Good Manners Put The Brakes On "Road Rage"

June 10, 1998

A major cause of anger while driving is the inconsiderate and discourteous behaviour of other road users--not blatant law-breaking--according to ESRC-funded research by Professor Geoffrey Underwood at the University of Nottingham. If drivers adopted better road manners much of Britain's reported "road rage" could be eradicated.

"Road rage"--ranging from verbal or gesticulatory abuse to dangerous driving which forces others to pull over and leave the road--is a common phenomenon on British roads. A 1995 Automobile Association survey found that 90% of 526 motorists questioned had experienced "road rage" incidents in the previous year. But what factors make drivers most angry? What is the relationship between anger and near accidents? And what is the effect of traffic congestion on anger intensity?

To find answers to these important questions, Professor Underwood and colleagues examined the detailed two-week audio-cassette diaries of 100 drivers, aged between 17 and 42 and almost equally divided between male and female.

Each driver was also assessed on a Driver Anger Scale, which listed six potentially anger-provoking driving situations,.Police presence was found to be the least anger-provoking and discourtesy the greatest, with hostile gestures, slow driving, illegal driving and traffic obstructions in between.

Drivers also completed a Driver Behaviour Questionnaire, to discover how often they admitted to committing driving slips, mistakes and violations; and a Social Motivation Scale, which asked questions about attitudes to mild social deviance ("cheating").

The drivers reported a total of 292 near accidents and 385 occasions when they experienced anger. Where anger was directly associated with a "near miss", in 109 out of 110 cases anger followed as a direct result , rather than prior to the incident.

Specific types of near accident were more likely to provoke anger than others, in particular where the reporting driver considered themselves not at fault. And although the drivers did not report more anger during periods of heavy traffic, anger levels rose with traffic levels.

"Perhaps drivers need to be made more aware of the potential impact on other roads users of discourteous behaviour, such as driving on other people's bumpers or cutting in on other drivers", said Professor Underwood. "Campaigns aimed at more courteous driving practice could make a significant difference."

For further information about "The Causes and Consequences of Anger While Driving," contact Kathy Ham, Jacky Clake, David Ridley, Tim Whitaker, ESRC External Relations. Tel: 01793 413032, 413117, 413118, 413115.

Economic & Social Research Council

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