For most of us, one of the benefits of lockdown has been the absence of a commute, or congestion on the roads. Many of us have happily discussed our new faster commute allowing extra “me time“ in the mornings to sleep, have a coffee with our partner, take the dog for a walk or play with kids. What is it going to be like when restrictions ease and we re-enter the workforce – when we are all back on the roads?
How We Feel Is How We Drive
Our COVID normal is likely to be accompanied by a shift in community mood, with many of us feeling more frustrated or stressed. Stresses do not stop when we get in the car. In fact, when we are angry, we become angrier and more aggressive drivers (1); we tend to blame other drivers more for our driving frustrations and this can lead to hostile interactions. This has the makings for an unpleasant commute, which can have knock on effects when the commute is over. Driving is often how you start and end your day, if not what you do during it. Annoyances from driving can continue at work and at home, influencing how you interact with colleagues and family (5). As we get back on the roads, let’s try to continue the “me time” we found in our lockdown commute, let travel time become your time, and not let driving ruin your day.
What Makes Us Angry And Aggressive?
There are certain situations that make us particularly angry. These include travel delays, hostility from other drivers and dangerous driving by others (2). Almost all drivers are likely to be angered in these situations (3). When angry, we may express this aggressively by yelling or gesticulating, using our vehicle to honk, speed past an offender or tailgate a slower driver (4). Approximately 2 percent of drivers take this further by trying to engage in a physical fight (3).
Are We A Nation Of Aggressive Drivers?
Most of us will have displayed our anger at some point while driving, but does that make us aggressive drivers? The answer is no. About 70% of drivers will have honked angrily at another driver (6); 45% will have shouted cursed or made rude gestures (3) and similar percentage (44%) of us will have, at one time, followed a slower driver a little too closely (6). We all have inner demons, that may emerge on certain days or at certain times while driving. However, only 18% of drivers consider themselves to be an aggressive driver, indicating that they frequently do these behaviours. Therefore, if someone is being aggressive toward you – it is likely that they are not aggressive, just having a bad day. These bad days may happen more often in our new normal and as we get back on the roads.
It’s Not Worth It
Aggression isn’t worth it. Ironically, venting anger does not help reduce anger. In fact, doing nothing or focusing your attention elsewhere is a faster way to feeling better (7). Also, when we are angry or aggressive, we put ourselves and people in our vehicle at higher risk for a crash. Anger leads to slower reaction times to potential hazards (8) and the tendency to engage in risky aggressive behaviours. Aggressive tailgating increases our crash risk by 14 times, aggressive overtaking increases our crash risk by 13 times and general aggression increases our crash risk by 35 times (9) . Our main priority on the roads is to stay safe and aggression gets in the way of that.
What Can We Do About It?
The good news is that most drivers do not want to be involved in aggressive altercations. In a recent survey of Australian drivers, 43% said they would, or they have, changed their start times or their driving route to avoid aggressive incidents (3). In our COVID normal, avoiding those situations that make us angry may be possible for some of us simply by staggering start and end times or working at home. For others, avoiding anger may not be possible, but it is possible to change how we respond to it, or more importantly chose not to respond it. As we emerge out of lockdown, let’s try to continue to enjoy that commuting time. Travel time is your time – its not worth it.
– Dr. Amanda Stephens, Monash University Accident Research Centre
- Stephens, A. N., & Groeger, J. A. (2011). Anger-congruent behaviour transfers across driving situations. Cognition & emotion, 25(8), 1423-1438.
- Stephens, A. N., Lennon, A., Bihler, C., & Trawley, S. (2019). The measure for angry drivers (MAD). Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour, 64, 472-484.
- Budget Direct, Aggressive driving and road rage: Australian survey 2020
- Stephens, A. N., & Sullman, M. J. (2014). Development of a short form of the driving anger expression inventory. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 72, 169-176.
- Stephens, A., & Fitzharris, M. (2019). The frequency and nature of aggressive acts on Australian roads. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 30(3), 27.
- Hennessy, D. A. (2008). The impact of commuter stress on workplace aggression. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38(9), 2315-2335.
- Bushman, B. J. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 28(6), 724-731.
- Stephens, A. N., Trawley, S. L., Madigan, R., & Groeger, J. A. (2013). Drivers display anger‐congruent attention to potential traffic hazards. Applied cognitive psychology, 27(2), 178-189.
- Dingus, T. A., Guo, F., Lee, S., Antin, J. F., Perez, M., Buchanan-King, M., & Hankey, J. (2016). Driver crash risk factors and prevalence evaluation using naturalistic driving data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(10), 2636-2641.