How Does Road Rage Happen?

Man looking back through rear view mirror

He's . A car cut into his lane without warning. He was shocked, then furious. He swore and honked repeatedly. He overtook that car, and gave the driver an angry look. The driver avoided eye contact. Then, both parted ways. End of story. But some stories might not end there.

Perhaps, a minor collision happened. One got out of the car, yelling and swearing. The other brandished a steering wheel lock, as a weapon or for self-defense. Things can turn ugly very quickly. Why does road rage happen? Chances are, in any normal day, both drivers are decent and polite people. What turned them into Hulks on the road?

It's the speed, and the car itself.

Social distancing isn't a new term we invented for the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, people maintain natural social distance between each other. It's our safe, personal space. For Americans, 3 feet is the comfortable distance between strangers or acquaintances.  Such social distance may vary depending on relationship and culture.  Nevertheless, it is a social behavior more or less hardwired into our brains. 

How Does Road Rage Happen?
How Does Road Rage Happen? 3

However, when we get into cars, our behaviors are altered.  Automobiles are a fairly recent invention with merely 130 years of history. Never before could our ancestors travel at more than 80km/h.  The speed warped our perception and requirement of the safe social space we need.

Now, some psychology lessons (more or less)

According to Dr. John Grey in his book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, the space we need may extend to 90ft in the front when we are driving at speed.  Intrusion into this space without warning triggers our protective response. It may anger us. However, we don't always display our anger because it's socially unacceptable. Then, why do people act out publicly on the road?

Cars isolates drivers from the environment. Even though we can still see what's happening outside, the noises are diminished. The metal around us provide false sense of invulnerability. Our behaviors don't invite immediate social feedback. We subconsciously believe It is a “safe” space to let our emotion have its way. We can curse and slam our steering wheels without consequences. If we allow this anger to boil, and inadvertently carry it out of the car, violent behavior may follow. That's how road rage happen.

By being aware of the causes that lead to road rage, you can better control your own emotions. It can be as simple as taking a deep breathe. Unfortunately, you have no control over how other drivers behave. The best you can do is to stay calm yourself to avoid provoking another raging driver further.

Defensive driving helps too. If you can avoid surprises in the first place, you'll never have to deal with road rage.

2021.05 published on ROGER

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Chiew Ruoh Peng

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