A Closer Look

Traffic Calming

CBS.com spoke to California psychologist Dr. Arthur Nerenberg, who specializes in treating people afflicted with road rage. He had some interesting ideas about anger and automobiles.

A Definition Of Road Rage

Dr. Nerenberg: "Road rage is one driver expressing his or her anger towards another driver for something he or she did on the road. In terms of non-felonious behaviors that anger can be expressed as screaming, beeping your horn, flashing headlights up and down, slamming on the brakes to teach a tailgater a lesson, cutting a person off to retaliate, throwing things, hostile stares, spitting. These are some of the things that constitute road rage. Then you have your felonious types of road rage. Which include brandishing a weapon, firing a weapon, ramming with your car. We've found that 53 percent of Americans have a road rage problem."

Anonymity Is The Key

Dr. Nerenberg: "Within the human psyche is an urge to release our aggression on the anonymous other, when we feel justified. It happens in war. And it happens in driving. Somebody cuts you off, you feel justified in getting angry. The key word is anonymity, for two reasons. One, people feel they can yell at each other, flip each other off, and they don't have to see each other again. And two, that person is no longer Joe Smith, a human being like me; he's just some idiot who endangered me. There's a loss of humanity. It's an isolated existence in your car. You're in a metal box, around people you don't know."


Dr. Arthur Nerenberg during an in-car therapy session with one of his road rage-afflicted patients.

The Car As Power Trip

Dr. Nerenberg: "The car is an equalizer. It can be a woman or a guy who might feel inadequate, but in that car, they're tough, they're bad, they can handle other people. They can threaten them, they can escape if they have to, they can even ram them."

Road Ragers In Denial

Dr. Nerenberg: "The main problem with road ragers is that they do not consider it a problem. They think the problem is all the stupid, rude, discourteous drivers out there. I tell road ragers to think about three mistakes they've made on the road. Every time you get in your car, think about that."

We also talked to Joe Anne O'Hara, a highway safety specialist and aggressive driving expert at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Below are some of her thoughts on the subject.

Increasing Awareness, and Increasing Fear

O'Hara: "We did a focus group looking at people who drive on the Beltway. We asked tese people about their concerns. They said that aggressive driving was their number one concern. We looked at people who self identified themselves as aggressive drivers. This was done last year, in '97. In '94 we did focus groups using the same population base, and hardly anybody even mentioned aggressive driving. Part of that could be that this issue is in the media, and people are more aware of it. But people are realizing that this is a problem."

The Roots of Road Rage

O'Hara: "It's been building for some time. We feel that it has a great deal to do with congestion. People's daily work life is different too. You have more women working....Today, women are working, they have a family, they have to take their children to daycare, to school, then they go to work, they come hurrying home, they stop at the grocery, they pick up the kids. Everybody is in a hurry."

On Changing Social Mores

O'Hara: "I compare it to impaired driving. Today drinking and driving is socially unacceptable. But it has not always been that way. You didn't used to hear about it. Fifteen or 20 years ago, People would say, 'Oh yeah, I just had a few beers, there's no problem [with me driving]'. Today you do see a difference. You have programs, like designated drivers. And these things are fairly recent developments. But if you had 20 people in a room and you asked them, 'How many people here would drive drunk?', nobody would raise their hand, they'd be embarrassed. But if you said, 'How many in here speed or drive aggressively?', probably 90 percent of them would raise their hand."

Structural Solutions

O'Hara: "One strategy is called traffic calming. For instance we'll build in curves instead of just going with straight roads, so that people can't go as fast. They've also put in speed bumps in certain areas, which also slows the traffic down. If you can slow the traffic down a bit, it seems to lower the level of aggressive driving."

Road Rage: Home
When Anger Takes Control || A Closer Look
Relax Behind The Wheel || Road Rage Sites
Email 48 Hours

Written by David Kohn