DRIVING ANGER

What is driving anger?
Commonly called “Road Rage” in the media, driving anger refers to the experience of anger while behind the wheel of a car.

Is driving anger different from road rage?
Not really, no.  We call it driving anger because, when people discuss road rage, they typically talk only about the aggressive expression of anger while driving (e.g., screaming at other drivers, cutting people off) and not the other ways that people experience anger while on the road.  As we discussed in Anger Basics, there are many ways in which people express their anger and not all of them are aggressive.  For example, anger often causes drivers to drive faster than normal, to switch lanes erratically, to drive too close to the person in front of them, and to engage in other risky driving behaviors.

Is driving anger different from regular anger?
No.  Anger while driving includes the same sorts of thoughts, behaviors, and physiological activation associated with regular anger.  We draw special attention to it here because it is very common for people to get angry while driving.  In fact, many people who have no problems with anger in their non-driving lives seem to have real difficulty controlling anger while behind the wheel of a car.

What makes driving anger so common?
Driving is almost the perfect situation for provoking anger.  As we discussed in Anger Basics, people get angry when they think something is unpleasant, unfair, the fault of someone else, blocking their goals, etc. We also said that anger is more likely if you are already tense or on edge.

While driving, whether we realize it or not, we are usually a little more tense than usual because of the threat of harm associated with driving.  Thus, we are already primed to feel strong emotions.  Likewise, we almost always have a place we are heading and time we need to be there, giving us a particular goal in mind.  Finally, our success in meeting this goal is to a large degree at the whim of the other drivers on the road or various other chance factors (stoplights, weather, construction, etc.).  If someone goes slower than we want them to or cuts us off, it’s easy to feel they are unnecessarily blocking our goals and to get angry at them.

The other thing about driving that makes it so angering is that the other drivers are typically unknown to us.  Therefore, it’s very easy to interpret their behaviors in an overly negative way.  The person driving slowly in front of you can easily be called “a total idiot” because you don’t know anything else about them.  If you found out, for example, that this was their first time on the road since a terrible accident and they were nervous, you might cut them some slack and feel less angry toward them.