on ROAD RAGE authors
I see that Road Rage remains a constant topic for Letters to the Editor,
and obviously a lot of readers are exercised about it.
You may not be aware that the leading authorities on the subject, in the US, indeed in
the world, live and work in Honolulu. Their new book, ROAD RAGE AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING,
has just been published. The authors are Leon James and his wife, Diane Nahl. They are
both professors at UH. Leon James is a psychology professor, and the originator of the
field of traffic psychology.
Diane Nahl is a professor of information and library science. They live in Kailua.
In the past three years their expertise has been featured or cited by the media
(television, radio, print) 650 times.
Their website, DrDriving.org, has become the leading source of information on road
rage, and is used by victims, by police departments, by legislators all round the country.
It is incredibly rich, and its international anecdotal base was an important grass-roots
source for the book.
Their message is rooted in Hawaiian aloha. They believe that ≥defensive driving,≤
often touted as the answer to aggressive driving, is in fact a serious contributor to the
problem, because it makes drivers very judgmental of other drivers. Blame leads to anger.
They point out that there is a wide range of drivers on the road, with an
equally wide range of skills. The road, they argue, is a community, and driving with
aloha means watching out for others, regarding traffic with the purpose of facilitating
it, nit competing with it in isolation.
They also point out that we brainwash our children into road rage. Our Jekyll and Hyde
behavior is watched by kids from birth to age 16, then imitated when they get behind the
Drivers Ed generally does not teach kids about driving behavior or traffic psychology.
And more. The book is written for the general reader. It has lots of tests for readers
to check out their own road rage tendencies, which makes for great feature material. You
might even run these tests as a series.
Anyway, this is the most important and authoritative book out on the subject, and the
authors are local heroes.
Stories of Road Rage
Quoting Dr. Leon James
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