Here’s why road rage is on the rise | Salon.com
You’re not imagining things. Data and experts confirm that drivers have become more aggressive, even violent
In December, a four-year-old boy was killed in his parent’s car in California.
According to a report, the man who has now been charged with one count of murder allegedly cut off the victim’s vehicle and engaged “in aggressive driving maneuvers and road rage” before using a handgun to fire eight shots at the family’s car, which killed the child. The tragedy has been called a “road rage shooting,” a type of devastating catastrophe that appears to be on the rise over the last couple of years. Last March, Everytown for Gun Safety released a report that found the number of road rage injuries and deaths involving guns had increased every year since 2018. The nonprofit said that in 2022, every 16 hours someone was shot, injured or killed in a road rage incident.
And it’s not just road rage shootings, which is the worst form that road rage takes, but road rage in general that’s trending upward. In Colorado, Colorado State Patrol said more drivers on the highway have called in with road rage complaints than drunk drivers. The Los Angeles Police Department said in 2022 there were nearly 870 incidents of road rage in 2022, the highest number in the last seven years. Texas is another state where drivers are becoming more aggressive and violent.
E. Scott Geller, a distinguished professor of psychology at Virginia Tech, told Salon he’s personally seen an increase in aggressive driving recently. People are tailgating closer or they’re speeding more frequently. Indeed, if drivers seem more aggressive these days, it’s not just you who thinks so. Psychologist Carla Manly told Salon the psychological underpinnings of road rage are “complex” as they are often connected to unresolved personal issues in a person’s life. From her point of view, the shell of a person’s car can create an atmosphere of “invulnerability” and “anonymity” – similar to how people are more likely to be bullies and harass others on the internet anonymously.
“Many acts of road rage occur when upset drivers, even those who are normally self-contained, unconsciously give themselves permission to act out their anger or frustration from behind the ‘protected safety’ of their vehicle-turned-weapon-of-assault,” Manly said. “Acts of road rage are generally far out of proportion to the error that provoked the act of aggression.”
But the internet could also be a reason why people are acting out aggressively while driving. As Geller pointed out, technology has led to a decline in in-person interactions, which have caused people to dehumanize each other more. Geller said the lack of in-person interactions, co-opted by technology focused on automating services where in-person interactions would usually occur, has contributed to a general lack of trust and empathy for others in our society.
“We’ve come to a culture where interaction is very impersonal,” Geller told Salon, adding that selfishness is at play here too. “We’re losing the perspective of interdependence, now it is all about independence instead of interdependence.”
Geller further elaborated that the country seems to be losing its sense of “we’re all in this together” and that’s likely showing up on the road.
In the Everytown report, researchers said they didn’t know what is behind “the persistent increase in road rage shootings.” “The pandemic and its continuing effects have brought all kinds of new stressors into people’s lives,” the report stated. Psychologists suspect social isolation could be a contributing factor, too. Manly said humans are social creatures who benefit from spending time together. She added that mental health issues increased during the pandemic, and while some progress has been made since then, many people are still suffering from social isolation.
“On its own, social isolation can foster a sense of alienation from humanity — from the common decency, social norms and kindness — that create safety in society,” Manly said. “When we become socially isolated, a part of the self can fragment and become somewhat inhuman; when this occurs, issues such as road rage will, unfortunately, increase.”
Ryan Martin, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, told Salon it’s likely a variety of factors connected to the pandemic that are influencing the rise in road rage. First, since more people worked remotely, traffic was not as prominent during the peak of the pandemic when many cities and states were under lockdown. Since people have had to return to working in person, it could be that people have been overwhelmed by the traffic and congestion. Economic uncertainty could explain why people are more likely to become aggressive on the road.
“I also think there’s been considerable economic uncertainty that puts people on edge in a way that might lead to greater anger,” he said. “I think the political divisiveness has also been an issue in that the last few elections as well as the pandemic led to feelings of animosity regarding one another.”
But why does it seem to always be men behind fits of road rage?
Martin told Salon in general both men and women get angry at similar frequency rates. Both men and women, he said, seem to be really angry right now and taking it out on service workers in general. Road rage could be seen as an extension of this societal anger. However, the way anger is expressed is gendered. Research has shown that men are more likely to commit violent acts more frequently than women. Martin said he believes this difference in how anger is expressed between men and women is a result of the social messaging men receive throughout their lives in America.
“Society tends to send boys and men the message that it’s not just OK, but right to express their anger physically,” Martin said. “Girls and women get a very different message ,and it’s to hold their anger back, and I think we see that playing out on the road.”