Road Rage

road rage by ken smith

Road rage is aggressive or angry behavior by a driver of an automobile or other road vehicle. Such behavior might include rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner, or making threats. Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults, and collisions that result in injuries and even deaths. It can be thought of as an extreme case of aggressive driving. The term originated in 1987 at KTLA, a Los Angeles television station, during a rash of freeway shootings. These shooting sprees even spawned a response from the AAA Motor Club to its members on how to respond to drivers with road rage or aggressive maneuvers and gestures.

Road rage levels and laws vary from country to country. In Germany, mere insults and rude gestures in traffic can lead to fines and even prison sentences. Australia also has rather stringent laws against malicious motoring. In the US, a 2007 study concluded that the cities with the least courteous drivers (most road rage) are Miami, Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. The cities with the most courteous drivers (least road rage) are Minneapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Seattle, and Atlanta. In spite of this, in 2009, New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul were rated the top five ‘Road Rage Capitals’ of the United States.

Common manifestations of road rage include: aggressive driving (e.g. sudden acceleration, ‘brake-checking,’ tailgating); cutting others off in a lane or deliberately preventing someone from merging; chasing other motorists; flashing lights and/or sounding the horn excessively; driving at high speeds in the median of a highway to terrify drivers in both lanes; rude gestures (e.g. ‘the finger’); shouting verbal abuses or threats; intentionally causing a collision between vehicles; assaulting other motorists, cyclists, or pedestrians; exiting the car to start confrontations; threatening to use or using a firearm or other deadly weapon; or throwing projectiles from a moving vehicle with the intent of damaging other vehicles.

In the US more than 300 cases of road rage annually have ended with serious injuries or even fatalities – 1200 incidents per year, according to the AAA Foundation study, and rising yearly throughout the six years of the study that examined police records nationally. A number of studies have found that individuals with road rage were predominantly young (33 years of age on average) and male (96.6%). In Germany, a gun-wielding truck driver was accused of firing at over 762 vehicles and arrested in 2013, an exceptional case of road rage. According to authorities, the ‘autobahn sniper’ was motivated by ‘annoyance and frustration with traffic.’

In some jurisdictions, there may be a legal difference between ‘road rage’ and ‘aggressive driving.’ In the US only a few states have enacted special aggressive driving laws, where road rage cases are normally prosecuted as assault and battery (with or without a vehicle), or ‘vehicular homicide’ (if someone is killed). The legal definition of road rage encompasses a group of behaviors expressed while driving or stemming from traffic-related incidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines road rage as when ‘an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property; an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle on the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle caused by an incident that occurred on a roadway.’ This definition makes an important distinction between a traffic offense and a criminal offense. However, many in the field of psychoanalysis say this definition is lacking.

Psychologists are now considering a new label for road rage. Many claim that road rage is really a form of mental illness or a combination of emotional responses culminating in a pattern of behavior or syndrome. This implies that the behavior may be outside the control of the perpetrator. This concept is legally precarious as it could excuse many drivers of their dangerous behavior and aggressive driving. Less-than-honest motor vehicle operators and their legal defense teams may use this new view (of road rage as a syndrome) as a catch-all defense against charges of road way altercations. Road rage is not an official mental disorder recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), although according to an article published by the Associated Press in 2006, the behaviors typically associated with road rage can be the result of a disorder known as ‘intermittent explosive disorder’ that is recognized in the DSM.

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