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The Psychology of Road Rage

  • The same person who is courteous in the street or on an airplane can get very disrespectful, impolite and arrogant when driving a car, venting violent hostility against complete strangers whose driving record and general personality are unknown, based solely on one encounter that lasted a few seconds, and wildly exaggerating the impact of what we deem to be an inappropriate maneuver by that stranger
  • When not driving a car, instead, we are perfectly aware that one cannot judge a complete stranger without knowing his life's story and certainly not based only on a brief encounter, and that a little mistake is not cause for hysterical reactions
  • Our rule of thumb, normally, is to be polite with all people, hoping that all people behave accordingly towards us; but this rule of thumb breaks down when driving a car, and polite behavior becomes unnecessary
  • Because pedestrians tend to walk short distances, the chance that we will meet that person again is relatively high compared with the chance that we meet that driver again; we implicitly calculate how "necessary" it is to be nice and polite to the rest of the world
  • Whenever eye to eye contact is missing, there is less empathy; we do not empathyze with the "mistake" that another driver makes, not even when it is obvious (for example, the driver is obviously looking for an address in an unfamiliar neighborhood)
  • We share the road in a way that we don't share the sidewalk, and this makes it a more valuable resource that somehow justifies more hysterical reactions
  • We cannot replay the encounter with inverted roles, hence we remain convinced that we would do better, that we wouldn't make the same mistake
  • The arrogant attitude begins very early in the driving life, and absolute beginners can be arrogant towards much more experienced drivers
  • In fact, statistics show that high-anger drivers are twice more likely to get into car accidents than the average driver
  • We don't normally think of ourselves as the best plumbers or cooks, but, when driving, we do behave as if we were the best drivers ever, even if we just got a driver license and we have never been professional drivers
  • Part of learning to drive is about learning to claim that we are better drivers than anybody else around us