Home>Children & Youth>DrDriving's Vision Statement for YARR

Lifelong Driver's Education:
A New Socio-Behavioral Proposal

YARR Foundational Conference
Keynote Address by Dr. Leon James
1998, 2012


More studies are coming out indicating that there is an increase in incidence of violent road rage episodes between drivers. Government agencies have designated aggressive driving as a serious problem, approaching or equaling in severity to drinking and driving. Besides new legislation and stricter law enforcement initiatives, two differing approaches have been proposed by psychologists.

Clinical therapists, as exemplified by Dr. Arnold Nerenberg, address road rage as a pathology similar to other forms of sociopathic disorders and are attempting to add road rage to the DSM symptomatology. The other approach, exemplified by Dr. Leon James, addresses road rage and aggressive driving in terms of a social-behavioral syndrome, learned in childhood, and transmitted through socialization patterns that include modeling adult drivers in whose cars they are passengers for many years. Modeling is also occurring in the mass media that routinely portray drivers behaving badly and glamorize it in cartoons, commercials, and movies.

Dr. James is proposing an action plan to tackle this social epidemic on a long term, generational level that has four basic components:

Unproven Assumptions (probably FALSE)

Road rage and aggressive or risky driving are due to:

  • increased traffic congestion
  • insufficient surveillance, enforcement or punishment
  • individual pathology and violence proneness
  • bad mood, anger or impatience
  • frustration, stress, and provocation

However, these are not causes but conditions and occasions under which drivers are stressed, aggressive, and violent. These are excuses or opportunities not causes.

The causes are these:

The Legend of DrDriving

Based on our book:   Road Rage And Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving is not extreme any more; it has become a cultural norm on the highway. We're born into road rage; we inherit it from our parents. We acquire it automatically as children from adult drivers, cartoons, television, and commercials. Our culture condones the expression of hostility when we feel justified, indignant, stressed, or frustrated.  Proof of these points may be found in this document.

At the same time drivers aren't trained for emotional intelligence to be able to manage both lifestyle stress and provocations in traffic.

The Formula for Road Rage:

more driver interactions (more cars, less space), greater diversity of drivers
cultural norms of disrespect condoning hostility
aggressive driving and road rage battles

The average number of driver interactions during an average commute of 30 mins. has steadily climbed due to traffic congestion.  Thousands of interactions with hundreds of cars in a half-hour period create new challenges for drivers.  Any one of these mini-exchanges can go wrong when the context is hostile.   There are now 125 million drivers on the road every day in the U.S.  They represent a tremendous diversity of competence, style, and purpose.  The hundreds of drivers one encounters in a traffic half-hour puts us into contact with this diversity.   It is unrealistic to expect homogeneity of driving styles.  Drivers differ in gender, age, experience, familiarity with the road, physical health and condition, mood, and why they are on the road.  Not all drivers are in a hurry.  Not all drivers are alert.  Not all drivers are competent.  Not all drivers know how to coordinate with the rest of traffic.  Not all drivers want to.

And so the 125 million drivers on the road every day need to learn how to drive with each other, how to get along, how to be more tolerant of each other's mistakes and varieties of mood and desire for cooperation.  Driving Psychology gives drivers the psychological tools by which they can acquire sills of tolerance for one another.  It takes compassion, fairness, rationality, and altruism.   By developing these skills as drivers, we also become more valuable citizens and more worthy human beings.

The formula above shows that aggressive driving is the result of hostile norms in combination with more traffic.  It is not more traffic by itself that causes aggressive driving.  Here is the rest of the formula:

more driver interactions (more cars, less space), greater diversity of drivers
cultural norms of respect promoting civility and community
supportive, safe, and sane driving


Definition of Road Rage:

the habit of aggressive driving as a permanent style of behaving behind the wheel. There are three types:

1. Verbal Road Rage: yelling, cussing, gesturing, honking, insulting

2. Quiet Road Rage: complaining, rushing, competing, resisting

3. Epic Road Rage: cutting off, blocking, chasing, fighting, shooting

Lacking in emotional intelligence training, drivers operate on the false "trigger theory" of anger:

"I can't help it when they provoke me. Besides, they're doing something wrong. I can't just sit back and take it."

