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Good Question: What Causes Road Rage?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Police are still looking for a person who shot and killed a Las Vegas mother last week after an apparent road rage incident. Investigators say Tammy Meyers was driving with her daughter when they almost collided with another car.  Later, Meyers and her son went looking for that mystery driver and ended up in a shootout.

While very few cases get to that point, surveys have shown more than half of all drivers have experienced some kind of road rage.

So, why do we act differently when we're behind the wheel?  Good Question.

"First, there are a lot of people who go crazy in their lives and go crazy in the car," said Dave Decker, a licensed psychologist who provides anger management counseling. "But there are a lot of people who tend not to get explosive or disrespectful in their private lives, personal lives, but are much more likely to do it in the car."

Decker said one of the reasons for road rage is that the car is a very territorialized space where we can hide from the world.  People tend to feel invincible in their cars.

"We've got our skin protecting us as human beings when we're walking around in the real world but, in the car, we've got this huge metal shell that protects us from other people," he said.

Betsy Perry of Minneapolis said giving another driver the finger before driving off makes her feels better. Stephanie Ellstrom of Minneapolis said she would never yell at a person who cut in line at a grocery store, but does get upset with other drivers.

"I yell, but I don't make eye contact," Ellstrom said. "I just yell to myself."

Decker also points out there is a sense of anonymity when people are inside their cars because they don't have a personal connection with the driver.  When that happens, it's easier to get offended when someone tailgates or cuts you off.

"They'll use that an excuse to go off on that particular driver, to try to teach that driver a lesson about how to drive according to their rules of the road," he said.

Cars are also places where people let out their everyday stresses.  Traffic and congestion generally add to that stress.

"If they have places they want to go, they want to make sure no one else gets in the way, and that's that sense of entitlement," he said. "It's the idea that I have a right to control other people, other situations, and the reality is we have no control over anything but our own responses and reactions."

Finally, people often think cars provide an easy escape, that someone can drive away with no consequences.

Decker said that's a very dangerous way of thinking because you never know what the other driver will do, whether that person has anger management issues or even if that person has a gun.

"If you get caught up with someone like that, you don't know where it's going to go," he said.

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