Being stuck because of a slow driver ahead, someone shifting lanes without using the turn signal, cutting you off on the highway or stealing a parking space you were in line for. These are all things that make anyone supremely angry. And a lot of times, it is justified anger.
But anger has the power to impact your driving in ways you can’t even imagine. Well, at least not in that moment. So, it’s good to keep some of the information I’m about to give you at the back of your head because maybe your mind will be able to recall it when you need it most.
Anger is an emotional state which leads to annoyance, fury or rage. It also causes changes in the body like tension in the muscles and provoking the autonomic nervous system.
Road rage is actually one of the most frequently experienced emotions. In fact, in driving safety literature, there is something called a Driving Anger Scale or DAS which is 14 items and is used to measure driving anger. This is a list of 14 scenarios that potentially make the driver angry and each of them is rated on a five-point scale.
The DAS is very helpful when studying the impact of anger on accident conditions. Traffic tickets, losing concentration, near misses and crashes are all a part of that study.
The Link between Anger, Errors and Crashes
Over the years, studies have found that those who drive with a higher level of anger were twice as likely to crash (in a simulator) when compared to those with a low level of anger. You are at a higher level if the DAS rating is more than 3.7 and low if it is less than 3.0.
Studies have also found that there is a positive connection between loss of concentration and some of those almost crashes on the road. Of course, it is hard to say how much the impact was on both minor and major accidents.
Another study, which is based on a questionnaire by Sullman and Stephens showed that anger while driving is a big part of near misses but not traffic tickets or road crashes.
But when we look at anger itself, it has been found that it interferes with our cognitive processes like attention and judgment. This somehow leads to excessive optimism and reduces our ability to perceive risks. So, when you drive your car angry, there is a greater level of danger. You are likely to commit speeding and tailgating. That’s not a good thing now, is it?
Most studies have also found that there is a strong relation between driving anger and errors. And that is not surprising, right?
Now, all these studies have a range of findings that sometimes contradict each other and have caused doubts on the connection between road rage and road accidents. In fact, some studies have found that aberrant driving as a parameter is more helpful in predicting road crashes than driving anger.
Risky and aggressive driving like running red lights and speeding are the reason behind about 94 percent of traffic deaths in China.
Types of Anger That Cause Errors
Wei Zhang, a mathematics professor at MIT studied the subject and found that there are three types of anger that affect performance and can be measured on the DAS system.
- Hostile gesture anger which is anger triggered by hostile gestures or language. You know this one very well without examples.
- Arrival-blocking anger which is anger triggered by events that slowed the movement of the driver. You know, on highways or any road when you’re in a hurry.
- Safety-blocking anger which is anger triggered by events that might threaten the safety of the driver. Like all kinds of reckless driving.
Now, it is true that those who make mistakes on the road will make you mad and that is related to the risk of a road crash. The relationship between errors on the road and anger is like this.
About 36 percent of the variance causes emotional violations and 21 percent of the variance causes deliberate violations. Only 7 percent of driving errors made other drivers angry. This is easy to understand because a lot of driving errors are actually caused by anxiety and stress and not anger. It is also easy for you to understand (and keep your cool) because it was not deliberate.
So, safety-blocking anger actually causes people to get angrier because some of it, if not all, is deliberate and threatens everyone’s safety. This also means that you as a driver are concerned about safety. So, even though someone makes you mad by threatening your safety, you are less likely to make mistakes yourself. Instead, you get more cautious.
Studying the types of anger also helps understand which type leads to more crashes and which ones lead to errors. Driving errors and emotional violations follow little logic and may lead to more crashes.
Deliberate violations, on the other hand, are committed by people who are confident that they have control over the situation. So, these are committed by drivers who think of the crash risk and conclude that it is low. Unless they are really bad drivers or something else goes wrong, they will make mistakes on the road but won’t crash.
Here’s another fun fact. Hostile gesture anger and arrival-blocking anger are both equally powerful in influencing a crash. Both of them provoke others to make mistakes (because they are pissed at the gestures and lack of speed) and increase the possibility of an accident. But the magnitude of the damage is a lot more when it is arrival-blocking anger than hostile gesture anger.
Personality Traits of High-Anger Drivers
Deffenbacher, a psychology professor at the Colorado State University, compared aggressive driving, risk taking and other characteristics of high-anger drivers and compared it with those who focus on safe driving and use calming methods in provocative situations. This is what he found about the angry ones.
- They are more judgmental and don’t really trust the way others drive. They are also vengeful and plotting ways of physically harming others. These are sort of folks who get mad because you overtook them.
- They take most risks on the roads and are likely to be 10-20 mph above the speed limit. They also switch lanes really quickly and race into an intersection when the signal turns red.
They indulge in name calling, yelling at the driver or honking. They also have accidents more than twice as compared to low-anger drivers. They get more speeding tickets, of course, but more groups have been in the same number of accidents causing major injuries. Deffenbacher states that is probably because such major crashes are anyway rare.
The high-anger drivers are also possibly angry even before they get into the car. This is unlike many others who get angry while driving because of someone else’s behavior. The high-anger drivers’ behavior might be because of stress at work or home. This comes out in less controlled ways and rather impulsively. Hence the name calling and gesturing.
How Do We Fix This?
Now that we broadly understand how anger works, how do we control it and avoid errors and crashes? We know that traffic congestion is a bad thing. The lack of speed will trigger arrival-blocking anger and provoke drivers. This leads to mistakes and increases the risk of accidents. So, high-traffic areas are always going to be risky and authorities must work on easing congestion.
Next, those who are prone to hostile-gesture anger and arrival-blocking anger must be given some kind of training or treatment to reduce crash risk. Emotional violations can be reduced by working on the drivers’ management of frustration and anger. There are no such programs right now but authorities must work on those kinds of anger management strategies.
In the past, awareness campaigns and law enforcement have worked in some countries in reducing deliberate violations. So, those must be continued. Speaking of errors, there are a few driver assistance systems and training programs that can help reduce these kinds of errors. Drivers must be encouraged to use some of them till they get to 100 percent.
Whether you make mistakes on the road or behave completely emotionally, there is a big risk of ending up in a crash. How bad and brutal the results will be are hard to predict because that depends on the specific anger, situation and vehicles involved. Understanding the different types of anger and the result of such emotions is only to help us look into what causes it. The only purpose of this is to avoid such situations.
The studies mentioned above do have some gaps and are missing some details. That is because some of these aspects are tricky to measure. You can’t give someone a questionnaire and ask how mad a particular incident made them. That anger is the result of so many other factors too. The best we can do is understand that nothing good comes out of driving angry because at the very least, our mind is someplace else and that itself is a good enough reason to end us up in a bad place.