Is there a "cure" for road rage? Yes, one expert says. But it doesn't come in the form of a pill or potion. The cure is simply inside your head.
Road rage expert and clinical psychologist Arnold Nerenberg says road ragers generally don’t think they have a problem -- they don’t consider their anger to be the issue. The issue, they’ll say, are the number of stupid drivers on the road.
“People don’t come into my office and say, ‘I have a road rage problem.’ They come in and say, ‘There are just so many idiots out there on the road,’” Nerenberg says.
Nerenberg says the solution to road rage starts with two question he asks everyone who attends his seminars:
Do you want to turn the power over to these people you call idiots? Do you want to give them the power to turn you into a “raving lunatic"?
If the answer is no (as is most often the case), then Nerenberg recommends this mantra: "I refuse to let you control my anger."
“Repeat that twice an hour,” he says. “That’s the cure -- the only cure.”
If national statistics are any indication, many drivers haven't been cured of road rage.
Road rage: Equal opportunity affliction
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 29,000 American drivers are killed each year in car accidents related to aggressive driving, including instances of road rage. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found 56 percent of deadly crashes are the result of aggressive driving, and eight of every 10 drivers surveyed rated aggressive driving as a serious or extremely serious problem.
Nerenberg says road rage and aggressive driving aren't synonymous, however. He describes road rage as “felonious, angry driving. Shootings, assault or ramming another car with yours -- that’s road rage. People who get angry and show obscene gestures or beep the horn or flick their headlights -- that’s aggressive driving.”
Nerenberg, who has led numerous seminars on road rage for companies like UPS and Qualcomm, says his research has revealed an interesting paradox about the personalities behind road rage:
• Road range knows no demographic boundaries, such as age, gender or socioeconomic status.
• Some of the worst offenders are “the nicest, sweetest, most timid” people you might find. Most people wrongly assume that it's angry, aggressive people who are most prone to outbursts of road rage, Nerenberg says.
Nerenberg says the main predictor of road rage is parenting, rather than factors like age or gender. “If your parents showed angry driving on the road, you are at a much higher risk yourself," he says.
That’s why psychology professor Leon James likes to call the backseat a “road rage nursery." He constantly reminds parents that they need to be aware their children hear, see and feel what the driver is doing, and kids tend to absorb an aggressive driving style, even if it’s subconsciously.
Your car: A psychological 'fortress'
Timothy Dimoff, a former police detective and an expert on “life rage,” says: “Your car is a psychologically protected fortress. It has the ability to move and get away from the problem, and because you are in this protected fortress on four wheels, you do things you would never do if you were outside your vehicle.”
That so-called fortress becomes all the more powerful when, as James puts it, drivers are “emotionally impaired.” Emotional impairment usually stems from taking problems and frustrations from the outside world into the vehicle, creating a dangerous psychological concoction of rage.
“People often think the main source of frustration is on the road, but it’s not,” AAA spokesman Daniel Bleier says. “It’s drivers who bring frustrations from outside the car into the car.”
Bleier says drivers should focus on getting from Point A to Point B. “Put everything that may be bothering you aside,” he says.
As for road rage’s effect on your auto insurance rates, there really isn’t one (barring accidents that may result from an episode of anger, of course). Since road rage still is too abstract and difficult to predict, auto insurance companies can’t make it part of writing your policy.
“People don’t own up or confess to road rage unless it’s in anonymous surveys,” James says. “Accidents, road rage and aggressive driving are all difficult to predict or measure as a personality trait. No one has succeeded so far.”