Identifying The Different Types of Road Ragers
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
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
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
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.
© 1998 David J. Decker, MA, LP
Phone: 612-725-8402 or 651-646-4325 - www.ANGEResources.com