Why do we become so aggressive while driving? What is “road rage” and advice on how to avoid it behind the wheel

We cannot deny it: when we are in the car we become more aggressive and when we are driving we get angry more frequently than usual. It happens to almost everyone, more precisely the statistics tell us that one in three people admits to having aggressive behaviors driving. It is a well-known fact in psychology and has a precise name: road rage, literally “road rage”. But why does this happen?
We see it together in this article, trying to understand both the external factors to us who interior, and some tactics that can be adopted to avoid this dangerous behavior for our safety and that of others.

The causes of road rage

There are various reasons for “road rage”, from the fact that the car is a barrier that prevents the confrontation with the risk that we perceive in conditions of cognitive overload to the unpleasant sensation of wasting time that we have when we are stuck in traffic.

The car as a protected place

An extremely interesting aspect of the anger that we exhibit when we are behind the wheel is due not so much to the influence that the outside has on us who are driving, but rather to the fact that we are in a “protected place”. In fact, being inside a car gives us the feeling of being protected by a shell, an armour, and for this less fearful of the reaction that our anger could arise. In short: between us and whoever we are “insulting” there is an impassable wall, so no one will do anything to us if we attack them.

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road rage argument street driving pedestrian

This feeling of protection leads us to behave in ways that we would never have outside the cockpit. Does this concept remind you of anything? If you have thought about the social networks, you are not wrong. Even when we are online we talk protected by the lack of physical confrontation and for this reason it is common to use disrespectful attitudes, which we would never – or hardly – show in person.

Cognitive overload and hostility

For numerous psychologists, being behind the wheel causes a so-called cognitive overload. It means we have to pay attention to a variety of factors – pedestrians, scooters, other cars, road conditions, road signs and so on. Areas of our brain are therefore activated which in ancient times were set in motion when we had the feeling of danger.

This city is an antisocial jungle arguing road rage

It is as if human beings had not yet fully adapted from a biological-evolutionary point of view to living in civilized and hyper-built societiesso the most crowded environments come perceived as hostile and activate our antisocial characteristics: according to these studies, man is made to live in small groups, whereby he interacts with a large number of strangers who are in “competition” with us – who will be able to park first? – creates distrust and risks.

This theory is consolidated by the fact that those who live in large cities tend to be more stressed while driving, because the stimuli are greater and therefore the stress to which we are subjected is greater.

Physical and temporal barriers

Another cause of road rage it is the perception of wasting time. For example, many will prefer a two and a half hour drive without a hitch rather than a two hour drive with lots of traffic. This is because the traffic, or in general the physical barriers that we meet while driving, give us the feeling of being late or waste precious time. However, when the road is clear, even if we are late, we do not feel this anger.

traffic increases road rage

Sometimes then, the competition that we were talking about above makes us think that who is there getting in the way from arriving at your destination he's doing it on purpose, and not because – perhaps – he is having difficulty driving. For studies, a sort of is born in us superiority, as if to say: “I would have done that parking better and faster, I wouldn't have blocked the entire road for 5 minutes. Maybe the driver is doing it on purpose to make me nervous”.

The feeling of risk

Also feeling put at risk it gives rise to strong anger in us. Instinctively, if someone – even if by mistake – makes a risky maneuver and we feel threatened, we tend to respond in a hostile way.

The difference between aggressive driving and road rage

There is a distinction to be made, albeit a slight one. Road rage and aggressive driving are not the same thing, although they may coincide. In fact, there are those who adopt one very dangerous driving style even if not caused by anger, but from recklessness or a sense of superiority towards other drivers, which leads him to drive fast, run a red light, change lanes without signaling, tailgate those in front, honk continuously and so on. However, the situation of those who are is different nervous about the trafficfrom the psychological pressure of being behind the wheel and having to pay attention to many factors.


There aggressive drivinghowever, turns very easily into road rage, especially when you suffer criticism from other road users. The same goes for those who start driving while already angry: all they need to do is encounter an obstacle or any kind of hostility to give vent to their anger.

How to manage road rage and stay calm when driving

Maintain the calm behind the wheel it is important not only for our mental health, but also for our safety and that of those around us. A study of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the USA estimated that approximately 67% of road accidents it is due to a aggressive driving behaviordirect consequence of road rage.

road rage road rage road rage cause

Although it may seem trivial, the simplest answer is: stay calm. Let me explain: the more we try to reduce hostility towards other road users, the more we will be able to remain calm. Road rage is a vicious cycle: the more nervous we are, the more we make others nervous. Therefore the measures suggested byAmerican Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety are the following:

  • maintain the safety distance;
  • use the arrows and allow others to come into your lane;
  • use the horn only if strictly necessary, in case of strong danger;
  • avoid eye contact with impaired drivers;
  • do not respond to other people's aggressions.
American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety University of Padua Regulating Road Rage – Soc Personal Psychol Compass., 15(3) APA – American Psychological Association Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore Road Rage, Psychiatry (Edgmont)