This attitude involves righteous indignation that gives us permission to retaliate because we feel wronged. It's easy to "lose it" when a "hot spot" is stepped on, and out comes the unthinking gesture, the uncontrolled temper, the comic book fantasies of punishment and mayhem.

Emotional Intelligence Exercises
or How Not to Be Hostile When Stressed and Upset

1. Self-witnessing behind the wheel:

Pretend you're giving a play-by-play broadcast of your driving--what you're doing, thinking, and feeling. Speak all your thoughts out loud. This will let you be more aware of your driving personality.

2. Shrinking Your Emotional Territory:

Talk to yourself. Argue with yourself. What is it that you really care about? Examine your assumptions, your anger theory, your driving philosophy.

3. Acting As-If

Pretend you're a supportive driver even when you feel like being competitive and aggressive. When you feel like yelling, sing instead--or make funny animal sounds (suggestion by LauraLee Carman in her book Rainbows In My Soup, BookPartners Inc., Wilsonville, Oregon) in the car. By pretending to be an Aloha spirit driver, you discover you like it--cool-headed, hassle-free driving. All right!

Three Levels of Emotional Intelligence as a Driver

1. Oppositional Driving (Aggressive Driving; Road Rage Habit)

2. Defensive Driving (Be on guard. Assume the worst.)

3. Supportive Driving (Act tolerant. Be forgiving. Be helpful.)

Defensive driving is a good strategy, but you can't let defensive driving slide into aggressive driving. The best defense is not a good offense, in this case. Factors that allow defensive driving to become oppositional:

  • rushing mania (getting there as fast as possible)
  • righteous indignation (They deserve to be punished)
  • comic book persona (The Avenger, Jekyll & Hyde, Mad Max)
  • culture that condones hostility (cartoons, commercials, movies)

Anatomy of Road Rage

Step 1: Provocation and Escalation
It takes two to make a fight. Don't respond. Don't engage. Don't up the ante. Swallow your pride. Choose "the road less traveled."

Containment Techniques:

  • Count to 10.
  • make animal sounds (suggestion by LauraLee Carman in her book Rainbows In My Soup, BookPartners Inc., Wilsonville, Oregon) .
  • Act as-if you're not affected.
  • Give yourself pep talks.

Step 2: Recovery and Remedy
If you fall into a hostile exchange, know how to back out, reverse, back pedal. You need to do damage control.

Containment Techniques:

  • Refrain from aggravating things.
  • Come out swinging positive. Apologize. See it from their side as well, not just your own.
  • Think supportive (vs. combative).

Acts of Declaration of Road Rage War

  • Honking at someone.
  • Giving an offensive hand gesture.
  • Yelling at someone or swearing.
  • Revving your engine to indicate displeasure.
  • Shining your high beams in retaliation.
  • Deliberately cutting someone off.
  • Tailgating.
  • Braking suddenly to punish a tailgater.
  • Blocking a lane.
  • Racing.
  • Chasing.

Y-A-R-R is a centralized international organization and a socio-cultural movement. It functions through various Councils as shown in this diagram:

The CHART above identifies the causes of aggression, hostility, and riskyness behind the wheel. What are these driver behaviors? Here is a list of common driving errors committed by most drivers and which constitute aggressive, hostile, and dangerous driving:

acting hostile
being a vigilante
being intolerant
berating other drivers
blocking passing lane
blocking the way
giving someone a"brake job"
burning rubber
car needs repairs
carrying a weapon
denying lane entry
disobeying signs
driving & partying
driving sleepy
driving with music frenzy
experiencing high stress
failing to yield
fantasizing revenge
feeling competitive
flipping the bird


giving the stink eye
honking to protest
lacking in objective self-knowledge
lane hopping
misusing headlights
no highway community feeling
not signaling
not valuing driver excellence
not wearing seatbelts
"pink" stops
playing loud music
risky multitasking
running red light
terrorizing passengers
threatening pedestrians
unaware and not alert
uninvolved in improving
venting anger

The solutions to these driving problems will require the efforts of the entire driver generation today--some 180 million in the U.S. alone, so that our culture of disrespect on highways can be transformed. Instead of stress, danger, and misery, we will have peace, safety, and enjoyment. We will save 40,000 lives every year, and 150 billion dollars annually by eliminating most of the 5 million crashes every year.


