Road Rage: Risk Factors, Assessment, and Intervention Strategies

By Sharkin, Bruce S. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Road Rage: Risk Factors, Assessment, and Intervention Strategies


Sharkin, Bruce S., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Because she is running late for a meeting, a woman is driving in a hurry. When she gets behind another driver who she thinks is going too slow, she honks her horn and then passes the other driver, even though it is illegal to do so. As she passes, she glares at the other driver and calls him a "jerk."

While driving on a highway, two men exchange angry words and make obscene gestures toward one another after one of them made an abrupt lane switch cutting in front of the other. One of the drivers gestures for the other to pull over so that they can get out of their cars to fight.

A businessman on his way to work fumes with anger when he is held up in traffic due to road construction. He shakes his head in disgust at some of the road construction workers as he passes.

These are just a few examples of what is commonly referred to as "road rage." With more drivers on the road, but limited road capacity, there are bound to be moments of anger and frustration and discourteous behavior between drivers. Driving behaviors such as tailgating, cutting someone off, making obscene gestures, and flashing one's headlights are becoming more and more commonplace in everyday driving situations. Based on one estimate, there may be as many as 400 billion hostile exchanges between motorists in the United States in 1 year alone (James & Nahl, 2000). Because these incidents of road rage can result in serious injury or death, the phenomenon of road rage has been the subject of much attention in the national news and media (Ferguson, 1998; James & Nahl, 2000; Vest, Cohen, & Tharp, 1997). According to a report issued by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety (1997), incidents of aggression on the road were estimated to have increased more than 50% between 1990 and 1996, and they resulted in thousands of injuries and more than 200 deaths. Clearly, road rage has become a significant public health concern, and in many ways, a mental health concern as well.

The term road rage has become common vernacular to describe any displays of anger while driving, although such displays are also referred to as "angry or aggressive driving." Angry or aggressive driving may range from mild displays of anger, such as following too closely on another driver's bumper, to more serious forms of violence, such as physical assault and vehicular homicide. There is some evidence to suggest that milder forms of aggressive driving may escalate into more serious incidents (Novaco, 1991).

Whereas a considerable amount of attention in the counseling literature has been devoted to the assessment and treatment of maladaptive anger in general (see Sharkin, 1988), little attention has been paid to the specific case of driving anger. Driving anger may be in need of more attention, especially given that anger may be experienced more frequently while driving than during other activities (Parkinson, 2001). Consequences of road rage include negative outcomes associated with aggressive expression of anger (Deffenbacher, Oetting, Lynch, & Morris, 1996) as well as greater risk of hazardous driving, traffic violations, and accidents (Wells-Parker et al., 2002). In some cases, road rage can result in physical violence and death. Perhaps relatively few people seek counseling specifically for help with angry or aggressive driving. Based on the prevalence of anger exhibited on the roads, however, there may be many people who could benefit from some type of intervention to help manage driving anger and reduce the risk of being involved in a serious road rage incident.

The purpose of this article is to review research on angry and aggressive driving in order to provide some guidance for counselors who may want to assess driving anger and use treatment strategies to help clients who are at risk for road rage. This article is divided into three sections. In the first section, research on various factors that may contribute to road rage are reviewed. …

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