Written by Graham Cutbill-White
The snow has begun to fall and is already turning to slush, a sure-fire sign that Christmas is just around the corner.
Another way to tell that the festive season is upon us is to look at the thousands of drivers up and down the country turning red with anger at the busier roads, overly cautious drivers, and terrible driving conditions.
Road rage may not be unique to the holiday period but there’s just something about the 12th month of the year that seems to bring out the very worst in drivers.
Whether it’s angry beeping of the horn, shouting and swearing, or even physical violence, road rage comes in many forms and has a number of causes.
With 66%* of traffic fatalities believed to be due to aggressive driving and 61%† of drivers recently surveyed saying that they have suffered either a verbal or physical attack in the last 12 months, it’s clear that road rage is just as big of a problem in 2017.
There are a variety of different reasons for drivers to get aggressive while behind the wheel and no single cause has ever been identified. Some researchers have looked as far as back childhood to try and get an answer to the question.
According to research‡ by Dr Leon James, professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii, drivers can develop a tendency towards road rage from an early age.
“The back seat of the car is what I call road rage nursery. From childhood in the car and [from watching] television, we are prepared for competitive hard-nosed driving.”
While growing up with an aggressive parent driving you around or seeing people shouting and swearing at other drivers on television can have an impact on how you act while on the road, the more common, or more easily recognisable causes can be found in your immediate surroundings and situation.
Research from 2016 revealed that tailgating and sudden braking were the biggest causes of road rage for British drivers.
Bad or dangerous driving by other road users including being cut up, using excessive speed or needless flashing lights and sounding the horn can have a real impact on our stress levels which in turn can make us react aggressively and even violently.
Driving is stressful as it is. You’re operating an expensive, powerful object at high speed that’s capable of serious damage and what’s worse is that there are hundreds of others in the same position and you’re not sure at any time what they are going to do.
When other drivers do something you’re not expecting like someone driving 40mph on a 60mph road or cutting into your lane without looking the high-pressure situation can cause unusual reactions.
The way other drivers use the road has a huge impact on how we act in a specific situation. 50%# of people who encounter aggressive driving behaviour respond in kind.
Even if you’re not a particularly aggressive or hostile person generally, you are more likely to react in that way if you feel your safety is at risk.
These hostile reactions can not only affect your own health but because angry drivers are more likely to speed and make dangerous manoeuvres it could result in an accident which could cause harm and injury to other innocent road users.
The behaviour of other drivers is not the only reason for why some of us get angry behind the wheel. Sometimes our own issues can cause our anger to boil over and for the red mist to descend.
One of the biggest reasons we experience road rage is a lack of empathy and understanding towards other drivers.
It’s commonly accepted that most people tend to judge others on their actions while judging themselves on their intentions. Many of us will see someone aggressively trying to overtake or move in front of you without indicating and we’ll base our entire opinion of that driver on that one single action.
Without being forced to actually confront them face to face, a lot of drivers will see them simply as that one act of driving or in many cases as the embodiment of the car they’re driving and the stereotypes that come with it – white van men or BMW drivers for example.
By not acknowledging these other drivers as actual human beings just trying to get from A to B, we allow ourselves to be needlessly aggressive and not act in the way we normally would.
It’s a similar situation to the way many people act online. Without that face to face interaction and without us facing real-life consequences for what we say or do, we feel we’re able to get away with being offensive or violent.
Whether it’s other road users dangerous driving or our own personal circumstances that cause road rage, one thing’s for certain, at Christmas time, things get a whole a lot angrier.
Stress is one of the most common causes of road rage. As mentioned above, driving can be extremely stressful at the best times but when someone drives dangerously around you or you’re stuck in traffic, this can increase stress levels to a point where some drivers react angrily.
Christmas also happens to be an extremely stressful time. Nearly all the activities we associate with Christmas can increase our stress levels.
While you may get time off from work over the festive period, a lot of the things you’ll be doing in your free time will be physically and mentally tiring.
Late nights catching up with friends or family, tackling busy shopping centres in a frantic attempt to buy last minute presents and of course you may be carrying a little extra weight all add up to a month of tiredness.
Many of us also suffer from stress over Christmas because of the financial burden that comes with it. Only 36%¶ of people feel financially well prepared for Christmas and for the rest of us, having to pay for gifts, extra food, and clothes for parties and gatherings over the holiday period can cause stress and even depression.
Other factors such as seasonal affective disorder, strained or difficult relationships with loved ones, and even loneliness which can heighten over Christmas can really take their toll on us and it’s not surprising that Christmas has been formally identified as a source of stress**.
Christmas, and winter in general, can be a difficult time on the road as well. Many of us have long, difficult journeys planned over the festive season which can be made even tougher by treacherous conditions, roadworks and other drivers in a similar rush to get where they’re going.
You’ll often find that driving at Christmas is even more stressful than at any other point in the year as all these factors, both on the road and in our personal lives come to a head.
The pressure that comes from the financial and social expectations of Christmas mixed with busier roads, more frequent and longer journeys all taking place in dangerous driving conditions come together to make Christmas the perfect storm for road rage.
Given the huge number of causes of road rage, there isn’t one single thing you can do to prevent it; instead, try to follow these suggestions which will help you stay calm behind the wheel and make you and others around you safer on the road.
As the biggest causes of road rage in the UK, you certainly shouldn’t be tailgating and winding up other drivers. Not only is incredibly annoying for others, it is against the law and could land you with a £100 fine and three points on your licence.
If you find that someone is driving closely behind you, the quickest and easiest way to diffuse the situation to move lanes. Yes, we know that it can be a blow to your ego but nothing good can ever come from holding up a car which is driving faster than you. Make the safe and sensible choice and move into the next lane.
Just because another driver is getting up your backside or has cut you up on the motorway, don’t assume that they’re out to get you personally.
It’s far more likely that they just made a mistake, didn’t see you or was distracted by something in their own car. Don’t take it to heart, it’s not personal just try and move on from what happened and concentrate on your driving.
Acknowledging another driver through a wave or hand gesture (not a rude one) can help defuse situations and calm everyone down. It allows you to humanise the other driver and put yourself in their shoes. This will help you to appreciate their situation and make us less likely to get angry.
We can get extremely stressed if we are running late and feel rushed. Unfortunately, traffic isn’t as predictable as we’d like to be so the easiest way to prevent being late or caught in traffic is to plan ahead and leave plenty of time for your trip.
This will stop you feeling the time pressure and reduce the chances of you getting frustrated and restless and help you avoid road rage.