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by Dr. Leon James



If you conceptualize aggressiveness as a continuum from very "slight" (1) to very "strong" (10) you can place yourself somewhere in between, depending on how you perceive yourself and how you wish to represent yourself. In terms of an overall self-rating on aggressiveness (question 2), the women drivers are at the middle range (4.9) of the 10 point spread. The men drivers are slightly above the middle point (5.8). This difference is not statistically significant with this small sample of 12 men and 13 women. If you look at the whole sample, men and women drivers, the mean aggressiveness rating is 5.4 which is close to the national average of 5.7.

If you look at the occurrence of hostile emotions (question 5), some of these appear to be more severe than others. Extreme anger and rage occurs with a surprising degree of regularity for both men and women (4.9), or about half way to the maximum. The men admit to anger and rage slightly more frequently than women (5.1 vs. 4.4), but the difference is not statistically reliable. It could come up the opposite in another sample. Still, the lack of gender difference shows that women drivers are not experiencing LESS rage than men, though they may express it differently or less overtly. This is another issue to be researched.

Men admit to enjoying fantasies of violence significantly more than women (3.9 vs. 1.3). Men feel more competitive than women drivers (4.8 vs. 4.0) but they feel equally impatient (5.5). Men want to drive more dangerously than women (2.4 vs. 2.1), but this is not significant. On the other hand, men feel more compassion (5.9 vs. 5.4), but this is not significant. Women experience more fear for self and family (4.2 vs. 3.7), but they are also experiencing less stress than men (4.7 vs. 5.4).

There are also positive things drivers feel toward one another and I think it's very important to bring this out because it can form the basis for driver improvement and personal standards. These positive feelings can form the motivation for improvement. They act as inner incentives for being more supportive rather than merely hostile. For instance, these drivers report that feeling compassion for another driver occurs more regularly (5.5) than feeling competitive (4.6) or extreme anger (4.9). Women feel more level headed and calm while driving than men do (7.2 vs. 6.5).

Obviously women are experiencing more trouble than men with the hostile driving environment. Besides being unable to feel peace and serenity behind the wheel, the women also experience fear for self and family in the car on a regular basis (4.2), while the men seem to feel less of this (3.7). Assuming that fear acts as a deterrent to risk taking, the women are less likely to drive aggressively than men, though this is only a hypothesis right now. See here for further research on gender differences in driving.

These results on the kind of thoughts and feelings behind the wheel that men and women report, are confirmed by looking at the overt acts drivers admit to doing. The survey groups these acts into three types of aggressive behaviors:

Mild Road Rage or Impatience (Questions 9-16)
Serious Road Rage or Hostility (Questions 18-25)
Severe Road Rage and Violence (Questions 27-33)

Mild forms of road rage are reported more regularly by women than men (40% vs. 28%), while more serious forms of road rage are reported about equally by men and women (8% vs. 7%). The women are more aggressive than the men, with respect to milder forms (lane hopping, illegal turns, following very close, swearing, failure to yield, and going over the speed limit by 15 mph).

Considering all forms of aggressive driving (combined), men admit to doing it with greater regularity than women (3.9 vs. 2.1 on the 10-point scale).

When it comes to rating other drivers on their aggressiveness (question 6), men see others as more aggressive than women see others, though the difference is not signficant (5.6 vs. 5.1). Note that women see other drivers as more aggressive (5.1) than they see themselves (4.9). It is the reverse for men. They see themselves as more aggressive (5.8) than other drivers (5.6). This is a fundamental difference and needs further research. Note that men rate themselves (question 1) higher on driving excellence (7.3) than women rate themselves (7.1). This is not a statistically significant difference and we need to see if this finding will be replicated in future samples.

In terms of attitudes towards law enforcement, driver ed, and insurance rebates, men and women drivers differ in specific ways. Women are in favor of stronger law enforcement (6.0 vs. 5.5 for men), more electronic surveillance (5.0 vs. 4.5 for men), tougher licensing (7.8 vs. 6.8 for men) and more insurance rebates (8.3 vs. 7.9 for men).



DrDriving's "culture tantrum" hypothesis of road rage can be evaluated to some extent by comparing our own aggressiveness to the aggressiveness of our parents and other adults with whom children ride over a period of many years of exposure.

For milder forms of road rage, women remember their parents as more aggressive than men remember them (37% vs. 18%). With more severe forms of road rage, men and women remember their parents as equally hostile (around 15% for hostility and 7% for violence). Men and women see themselves as about equally aggressive as their parents (around 15% overall all forms of aggression and impatience).

While other interpretations of these data are possible, I take these as evidence of a relationship between the aggressiveness of drivers today and the aggressiveness they were exposed to as children in cars. Aggressive driving, hostile feelings, and violent thoughts are thus learned behaviors. This means that they can be un-learned!



The following are correlational results, which means that the direction of the cause-effect relation is not indicated. I have chosen wording that reflects a particular direction that seemed to make sense to me, but be aware that other interpretations are possible.

a) The less experienced enjoy more fantasies of violence than the more experienced.

b) Those who enjoy fantasies of violence rate themselves as more aggressive drivers, experience more anger or rage, drive more aggressively. They also feel more impatient and want to drive more dangerously. They see themselves, other drivers, and their parents as more aggressive, and at the same time they want less required training. This is an amazing syndrome. It proves that aggressiveness is a general style made up of many individual traits that coalesce together on a cultural pattern.

c) Those who see themselves as more aggressive also see themselves as more excellent drivers. But they admit to feeling more stress than those who see themselves as less aggressive. Those who see themselves as more aggressive, also experience more rage, have more violent fantasies, see other drivers as more aggressive, and want less surveillance on highways.

d) Those who see their parents as more aggressive tend to see themselves as more aggressive and report feeling more anger and rage behind the wheel. But, wonder of wonders, they also report feeling more compassion for other drivers, want stronger law enforcement efforts but not tougher requirements for license renewals.

See also related articles:  Driving Psychology Principles  ||  Articles on Aggressive Driving and Road Rage

Hawaii's courteous driving jamming traffic?

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