motorist shoots and kills another with a crossbow after they antagonized each
other for several miles on the Interstate in Massachusetts. In Potomac, Md., a
man strikes a woman in the face after he bumps into her Jeep. And in Seattle,
Wash., a driver shoots and kills a college student because the student could not
disarm his anti-theft alarm.
is road rage. One driver becoming angry at another driver over something he or
she did is how Arnold P. Nerenberg, Ph.D., defines the phenomenon. And he has
a theory about why it happens.
is something about the human psyche that makes us want to release our aggression
on an anonymous other when we feel justified," said Nerenberg who's being called
America's road rage therapist. Nerenberg is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles
County, a place where they have plenty of opportunities to experience traffic
congestion and driving stresses.
difficult to get a handle on the scope of the problem. Some say road rage has
become a catchall label that's being defined much too broadly, and there are a
few studies done that are looking into this issue.
example, Nerenberg believes people suffer from this disorder if they show road
rage behaviors--ranging from making obscene gestures to brandishing or firing
a weapon--two or more times a year.
on this criteria and interviews with 585 Southern Californians and Oregonians,
he believes 53 percent of the population has a road rage disorder.
also a fuzzy line between aggressive driving and road rage. When Congress held
a hearing into why seemingly ordinary people are going berserk on the roads, the
head of the Department of Transportation (DOT) testified that aggressive
driving (which includes weaving in and out of traffic and speeding) caused 29,000
of 42,000 traffic fatalities in 1996.
it's defined broadly--as any display of aggression by a driver--or used to refer
to more extreme acts of violence, road rage is being recognized as more of a problem.
average of at least 1500 people are injured or killed each year in the United
States as a result of "aggressive driving," according to a AAA Foundation fo Highway
Safety study. That study analyzed 10,000 police reports and newspaper stories
about traffic incidents that led to violence and concluded that, while many of
the aggressive drivers were young men with criminal records, others were average
citizens of all ages, women included, who just snapped.
has identified five traffic situations that cause people to overreact and explode
when these are combined with other factors in their lives, such as illness, alcohol,
drugs, or arguments.
are the triggers, along with solutions suggested by Nerenberg and Sgt. Pam Marshack
with the Delaware State Patrol, a specialist in women's safety:
one on Nerenberg's list is endangerment, which includes cutting off another vehicle,
tailgaiting (driving closely behind an other vehicle), or causing a fender bender.
"You don't want to endanger somebody by tailgaiting or cutting them off," Nerenberg
a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you will go a long way toward avoiding
many of these problems. And use your turn signal to change lanes.
are lax about turn signals," said Marshack. "We have to drive like we want other
people to drive."
one wants to cause a fender bender, but if it happens, Nerenberg warns that latent
road ragers can become very violent.
and Marshack recommend staying in the car with the door locked and the window
open a crack to allow you to talk to the other driver. Next, call the police if
you have a cellular phone. If the other driver is hostile, there are several things
you can do.
if you haven't made the call yet, have the phone in your hand and say, 'I'm on
the phone with the police' as a deterrent," Marshack said. "If they are thinking
of smashing your window or saying a few choice words, maybe they'll cool their
heels a little bit."
the other person becomes hostile and comes over and starts banging on your window,
drive away," Nerenberg said.
always want to obey the law, but there are judgment calls that you have to make.
Say, 'I know where there's a police station, I'm going to drive there and we can
talk about it.' "
agrees. "Anytime you have any reason to believe you're in danger, I suggest you
leave. Or if you can't because your car won't move or you're stuck in traffic,
blare the horn. That should startle the person into behaving or get the attention
of good people."
second thing guaranteed to make road ragers erupt is slowing them down in traffic,
Nerenberg said. One example is blocking the left, or passing lane. "If you're
in the left lane going too slowly, pull over to the right," he said.
third trigger is taking a parking spot someone was about to pull into. "If by
mistake you've taken somebody's parking spot, and they let you know that, just
apologize, pull out, and let them have it," Nerenberg said. "You may think you're
right, but don't get into an argument."
on the list is showing anger, Nerenberg said. Road ragers can react violently
when someone directs anger at them, said Nerenberg.
someone shows aggression and they flip you off or yell at you, don't yell back.
That will just escalate it, which could get you killed. People have been rammed
to death or shot. You don't want to go into road rage yourself; you don't want
and others who have studied the issue say to avoid eye contact with someone who
is being belligerent because it can be interpreted as a challenging gesture. "It's
an animal thing," said Nerenberg. "It sets up an animal aggression and exacerbates
some potential road ragers get angry when they believe another driver is breaking
the rules of the road. "Some of the people who get most angry are themselves courteous
drivers," Nerenberg said. "And when someone else isn't, that makes them really
One such scenario is in a construction zone where two lanes narrow into one and
two lines of traffic have to merge, Marshack said.
wait until the last minute to cut over and pass a line of cars that have already
moved over. You aren't playing by the rules like everybody else. Be a considerate