June 17, 2009 -- Christopher Barry hates driving in Atlanta, the fourth worst city in the nation in terms of road rage, so guess what he’s doing about it? Moving to New York, that’s what.
The freelance journalist says he’s “had it with the hassle” and is selling his car, which he figures he won’t need in New York. So he’s not bothered a bit by a new survey that shows the Big Apple has the angriest, rudest, most-likely-to-flip-you-off motorists of any metropolis in the nation.
“They won’t bother me,” he says of New York drivers. “I want to use public transportation. But I think driving in Atlanta has prepared me for whatever New York can spit my way.”
The Dallas-Ft. Worth area ranks No. 2, followed by Detroit, in the survey of the most hurried, harried, and dangerous drivers. Atlanta comes in at No. 4, and Minneapolis-St. Paul at No. 5. Phoenix ranks as the sixth “least courteous,” followed by Miami, which held the top spot for three straight years.
The fourth annual "In the Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey," which was commissioned by AutoVantage, a national roadside assistance company, also produced a “most courteous” list. Portland, Ore., topped that list, with Cleveland coming in at No. 2.
The Most Irritating Driving Habits
The auto club’s survey firm, Prince Market Research, interviewed 2,518 people from January to March in 25 major metro areas to learn more about consumer views on road rage.
So what bothered drivers the most? According to the survey:
- 84% were annoyed by drivers talking on cell phones
- 58% were stressed by others driving too fast
- 53% by tailgaters
- 48% got upset seeing others eating or drinking
- 37% got their dander up when they noticed others texting or emailing while driving
And how did annoyed drivers react?
- 43% by honking their horn at another driver at least monthly
- 36% by cursing other drivers
- 13% by waving their fist or arms
- 10% by making obscene gestures
- 7% by calling the police
- 1% by slamming into the car in front of them
Road Rage Harmful to Health
Barry may have found the best solution to road rage. Giving up driving may not only be safer but could also make him healthier, says psychiatrist Chuck Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind Body Program in the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
“We know road rage is harmful to health, but it’s pervasive, especially in the biggest cities,” Raison tells WebMD. “Drivers are competitive. The stress can raise your blood pressure, foul up your immune system, and make you depressed. People don’t realize that getting all steamed up can make you blow a gasket. But it’s in our genes to take out our stress on something, and in a car, the subject of your anger is anonymous.”
Recession Worsens Road Rage
Richard Winer, MD, a psychiatrist who practices in Roswell, Ga., outside of Atlanta, says the economic recession has made his patients “much more stressed and more likely to talk about road rage.”
He says more patients are “describing symptoms of panic attacks” and “frustrating feelings that they lack control, that they feel trapped, scared, and just generally upset,” all of which have worsened since job security became a thing of the past and “everyone’s in a hurry to get there first.”
Mike Bush of Affinion Group, parent of AutoVantage, tells WebMD that there’s little question that the Wall Street crash played a role in New York’s rise to the top, and the sagging state of the auto industry must have been a factor in Detroit’s leap to third from the 11th spot last year.
“We didn’t ask, but it just makes sense,” he says.
Winer's advice for quelling the road rage -- turn off the thumping rock and roll and go classical -- like Beethoven or Mozart.
“Calmer music can help soothe the savage beast,” Winer tells WebMD. “Find what’s most relaxing to you. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to listen when you’re in traffic jams to talk radio shows, because if you hear something you disagree with, it primes you for road rage.”
Raison, the Emory psychiatrist, says even when the economy’s not in recession, driving in the big cities gives people a chance to act on aggressive feelings.
“Other drivers become faceless, anonymous objects,” he says. “We know from research that this plays into this evolved human tendency to be meaner, more hostile. We are just ruder in cars, more prickly toward strangers. Road rage is a way to pass off your misery.”
Cities With the Rudest Drivers
Here’s how the cities ranked in terms of drivers' courtesy, from rudest to most polite.
- New York
- San Diego
- Tampa, Fla.
- Los Angeles and San Francisco (tie)
- Philadelphia and St. Louis (tie)
- Washington, D.C.
- Sacramento, Calif.
- Portland, Ore.