The psychology of road rage: why does driving make us mad?

There’s no denying that road rage is an increasingly worrying occurrence on our roads – but what causes it? How should you respond to it? And will your insurance cover road rage?  

There’s no denying that road rage is an increasingly worrying occurrence on our roads – but what causes it? How should you respond to it? And will your insurance cover road rage?  

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
minute read
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Posted 2 SEPTEMBER 2019

What is road rage?

Road rage describes the anger experienced by a motorist, often as a result of the actions – or perceived actions – of another driver. Anti-social behaviour sparked by road rage can be a matter of shouting or making rude gestures, but it can sometimes involve driving aggressively or even physically assaulting other motorists or pedestrians. 
Studies show that many UK drivers have been victims – and perpetrators – of road rage. So what causes it?

Driving conditions 

Motorists get irritated by the driving styles of others and the road system itself. Some of the factors implicated in road rage include traffic jams, tailgating, headlight flashing and other drivers using mobile phones.  
We live in a world of instant gratification, so when we’re forced to sit in traffic – especially when we’re in a hurry or when the actions of another driver slow us down – our frustration levels go through the roof and can make dealing with anger more difficult. 

Emotional stress   

It’s not just the conditions on the road that can lead to road rage. We take our moods with us when we get behind the wheel and they can influence the way we behave. That’s why it’s best, as far as possible, to drive only when you’re in a calm mood. 

The safety of anonymity 

Driving a car gives us a sense of anonymity. This might result in us behaving in a way that we wouldn’t in other situations or when face to face with another person. In the case of road rage, subconsciously, we know that the person at whom we’re directing our anger has no idea who we really are and that we’re unlikely to ever see them again. This somehow makes it more acceptable to behave in a rude or inappropriate manner. 

Driver ego 

Studies have shown that motorists tend to over-rate their driving skills, believing themselves to be above average. If you’re under the impression that your driving skills are superior to everyone else’s, this can lead to road rage when other people make mistakes.  

How to prevent and deal with road rage 

  • First of all, try to reduce the stress of driving. Plan your journey so you don’t end up fumbling with the sat nav on the way and make sure you set off in plenty of time.
  • Avoid driving if you’re feeling very stressed or worked up.  
  • If someone drives in a way that you don’t like, stay calm. Remember, their behaviour isn’t aimed at you personally and having a confrontation with them won’t be helpful in any way. 
  • For victims of road rage, the same rules apply. Stay calm and don’t retaliate; especially avoid getting out of the car and having a confrontation.  
  • If you’re tailgated, allow the other driver to get past you safely – and if you feel worried about your safety, drive to a public place and call the police.  
  • Always remember that no one is a perfect driver; we all make mistakes on the road. If you’ve done something wrong, apologise, and if someone has done something you don’t like, forgive. 

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Road rage and the law

It might seem strange, but road rage isn’t a specific offence. Behaviours caused by road rage fall under the definition of other offences – assault, for example, or reckless driving. 

Can you insure against road rage?

Speak to your insurance provider or check your policy documents to confirm whether you’re covered for a road rage incident.  
If you have an accident or are injured because of road rage, inform the police immediately and your insurance provider as soon as possible.

Road rage is caused by: worry and hurry, anonymity, over-rated driving abilities. Avoid being a victim or perpetrator – stay calm, plan your journey and be tolerant of other drivers.

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