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The Root Cause of Road Rage

Road rage has happened to more than half of all drivers. Do you know what's causing you to be a road rager?

If You are Prone to Road Rage

As a psychotherapist, Markell often sees people whose "significant others" are concerned or terrified by their mate's aggressive driving. If you or your spouse think this has become a problem, some possible steps to take include:

  • Get sufficient rest -- lack of sleep leads to loss of control.
  • Limit alcohol -- "Alcohol can make you rageful," Cadell says (not to mention impair your driving other ways).
  • Leave earlier for your destinations. That 10-second wait won't bug you as much.
  • Play soothing music. This can really help.
  • Be aware of your driving. Leon James, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii and author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare, recommends watching yourself -- what makes you angry, how long do you stay angry. Tell yourself, "It was not their fault -- it was the guy in front of them."
  • Put pictures of your loved ones on the dashboard -- you want to come home to them.
  • Remember, this behavior can cost you in more ways than one. "People don't think about that," Markell says. "This can have a high price tag even if no one is hurt or killed -- tickets, lawyers, court costs, damage to vehicles, insurance rates."

If You are Threatened by a Rager

"People do some crazy things," Markell says. "They bump you, they run people off the road, they get a weapon, they yell, they make hand gestures. They go out of control. This is women, too."

Therefore, it's up to the victim to control the situation. Markell recommends:

  • If you are being tailgated, change lanes.
  • If someone wants to pass, slow down and let them.
  • Don't return gestures.
  • Stay behind the person who is angry at all costs (they can do less damage if you are behind them)
  • If necessary, pull off the road or take an exit and let them go on by.
  • Don't make eye contact.

There is a commercial company touting signs you can hold up that say SORRY. But Markell, says that may be distracting. Cadell also disagrees with the "don't make eye contact" advice. "I believe you must look at the person," she says. "See them as a person. And what if you have to identify them later?"

Any Cures?

Cadell thinks anger management should be taught in every high school. "Many people," she says, "don't know there are alternative options and ways of releasing anger. Anger management is both educational and therapeutic and there would be a lot less road rage and domestic violence."

Markell recommends governments build more roads. Change the timing of lights, he adds. There is even a proposal on the table to install video cameras into cars to record the sequence of all encounters and accidents, though this is not an immediate prospect.

"Have a positive attitude and enjoy the drive," says Cadell.

"Don't be a jerk," is how Markell puts it.

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

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