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Road Rage: Are Our Patients Driving Angry?

Road Rage: Are Our Patients Driving Angry?

Psychiatric Times April 2005
Issue 4

Road rage is a topic that has received much attention recently with reports of serious incidents appearing in the media on an almost daily basis. Road rage has no standard definition, although it has been defined as a situation where "a driver or passenger attempts to kill, injure or intimidate a pedestrian or another driver or passenger or to damage their car in a traffic incident" (Smart and Mann, 2002a). Newspaper reports on road rage have greatly increased in Canada (Smart and Mann, 2002b) and the United States (Fumento, 1998) making it seem like a new phenomenon. However, historical References to road rage can be found as early as 420 B.C.E. in Sophocles' play Oedipus the King (Roche, 2001); a road rage incident is the reason why Oedipus kills his father. The life of Lord Byron contains several incidents of road rage (Smart et al., unpublished data).

Prevalence of Road Rage

Several studies have established that road rage is a common and dangerous experience. Deaths and injuries have been reported in Australia (Harding et al., 1998), Canada (Smart and Mann, 2002b), the United Kingdom (Joint, 1997) and the United States (Batten et al., 2000; James and Nahl, 2000). Wells-Parker et al. (2002) conducted a national U.S. survey of 1,382 adult drivers and found that 30% complained about other drivers; 17% had yelled at other drivers; 3% had chased other drivers or prevented others from passing; and about 1% to 2% had gotten out of their cars to hurt or argue with other drivers, had deliberately hit other cars, or had carried a weapon. In Arizona, 34% of 790 drivers surveyed had made obscene gestures or cursed angrily, and 28% had aggressively followed or blocked other vehicles (Miller et al., 2002). About 11% always (4%) or sometimes (7%) carried a gun in their cars, and hostile behavior while driving was much more common among drivers who had guns.

Smart et al. (2003b) found that about half of 1,395 adult survey respondents (46.6%) in Ontario, Canada, were shouted at, cursed at or had rude gestures directed at them in the past year, and 7.2% were threatened with personal injury or car damage. This study and others found that road rage is more common among males and younger drivers. Road rage perpetration is also more common for drivers who often drive on busy roads and those who drive high-performance cars (Smart et al., 2004).

There is frequently an overlap between victims of road rage and its perpetrators. Fong et al. (2001) studied the experience of road rage in 131 general practice clinic attendees in England, and found that 53% reported a recent incident of road rage. Among these, the investigators identified victims, perpetrators and a mixed group, noting that perpetrators often characterized themselves as victims as well. In a representative sample of 2,610 adults, road rage perpetrators were more than five times as likely to report being victims as well in comparison to non-perpetrators (Asbridge et al., 2003). These observations are consistent with other areas of violence where perpetration and victimization are frequently found to occur together.


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