Driving behavior is the result of the driver's personality and the cultural norms we all share. These norms include emotions and intentions, both negative and positive. Driver personality reflects driver philosophy, which acts as a mental filter to create the driving style you show at any one time. Here is a diagram depicting this process.

Here are some more examples of emotions and intentions drivers may potentially have in accordance with cultural norms.

Culturally given

Culturally given





risk seeking
not caring
enjoying insulting
enjoying rebelling
enjoying punishing
enjoying getting vile
enjoying rushing
enjoying               competing
enjoying winning
hating to lose
hating to obey

enjoying obeying
enjoying supporting
enjoying mutuality
enjoying collective
enjoying hassle free
enjoying community
enjoying peace
enjoying getting along

fear of losing
biased stereotypes
teaching a lesson

helping out
being supportive
avoiding upsetting
maintaining standards
lifelong improvement
contributing to order


Road rage and aggressive driving have become cultural norms.


Last 12 years: 35% MORE MILES DRIVEN, ONLY 3% MORE ROADS--thus greatly increasing NUMBER OF EXCHANGES between drivers, any one of which can go wrong! Hence we need methods by which people can train themselves to become excellent drivers. Here is the plan:

As we are beginning our second century of car society, the car has become a techno-biological need that we incorporate into our modern mind. People want cars when they become free and democratic. The car fulfills people's techno-biological needs and becomes a symbol of wealth and freedom. These are normal needs but we need to learn how to live with them peacefully rather than dangerously.

Research shows that there are three types of driving styles, as shown in this diagram:

Emotional Intelligence

Orientation of






is reckless, impulsive & hostile to others; expresses criticisms and intolerance




is competitive but prudent & restrained; expresses worries & complaints




is helpful & friendly to others; expresses enjoyment & optimism

Every driver has the potential of experiencing all three levels of emotional intelligence, even within a few minutes of each other. It's important to do self-witnessing exercises behind the wheel in order for you to objectively determine how much time you spend in each of these three mental zones or regions when you drive. The goal for lifelong driving improvement is to maintain oneself in a supportive orientation as a driver, thinking prosocial thoughts, and enjoying the ride and mini-relationships with other drivers.

TEST YOURSELF for the TYPE OF DRIVER you really are--click here to see the quiz.

Click here to find out more about the 9 zones of your driving personality--positive and negative!

DrDriving's Solutions to Road Rage and Aggressive Driving
(click underlined links for more information)





The New Lifelong Driver Education Curriculum
(based on driving psychology)

K through 12

affective driving education (elementary)

cognitive driving education (intermediate)

sensorimotor driving education (high school)

Graduated licensing

Quality Driving Circles


Small groups form in:

YMCA and other civic organizations
Professional organizations

and use  inner power tools:


In the economic arena:
Insurance companies
Automotive industry
Personal or individual

Mass media arena:
DBB ratings
Radio shows for drivers
World Wide Web presence

Diffusion arena:
Product marketing
Web activism
Collaboration with SADD, CARR  and YARR

Research arena:

Encouraging Good Driver Behavior

The Toronto Transit Commission won the American Public Transportation Award for eighteen of the last twenty-one years, according to M.L. Friedland (see J. Peter Rothe Challenging the Old Order: Towards New Dimensions in Traffic Safety, Transaction Publishers, 1990, p.101). This feat was apparently accomplished by encouraging the 300 drivers to participate in a "safety bingo" that rewards drivers who stay out of crashes and tickets with small but desired prizes such as a television set. An important feature of the safety bingo is the grouping of drivers into divisions. When a driver gets into a crash the entire division is penalized relative to the other divisions. This creates strong peer pressure to maintain driving alertness and to stay out of trouble.

