You know that familiar tightening feeling, the red tinge to
your vision -- some bozo cuts you off, slows down as you are about to pass, is
going under the limit in the left lane, doesn't signal, is on the phone, keeps
you from making the light -- and it's showdown time at the "I am not OK
Corral." Makes you tense up just to read it, doesn't it?
One study estimates that more than half of all drivers have
experienced a surge of road rage at some point, although not all bang into the
offender's rear bumper, pull a pistol, or hurl a helpless puppy into oncoming
traffic. Still, tens of thousands of accidents happen each year because of
aggressive driving, which is also a leading cause of death for young
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"You know those studies of overcrowding in rats?" asks
Barry Markell, PhD, a psychotherapist in Park Ridge, Ill., who has treated many
perpetrators and victims of road rage. "Well, rats are usually OK until
there is one rat too many in an enclosed space and then they all turn on each
other. There are far more people on the road than ever before. Crowding causes
Of course, as Markell points out, people in a grocery store
line can also get stressed and annoyed. But in grocery store line, everyone
involved is a person. The woman with the screaming kids is clearly a mother.
The woman fumbling with the credit card machine is someone's grandmother.
Road ragers don't see the offender as a person. "They
'thingify' the person," Markell says.
Ava Cadell, PhD, a psychologist and instructor at the Institute
fir the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, agrees. "The
heavy metal of a car is a safe haven. Road ragers don't think about the
consequences or even about other people on the road as real people with real
Road Rage Intensifiers
"Road ragers are selfish, power hungry, angry, and
vindictive," Cadell explains. The average offender has raged at least 27
times, according to one study.
Besides overcrowding on the highway, there also may be several
chicken-and-egg scenarios at work. First, the rager may be violent in other
parts of his or her life, for instance at home or with a family. Or the tension
of the commute may make domestic violence worse.
Secondly, the road rager may be inflamed by the absent-minded
or stupid driving of those talking on cell phones. This is common. But a person
in an argument on a cell phone him or herself can also flare into a rage about
something on the road, Cadell says. "Verbal confrontations on the phone can
lead to confrontations on the road, she says It works both ways."
An inability to handle anger or deflect it can also be at fault
-- thus the proliferation of anger management courses.