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Motorists Beware:
Identifying The Different Types of Road Ragers

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

A highly publicized road rage incident several years ago in the Twin Cities featured a 41-year-old doctor who hit a 69-year-old grandmother in the face after she cut in front of him at an freeway entrance ramp. Many people were surprised that someone like a physician could become involved in an episode like this. It did not surprise me, however, because there are a variety of different types of road ragers. They often don't necessarily fit the stereotype of the chronically angry person who lashes out everywhere in his or her life. This article will look at the different types of road ragers I have worked with and gotten to know over the past 20 years and offer some descriptive information about each one. As you are reading the article, think about your own driving habits and those of people you know. You may be surprised at what you see.

Part of what's especially important in identifying different types of road ragers is to realize that even people who seem to handle anger and stress in other areas of their lives may become angry on the highway and contribute to a road rage incident that involves property destruction, injury, and even death. Once tempers start to flare and we begin to make some bad choices, there is always the possibility that we or someone else will become another road rage statistic. The types of road ragers I will be discussing are not necessarily "hard and fast" or distinct. There is significant overlap between the categories and many road ragers may have qualities that involve parts of several different categories.

The first type is the ROAD WARRIOR. The name comes from the "Mad Max" movies of the 1970's, which were set in a post-apocalyptic society where anarchy and violence reign supreme and roaming gangs of marauders maim and kill others for the few remaining stores of gasoline and for the sheer excitement of that lifestyle. This type represents the psychopathic and anti-social element who use the highways as just another place where they can act out their criminal behavior. They don't care about themselves or others and are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to create fear and perpetrate violence against other drivers. The majority of aggressive drivers who create road rage statistics (i.e. crashes, injuries, homicides) are young males between 18 and 26 who are poorly educated, have drug or alcohol problems, and have criminal histories.

You may think to yourself, "Oh, I would never get involved with someone like that when I'm driving," but don't be so sure. How do you know that the motorist who just cut you off or who is tailgating you isn't this type? In the summer of 1997, a 22-year-old woman was shot and killed on Highway 94 in St. Paul by a 17-year-old and two friends in a stolen car who began the episode by harassing her and a companion returning from a date. Thinking about the potential consequences to you and those you love, especially with this type of road rager and the next, is a great reason to start to control how you react in the car. Once the reacting begins, you never know what the other driver will do and where the interaction will end.

The second type is also scary, especially since I have worked so closely with them as a psychologist for 20 years in domestic abuse treatment programs and anger management classes. These were the people who helped me tune into the level of anger, hostility, and violence on our streets and highways. They are the RAGEAHOLICS, men and women who are frustrated, angry, and rageful much, if not most, of the time. They feel powerless, victimized, and "stepped on" by their partners, their children, their bosses and co-workers, their neighbors, and everyone else. They often become verbally and even physically abusive at home and they are likely to have angry outbursts at work and be fired from positions or quit abruptly and move from job to job. They feel impatient and irritated much of the time and the car becomes simply another vehicle to vent their life's pain and frustration.

This type, similar to the first, are just looking for someone to "cross" them, which gives them an excuse to "dump" the anger that is continually churning within. Clients in the domestic abuse program have shared disturbing examples of brutal beatings they have given to other motorists who had the audacity to turn in front of them or drive too slowly in the left hand lane. One client, a over-the-road truck driver, boasted about two incidents when, after becoming angry with other motorists, he slammed the rear end of his trailer into their cars, knocking them into the ditch by the side of the road.

The third type is known as ROAD ROYALTY, the "kings" and "queens" of the highway. The doctor at the beginning of this article has a good chance of fitting into this category. These people see themselves as "different" and "better" than other drivers because of their higher status and their life circumstances. They might drive a Lexus, a BMW, or a Jeep Grand Cherokee. They might be a corporate executive or manager who makes all sorts of important decisions and expects people to bend to his or her wishes. They might be a professional like a attorney or a physician who is used to getting his or her way in the court room or in the operating room. They might be a highly successful entrepreneur who has risen to the top "all by myself." They might have or make a lot of money and live in the most prestigious areas. Or they might be married to someone in the above life situations and take on that person's attitude toward the rest of the world.

These individuals have a grandiose and arrogant sense about themselves and feel personally entitled to "have things my way," which includes what happens during the time they are in the car. They believe that driving unencumbered by other motorists is their "unalienable right" because of who they are and how they have lived their lives. They see themselves as too important and too sucessful to have to live by the rules and etiquette intended for everyone else. These people are likely to react when someone gets in their way and keeps them from doing whatever "vital" task happens to be at hand for them in the present.

The fourth type of rager is the ROAD RANGER. Road rangers are drivers who seek out and attempt to punish other motorists who are breaking the "rules of the road" that the rangers define as important. Unfortunately, others would not necessarily see the rules quite the same as the rangers do.

For example, if road rangers believe the left lane is for passing only, their rule is that others should get out of the way even if the other motorist is traveling at the speed limit. However, if their rule is that everyone should always abide by the speed limit, they will try to slow others down by camping in the left lane and driving the posted speed. Nobody else knows their rules, which tend to be personal, arbitrary, and very rigid. But the rangers are constantly looking for anyone who violates these standards.