There are two principles to be learned from this experience. First, a positive incentive system is more desirable than negative punishment methods. Second, peer pressure is a potent force that can strongly influence people's behavior. These two principles are especially important with young drivers.

One endeavour for YARR is the development of positive incentives for encouraging good driving behavior. One approach to this goal is to help young drivers everywhere to form themselves into small groups of five to 10 individuals and to meet with each other on a regular basis to discuss their driving improvement activities. These groups are known as QDCs or Quality Driving Circles

Small groups of drivers meet together regularly, and discuss their driving situation, influencing and learning from each other. All participants are encouraged to contribute their self-witnessing reports and tapes for common use and discussion. A generational library of self-witnessing reports thus accumulates and forms the basis for change. The self-witnessing reports are prepared by members according to models and instructions. They include

  • thoughts and feelings behind the wheel
  • driving personality makeover projects using behavioral techniques of self-modification
  • checklists, tests, and inventories to help keep track of changes and patterns in one's driving

Each QDC would have access to the traffic data from the self-witnessing reports produced by other QDCs as well--a sort of community grass roots organization. The Web would be a good vehicle for the exchange of such information between all YARR groups.

QDCs may also be a good vehicle for the Courts who are always looking for driver re-education programs more effective than watching driving safety movies, or doing unrelated community work. The dynamic power of groups to influence individual behavior is well known to social scientists. We should be using this power for re-educating aggressive and emotionally impaired drivers.

QDCs are principally cultural motivators for a value change. QDCs are re-education delivery mechanisms for changing aggressive driving into supportive driving. But they also are the best source of continuous data for tracking the level and intensity of aggressive driving. Trained volunteers tape record themselves in traffic and later analyze the data, using approved checklists for the presence or absence of certain emotions, and their intensity. These data would be a measure of the level of aggressiveness or stress that drivers regularly experience on that stretch of road, and the nature of these emotions and thoughts, so they may be dealt with on a public basis. These data would be anonymous and published on a regular basis.

The YARR sign of Victory!
I support peace and civility among drivers

Various people have asked me about signs that drivers might use to better communicate with each other. Communication between drivers is an important issue (see here for studies done by my traffic psychology students at the University of Hawaii). I heard Dr. Arnold Nerenberg in his congressional testimony advocate a gesture that would mean "I'm sorry" made by placing your hand palm upward on your forehead.

I also saw Dr. Nerenberg on a talk show exhibiting a visual sign that reads "I'm sorry." Some of my students found that this kind of sign can be irritating to a driver who is in an emotionally impaired state. I think we need to proceed with more research here.

For YARR I am proposing a gestural sign with which young people can identify as a spiritual symbol that represents what they want to be loyal to. It might become a strong group sign endowed with emotion and motivation.

The YARR sign is the letter "Y" (for the first letter of "YARR") made with the second and third finger of either hand, palm turned towards the other driver, and is identical to the historical Churchill and Eisenhower "V" sign symbolizing spiritual VICTORY in battle of good over evil achieved by the grassroots efforts of individual peace warriors. The YARR sign says, I support peace and civility among drivers.

The Y sign stands for the sentiment against road rage and aggressive driving by the current youth generation. It is YOUTH working to protect themselves and the next generation from growing up with road rage and thus having to be part of it. Members, supporters, and well wishers of YARR can use the Y-sign behind the wheel to show each other support for peace and civility on highways and streets. In addition, the Y-sign can be used to indicate a peaceful orientation and intention to another driver who is acting aggressively against us for some driving situation that occurred. So the sign can have various meanings around this one theme of peace and compassion:

  • I'm sorry--it's my fault
  • I meant no harm or insult
  • I should be more alert--thanks
  • I wasn't up to par--forgive me
  • and so on

The point here is that we all make mistakes as drivers and that we need to cut one another more slack. As well, we need to be supportive of civility and community, and a known friendly sign can remind us of civility, soften our harshness, and help establish stronger feelings of community among drivers.