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Why is road rage so common? Misguided anger, perhaps?

Research has shown that those who experience road rage are more prone to abuse alcohol and drugs.Picture by Joshua Wordel /Pexels

Research has shown that those who experience road rage are more prone to abuse alcohol and drugs.Picture by Joshua Wordel /Pexels

Published Mar 27, 2023


Most of us are familiar with road rage — aggressive driving that’s caused by stress or anger behind the wheel.

Aggressive driving has become a topic of concern, and for good reason, an analysis made by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found “road rage” contributed to 218 deaths and 12 610 injuries between 1990 and 1996.

Since that time, the number has risen.

I stumbled upon the clip as I was mindlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed. A video had been posted by an account called “detected fights on Twitter”, and featured two grown men amid a heated brawl in the middle of the road.

As I watched the clip, I couldn’t help but wonder what causes outbursts in the middle of traffic. I am no driver but I’m sure there are various reasons for the extreme rage that we witness on the roads and that sh%# is scary.

The American Physiological Association reports that psychologists are researching what causes some people to be more likely to experience road rage and ways to prevent them from endangering other drivers.

According to research, young men are most prone to engage in violent road behaviour. Environmental variables like busy roads might exacerbate rage while driving.

Road rage is also associated with several psychological variables, such as displaced anger and high-stress levels. Also, research has shown that those who experience road rage are more prone to abuse alcohol and drugs.

I did some research on road rage and was shocked to discover just how common it is both in South Africa and globally.

According to a report by The Citizen, there have been 17 316 occurrences of assault with the intent to cause serious bodily harm (GBH) as a result of rising road rage.

According to the first quarter 2022-23 crime data, the 6 424 murders that were reported were caused by disagreements, misunderstandings, provocation and road rage, which resulted in 997 attempted murder cases.

Globally, the numbers aren’t much better – a 2019 survey found that 82% of drivers admit to engaging in aggressive driving behaviours at least once in the past year.

Sally Davies, a clinical psychologist, said in an Arrive Alive Road Safety report on road rage that it was a social issue that “appears to be increasing all over the world”.

In addition, she added: “There are also other antisocial personalities, those who abuse drugs and alcohol, or just your average motorist who is psychologically ripe for road rage.”

According to Davies, it is incredibly simple to personalise relationships when driving. Drivers are in a position of safety and power, they feel free to verbally harass other motorists, move in a way that limits or obstructs them, use their hands to make aggressive gestures, flash their lights, sound their horns, or otherwise act out fantasies of being in control.

But why is road rage so prevalent?

Some researchers believe that the answer may lie in the connection between road traffic noise and the increased risk of hypertension. That’s right — the sounds of cars whizzing by could be making anyone more prone to anger and aggression.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people living near high-traffic roads were more likely to develop high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and other serious health problems.

As I dove deeper into my research, I found myself becoming more and more fascinated by the topic. I decided to write an article about the link between road traffic noise, hypertension and road rage, in the hopes of raising awareness about this vital issue. If more people understood the risks associated with aggressive driving, they’d be more likely to stay calm and collected on the road.

As for the two men in the video, I’ll never know what exactly set them off. But watching the clip was a stark reminder that road rage can happen to anyone — and that we all need to work together to make our roads safer and less stressful for everyone.

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.