Five Tips For Managing Anger While Driving

Traffic jam Rio de Janeiro 03 2008 28
We have all experienced feelings of anger toward others while driving. These range from mild annoyance or frustration to intense rage. For some, it is the vehicle in the left lane driving slower than the posted speed limit. For others, it is the reckless driver weaving in and out of traffic. It is in these moments that we may become tempted to do something stupid, something that could place us in danger.

Here are five tips for staying safe in anger-provoking driving situations:

  1. Don't take it personally. It often seems like other drivers must be deliberately messing with you, but this is rarely the case. The "rude" driver who veered into your lane probably did not see you. The person merging onto the freeway slowly enough that you had to brake wasn't waiting for you on the on-ramp just to ruin your day. Others' bad driving is rarely aimed at you.
  2. Avoid name-calling. Even if you manage to refrain from yelling out your window at other drivers, research suggests that calling them inflammatory names (even just to yourself) makes you more angry rather than less angry.
  3. Let go of the need to be right. Your safety is more important than being right. Maybe you were the first to arrive at the 4-way stop and you have the right-of-way. If the other vehicle blasts through the intersection anyway, the fact that it was your turn will not be much consolation when it hits you.
  4. Recognize that if someone else is determined to have an accident, you don't need to be part of it. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to slow down and let the other driver pass you. Maybe the other driver is intoxicated or playing with his or her smartphone. These are drivers you do not want to be close to. If they have an accident, it is better that it does not involve you.
  5. Remember that it is not your job to punish other drivers. We have all had the urge to honk, slow down in front of someone tailgating us, cut in front of another driver, or make obscene gestures to "teach them a lesson." This sort of retaliation may feel good, but it increases the likelihood that you could end up the target of someone else's road rage.
Keeping one’s cool on the road is not always easy, but it is an important part of safe driving. We have no control over how others drive, but we can learn to manage our responses to other drivers’ behavior.

Seeking Applicants Interested in Traffic Psychology

With regard to doctoral and master's admissions for the 2017 academic year, the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab is particularly interested in receiving applications from individuals interested in conducting psychological research on aspects of personality and driving behavior, with relevance to driving anger, aggressive driving, risky driving (e.g., speeding, driving while distracted), and/or accident-related outcomes. A variety of both adaptive and maladaptive personality constructs are of interest in this area. Examples of potentially relevant adaptive personality constructs include empathy for others, emotional intelligence, trait forgiveness, and consideration of the future consequences of one's behavior. Examples of potentially relevant maladaptive personality traits include impulsivity, sensation seeking, boredom proneness, and a variety of "dark personality" traits.

We have several ideas for research projects in this area and are hoping to attract qualified applicants with compatible interests.

Sarah Burghaus Proposes Thesis on Driving Anger

Sarah Burghaus, a doctoral student in her second year, successfully proposed her master's thesis yesterday. She hopes to begin data collection in January.

We know that driving anger is a robust predictor of aggressive driving, non-aggressive forms of unsafe driving, and a number of crash-related conditions (e.g., near misses, losses of concentration while driving). Sarah's thesis, Relationship of Mindfulness, Empathy, and Consideration of Future Consequences to Driving Anger, will examine three variables which may mitigate the experience of driving anger: trait mindfulness, empathy, and the consideration of future consequences.

Sarah will determine whether these variables can enhance the prediction of driving anger beyond the contribution of the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality. If these variables can explain additional variance in driving anger, it will help to support a case for assessing these constructs as part of a comprehensive evaluation of driver risk and may inform the development of more sophisticated models for understanding the proximate factors contributing to unsafe driving.

Lab's Work Noticed by the Wall Street Journal

Our work at the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab was noted by The Wall Street Journal in an article published today about “sidewalk rage.” I was one of several anger researchers interviewed for the story, and the author did an impressive job of capturing the current state of the research on this form of aggression.

“Sidewalk rage” is a relatively new term being used to describe aggressive behavior between pedestrians, but it is already starting to generate interest in major cities. According to the article, a measure of pedestrian aggressiveness has been developed, and this should facilitate additional research. It will be interesting to see how pedestrian aggressiveness compares to aggressive driving. I expect the processes underlying both conditions to be similar; however, I would not be surprised to find some important differences as well. For example, I suspect that impatience may play a bigger role in aggression among pedestrians than it does among drivers.

The Driver Stress Profile

Michael Moore, a doctoral student from the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab who is now on internship at the Memphis VA Medical Center, successfully defended his dissertation last week, "Further Validation of the Larson Driver Stress Profile." Congratulations soon-to-be-Dr. Moore!

The Driver Stress Profile (DSP; Larson, 1996) is a 40-item self-report measure of four constructs thought to be relevant to aggressive driving: competitiveness, anger, impatience, and punishing other drivers. Michael's dissertation provided initial evidence of the construct validity of a version of this measure after refining it through exploratory factor analysis. Although additional work is needed before this modified version of the DSP can be considered complete, initial results are promising. The revised DSP was found to predict motor vehicle accidents, aggressive driving,risky driving, and driving anger expression. In fact, the DSP was able to explain an additional 20% of the variance in aggressive driving even after accounting for gender, miles driven/week, driving anger, and sensation seeking.