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How a Road Rage Incident Occurs

by Dave Decker M.A., L.P.

(the emotion)

A road rage incident starts with anger, the emotion. Anger is a fact of life. There is no way to avoid this feeling at times; on the roadways and elsewhere in our lives.

Anger is a normal and natural emotion that arises from how we interpret the physical arousal from the "flight or fight" stress response al human beings experience. This stress response can be triggered in us whenever:

  • We are startled
  • We feel fearful, threatened or endangered
  • We believe that things around us are "out of control"
  • We feel insecurity, uncertainty or self-doubt

On the positive side, our anger can be a source of discovery. It tells us that "something is going on" that needs to be attended to. Especially related to driving, anger is often experienced when we believe that:

  • Our wants, needs or rights are not being addressed and respected
  • An injustice has been done to us or someone else
  • Others are trying to dominate or control us

If we allow our anger to build and fester in the car, it can lead to the destructive attitudes discussed below.

Cynicism, Hostility, Disgust, Contempt, Entitlement, Control
(the attitudes)

These are the attitudes that consist of:

  • A negative mind set;
  • A mistrust of other people and their motives; and
  • A desire to control a person or situation or a desire to get even or get revenge

This mind set leads to brooding about and focusing on others' real or perceived injustices toward us and what we need to do to remedy the situation. These attitudes also lead to viewing the world (and our roadways) as unsafe places and expecting other drivers to:

  • Be incompetent and inadequate
  • Be inconsiderate, unfair and untrustworthy
  • Go out of their way to try to take advantage of us or to "cross" us in some way
  • Set up a situation where they deserve to be punished or retaliated against by us

These attitudes promote the idea that we are "victims" on the road and need to be:

  • Constantly "on guard," hyper-vigilant, and continually prepared to respond to others' provocative, dangerous or irresponsible behavior
  • Ready to defend ourselves and punish others

These attitudes are best represented by our negative self-talk or rehearsal (what we say to ourselves / our thought language)

  • "Move it or park it, grandma"
  • "Keep pedaling, old man"
  • "That young buck must think he's quite the hot shot"
  • "The light's not going to get any greener, buddy"
  • "That jerk isn't going to get away with what he just did"
  • "What the hell is the matter wtih that turkey?"
  • "I'm gonna get that 'SOB' for cutting me off"
  • "OK, sucker, you've invaded my space; now it's payback time"

When we engage in negative thinking like this, we are continually fueling our stress response and increasing the intensity of and prolonging our anger about what has just happened. If these attitudes become our way of looking at the world when we are in the car, they then contribute directly to the violation of another driver's rights and boundaries through the behaviors discussed below.

Aggressive Driving Actions
(the behaviors)

Aggressive driving actions involve behaviors acted out with the intent to "teach," hurt, punish, intimidate, control and dominate other drivers. They are used as means of getting the "last word" in a driving duel, gaining revenge for the real or imagined "wrongs" done to us, or getting our way in a particular situation.

They exist on a continuum from:

...A single gesture, curse or facial expression

...To repeated exchanges of these actions between two or more drivers, together with increased anger and impaired judgment

...To actively harrassing and intervering with the other driver through the use of behaviors like:

  • Staring or glaring at another motorist
  • Making a visible gesture or "flipping someone off"
  • Honking our horn
  • Flashing our bright lights
  • Tailgating
  • Cutting someone off
  • Blocking the passing lane by slowing down
  • Speeding up to stop someone from passing us
  • Tapping or slamming on our brakes
  • Chasing or following another vehicle
  • Swerving toward another car

These behaviors set the stage for an actual road rage incident.

Road Rage Incident
(the eventual outcome)

A road rage incident occurs when aggressive driving leads to extreme acts of aggressive behavior and attempts to intentionally injure the other driver's vehicle or person that lead to property damage or physical injury or death. It represents the end result of an escalating sequence of aggressive driving actions meted out from one driver to another that literally takes on a life of its own.

For example:

  • Pullling over to the side of the road to "talk" to another driver and then ending up in a shoving match or fist fight
  • Forcing someone's car off the road
  • Throwing a bottle or can at another car
  • Bumping or ramming someone else's car with your vehicle
  • Trying to run someone down
  • Shooting at another car

© 1998 David J. Decker, MA, LP
Phone: 612-725-8402 or 651-646-4325 -





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