They have the self-righteous and grandiose attitude that it is their job to monitor and "correct" the "rude" and "inconsiderate" behavior of other drivers. They take deep offense when someone violates any of their particular sets of rules. They also believe that they "know" the personalities of the offending drivers by how they look, what type of vehicle they own, and how they drive and are quick to judge and label others with demeaning terms (e.g. "That yuppie is an idiot").

This type of road ragers can also be pretty frightening. They are best represented by a 54-year-old church deacon and retired auto worker in Rhode Island. He became enraged that two men were tailgating a woman in the passing lane across the highway from him. He proceeded to move over two lanes, flash his lights at them, and tailgate the offenders at high speed for eight miles. Eventually, he pulled over to the side of the road after they had done so, and used a crossbow from his trunk to shoot one of them dead in the name of "protecting" himself and his wife, who was also in the car with him. He was sentenced to life in prison. He had no identified anger problems and no previous difficulties with the law. He provides another important reason to avoid engaging in angry encounters with other drivers on the roadways. Even supposed "good guys" can be killers.

The fifth type is the ROAD RACER. These are the speeders and the Indy 500 "wannabes." For some road racers, their driving habits involve simply experiencing the power of their automobile and the "rush" and the exhilaration that driving fast can bring. For others, it is because they are late, in a hurry, and feel continually pressured to "make up time." They often weave in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds to get to their destination as fast as they possibly can. They tend to tailgate as close as they can to pressure other cars to move over and let them by. They expect others to clear a path and stay out of their way. They become angry and frustrated when other drivers do not allow them to travel at whatever speed they wish to go. Unfortunately, as a byproduct of their "need for speed," they are totally unable to enjoy anything about the driving process because they are continually "pumped up" and so focused on decreasing the time it takes them to get from one place to another.

In fact, the road racers who are so focused on saving time don't generally save much real time. I drove 25 miles on the freeways from my home to my work in the past. At 60 mph, I got there in 25 minutes. At 75 mph, I got there in 20 minutes. I would only save five minutes doing this, and it is just not worth the stress and danger that is created, for ourselves and others, by traveling at the faster speed.

The sixth type is the COMPETITOR. Many people in our society enshrine competition and winning as unquestioned values. Competitors take these attitudes out on the open road and become obsessive in their striving to be "number one" in the many little contests that can occur in the car on a daily basis. Driving becomes just another series of private challenges that are either "won" or "lost."

Examples of the competitor's behavior might include roaring off when the stoplight turns green to beat another car through the intersection or picking another car and "racing" it to a predetermined marker (the other driver may not even be aware of the "race"). In order to maintain their competitive edge, they have to be hyper-vigilant and primed to respond, which creates an ongoing state of stress arousal. This arousal can quickly turn to anger, especially if they "lose." When this happens, they often feel disgraced and humiliated and become rageful at themselves and the other drivers who have "beaten" them.

The seventh type is the ROAD REBEL. These drivers are also competitive but do it in a more passive-aggressive way. These are the people who are not going to be "forced" to do anything by another driver. They tend to see others' driving behaviors as personal attacks and believe that other motorists "are out to push me around." They refuse to let that happen and have the attitude that "nobody can make me do anything." They become rageful if they have to "give in" or "back off" and others are able to do what they want on the roadways. In that situation, the rebels feel like "wimps" and think to themselves that "someone has gotten the better of me."

Road rebels would be likely to try to close the gap between themselves and the car in front of them to keep another driver from moving into the lane ahead of them or would tap their brakes and slow down in the left lane if someone is tailgating them.

The eighth type is a category in which many people find themselves these days. It involves being a DISTRACTED DRIVER and is a little different from many of the road ragers discussed previously. These motorists may not be angry themselves initially but they trigger irritation and frustration in other drivers, especially some of the types listed above. Eventually, they may become angry themselves after others have become angry with them. These are the drivers who view the car as simply another place where they can accomplish the necessary and important tasks of their daily lives.

Once in the car, they are often very busy with a variety of activities that have nothing to do with driving. They make calls from their cell phones, drink their latte and eat their lunch, primp and apply makeup so that they look "just right," and even read the newspaper to catch up on current events or a NY Times bestseller to improve their minds. They have the entitled belief that they should be able to do anything they want in their car and pay little attention to their primary task in the car, which is actually taking responsibility for operating their vehicle safely on the roadways.

The final type is another category in which many of us find ourselves from time to time. This is the SITUATIONAL RAGER. This type involves reacting to specific situations that we encounter on the highways that we can't control. These ragers might get angry in rainy or snowy weather, backed-up rush hour traffic, and when confronted by highway obstructions and construction areas. It can also involve driving when you are stressed about other life circumstances, when you have too many things to do, when you are late, or when you feel rushed and harried. Most people do, in fact, get angry on the freeways at times. Unfortunately, even if you only fall into this category, you might become engaged with one of the other seven types, which could eventually lead to potentially severe and destructive consequences.

Think about the nine types that I have presented in this article and about the driving habits that you and others close to you have. Do you see yourself or others you know fitting into any of the categories? If so, this is a time to start changing your attitudes and behaviors when you drive or asking those around you to do so. Explosive anger on the highways is a dead end street. Changing the way you react in the car is the only way to prevent yourself from becoming involved in a road rage incident where you, those you love, or others might be injured or even killed.

Some things to think about related to this article


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





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