The incidence of road rage has skyrocketed over the last two or three decades. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found an increased incidence of serious incidents of 51% from 1990 to 1996. A national survey reported that 60% of motorists believe aggressive driving by others is a significant threat to their safety and their family’s safety on the highway. In another survey, 75% of people surveyed believe it is very important to curb the number of road rage incidents.
What leads to rage? Aggressive driving is a description of dangerous behaviors on the highway. Aggressive driving is described as driving at high speeds, weaving through traffic, following too closely behind another car, running stop signs, cutting people off in traffic, and other aggressive acts. This aggressive driving can escalate into screaming, name-calling, anger, rage, yelling at another driver, confrontation, physical assault, injury, and murder. Road rage occurs when aggressive driving escalates to violence.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Defines Aggressive Driving
“The operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.”
There is an important distinction between aggressive driving and road rage. Aggressive driving is a traffic violation but when that leads to an altercation between drivers that is a criminal offense. The term road rage originated in the 1990s after the media dubbed the new term for the growing trend of extremely aggressive driving occurring in America.
Up until the 1990s, the number of aggressive drivers was infrequent. It was rare to see an aggressive driver on the highway and confrontation or road rage was rare. What has happened to cause such an increase in aggressive driving and road rage? I will discuss the more common beliefs related to road rage but will end the article with my viewpoint on why this is occurring.
The first and most obvious reason for increased road rage is the number of cars on the road has increased dramatically. People are traveling more miles each day such as to work. Americans live in a very mobile society. We live on a 24/7 timeline where Americans want everything immediately and everyone is in a rush. Some psychologists believe the intoxicating power and anonymity of being inside a car contribute to this phenomenon.
Traffic congestion or delays, disregard for others, and running late are thought to contribute to the problem. Many people drive aggressively because they are stressed, running late, late for school, late for work, rushing to a doctor’s appointment, or the start of an athletic game.
Anonymity in driving provides a unique combination of public and private behavior. Being inside a car isolates the driver from the outside world while being actively involved with the world. They feel shielded from the chaotic and hostile outside world by being behind tinted windows and a climate-controlled interior. The driver can feel detached from the outside environment and develop a sense of anonymity.
The chances are you will observe an incident or be involved in a road rage encounter at least or more times in your life. AAA estimates nearly eight out of ten drivers demonstrate aggressive driving behaviors.
Road rage incidents were reported over a seven-year period with over 200 murders and 12,000 injuries. The NHTSA lists speeding and alcohol as the leading causes of aggressive driving leading to driving fatalities. Speeding was responsible for nearly 12,000 deaths on the highways in 2020. The year 2021 was the deadliest year for road rage with an average of 44 people dying per month. Males are more likely to be involved in road rage incidents with the common age of these drivers between the age of 25 to 39. Nearly 80% of drivers admit to driving in an aggressive manner themselves.
Trace’s study showed that Texas, California, and Florida are the states with the most road rage incidents involving guns. Gun deaths and injuries increased by 98% between 2017 and 2021. There were 522 people shot in 2021 compared to 263 in 2017.
Road rage is more likely in the summer months and more common towards the end of the week. The hours between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. is the peak time for road rage. This corresponds to the peak commute hours. Road rage beings with one or two incidents but eventually turns into a lifetime habit.
Over 50% of drivers think speeding is normal. Nearly 33% of collisions involve road rage.
Nearly 100% of car crashes are the result of human error.
The NHTSA lists the major contributing factors to aggressive driving as:
Psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, traffic safety experts, law enforcement, and news reporters have studied road rage and offered a variety of opinions concerning the cause of aggressive driving and road rage. I think these opinions and assessments have value but fail to get to the root cause.
I believe that the underlying root of the problem is related to our lifestyles. We are putting five times the amount of information or data into our brains compared to just a few decades ago. At that time there were three television stations and at 12:00 p.m. the stations turned off after playing the national anthem. You only saw snow and heard static on the television. The average American spends 10 to 12 hours a day glued to a flat screen of different sizes and types.
There are hundreds of television stations and networks today that play 24 hours a day. Many of these are designed to stimulate the emotional center of the brain called the limbic system. This is the location of rage, anger, passion, lust, and powerful negative emotions. There is a direct pathway from the vision center in the brain to the limbic system. Stimulating this area of the brain leads to addiction to these flat screens which is no different than that to drugs and alcohol. The same chemical in the brain called dopamine which causes the euphoria from drugs is released in the brain from the visual stimulation secondary to flat screen use. Americans are totally addicted to flat-screen viewing.
The news stations very seldom talk about an event with a happy ending or people sacrificing for someone or report a feel-good story. They only report tragic events, killings, robberies, or any sensationalistic story. Our brains never get a rest from the things we watch on our flat screens. Our culture has been sexualized by Hollywood and the media. We are constantly stimulating our brains which keeps the brain in a hyperactive state. The video games people play are addictive and most involve aggressive behavior. Americans are overstressed, have the highest incidence of mental disease, and addiction in our history. Many people have trouble compensating in this new culture or society.
In 2004, Richard Swenson M.D. wrote a book about this titled Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Resources to Overloaded Lives. This was becoming a problem nearly twenty years ago but has exponentially gone way beyond the situation present back then. The book is about the loss of our safety margin in dealing with life. Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. A few decades ago, life was slower and if something happened, people were better able to deal with the circumstance. That margin is lost now. Here is a paragraph from that book.
“Marginless is being 30 minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were 20 minutes late dropping the kids off, and you were a block away from the gas station when you ran out of gas, and you forgot your wallet. Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence. Marginless is the crying baby and the phone ringing at the same time. Margin is grandma taking the baby for the afternoon. Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift. Margin is a friend to carry half the burden. Marginless is is not having time to finish the book on stress. Margin is having the time to read it twice. Marginless is fatigue. Margin is energy. Marginless is red ink. Margin is black ink. Marginless is hurry. Margin is calm. Marginless is anxiety. Margin is security. Marginless is culture. Margin is counterculture. Marginless is the disease of the new millennium. Margin is its cure.
This paragraph gives a description of the world we live in today where nearly everyone is out margin. We all have our limits with our emotions, physical limits, financial limits, and no one has enough time in the day to live their lives. Our brains are overloaded and have no margin in which to cope with things that happen in everyone’s lives. Tiny little things can kick us over the edge. With a snap of the finger, we are out of control.
Road rage is out of control in America. There are some things you can do to diminish your risk of being involved in a road rage incident.
List of Ways to Diminish Road Rage
How to Avoid Being a Victim of Road Rage
All these preventions are good but until Americans are able to control their flat screen use and change how they live their lives; road rage will keep getting worse. Technology and the addiction to flat screens are not going to diminish in the future. It is only going to get worse as technology advances. We will keep overloading our minds even further. Stress will continue to erode our margins further and confrontations will continue to be a larger and larger problem. America needs to wake up to what is happening to the culture and society in America.