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December 14, 2021

The underlying causes of road rage — and how to address them

Adult Health Road Rage

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We’ve all been there — you’re stuck in traffic and already frustrated when someone cuts you off. Naturally, your blood begins to boil. These feelings of anger are natural, but for some people they can quickly escalate and lead to aggressive and dangerous driving that puts everyone on the road around them at risk.

Whether you occasionally struggle with road rage or just want to be better prepared if you encounter a hostile driver in your travels, it’s helpful to understand the root causes and work to mitigate them. Here are four of the top reasons some drivers experience road rage:

1. Stress

There are a number of potential stressors that can impact your emotions while driving. If you’re trying to reach a destination by a certain time, stop-and-go traffic, road construction, or slow drivers can quickly lead to stress, which can manifest as anxiety and tension, leading to irritability and anger. Or you might be stressed out about something completely unrelated to your commute. Either way, a stressed-out driver is primed for a bout of road rage.

2. Lack of sleep

Being short on sleep and getting behind the wheel is a dangerous combination. In fact, 100,000 accidents a year are attributable to lack of sleep. Those who are sleep-deprived exhibit many of the same symptoms as those under stress, leaving them much more likely to be triggered into an angry response to other drivers on the road.

3. Mental health

If someone experiences intermittent outbursts of road rage even when they’re not feeling stressed or fatigued, this may be a sign of intermittent explosive disorder. This disorder causes people to have sudden, angry, and sometimes violent outbursts that are extremely out of proportion to the situation that triggered them. Because intermittent explosive disorder is chronic, it’s essential that those who suffer from it receive treatment.

4. Alcohol

Not only does drinking alcohol impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely; it also can lead to unpredictable emotional responses. Driving while experiencing alcohol withdrawal can also be extremely dangerous. Heavy or prolonged alcohol use followed by a sudden stop or reduction in consumption can result in anxiety, agitation, and restlessness — all driving forces of road rage.

If you see someone switching lanes rapidly, tailgating, yelling, or gesturing at other drivers, it’s best to steer clear of their vehicle. Stay behind them and give them plenty of space. Road rage incidents can escalate quickly and become violent, so your best bet is to just avoid them.

And if you’re someone prone to road rage yourself, it’s important to put yourself in the best position to be safe behind the wheel. Take a deep breath, give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going, and remember that the potential consequences of even a single incident are far more severe and stressful than anything you may experience behind the wheel.

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