Road Rage and Aggressive Driving

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Aggressive driving pertains

to display of aggression by a driver.  The term is often misinterpreted as similar to ‘road rage’.  There is a marked difference between the two terms though. Although both stem from aggressive behaviors, the New York State Police have stated that there is an important difference.

The New York State Police defines Aggressive Driver as one person who:

Operates a motor vehicle in a selfish, bold or pushy manner, without regard for the rights or safety of the other users of the streets and highways.

Road Rage, on the other hand, as defined by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety and used in a study published in 1997 was taken to be:

an incident in which an angry or impatient motorist or passenger injures or kills another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian, or attempts or threatens to injure or kill another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian.

Profile of Aggressive Driver

There is not one specific profile for the aggressive driver. The majority though falls under the ages 18 to 26 years of age, not-so educated males with criminal histories such as violence and drug or alcohol problems. Most of them had recently undergone emotional or professional problems.

A startling number though revealed that hundreds of these people branded as aggressive drivers were actually successful men and women with no crime, violence or substance abuse records.  Drivers between the ages of 26 and 50 were also noticeable. And 86 reported incidents where the drivers aged 50 to 75 years old. Study reveals that a seemingly minor traffic problem leads to an aggressive driving incident which is due to some stressful events in an individual’s life which ends in extreme violence.

Gender Differences in Driving

Men and women reveal a number of driving behaviors that influence their attitudes, safety and insurance risk. Many factors are behind these differences such as neurochemical structures and hormonal processes brought about by evolution and universal socialization practices. Each plays a role in explaining why men and women drivers differ when it comes to records in accidents and insurance claims. Studies conducted over a period of time in different countries revealed that differences between male and female drivers in terms of crash rates are noticeable in a wide range of countries, including the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, with males being significantly more at risk than females.

Similar differences are apparent among male and female pedestrians and accidents taking place at home and work.   The differences do not reveal the levels of competence and driving skill of men and women. The differences in aggressive driving history actually are due to the most basic differences in specific areas of behavior and psychological functioning.

Extensive studies conducted point to the undeniable fact that men, and young men in particular, tend to be more aggressive than women (in all known cultures) and they express aggression in a direct, rather than indirect, manner. This behavior has a very significant effect on driving. It encourages the competitive and hostile behavior which leads to higher probabilities of accidents such as crashing.

Levels of deviant or rule-breaking behavior are seen to be markedly higher in men than in women. This behavior is apparent in a young man’s tendency to have greater frequency of violation of traffic regulations, such as speed limits, traffic controls, drink-driving, etc.

More often than not men, on average, manifest higher levels of sensation-seeking and risk-taking attitudes in a number of settings.  This ingrained sex difference has a hormonal and neurochemical basis. It is not brought about simply by socialization or experience.

The differences between male and female when it comes to their penchant for taking risks while driving can be explained, at least in part, using the evolutionary psychology perspective. This view suggests that much of neural circuitry of the human brain evolved to come up to the requirements set by societies and cultures. We evolved from a culture that is very different from our own as that of a hunter gatherer – that existed for over 99% of our evolution as a species. Despite our advancement to the 21st century, our human brains are basically still ‘stone-age’ brains. The brains of men are women are different in certain crucial aspects.

Stone-age man may not have cars or know how to drive but his hunting, aggressive and risk-taking past – qualities that enabled him to survive and mate has been handed down to our present males.  This is his way of passing his genes to future generations and which manifests in certain instances in today’s male such as in the way a man drives his car.

A report published by the Department of Gender and Women’s Health at the World Health Organization has demanded that these fundamental differences between men and women drivers and the need to develop policies that are relevant to each gender should be recognized.

This increased level of risk among young men is not just limited to driving. The WHO (1999) and (2002) report shows that men are also more likely to die from falls, drowning, poisoning and a range of other events. Only in the case of deaths in fires are women seemed to show a slightly higher figure than men. The report also shows that injury and fatality rates are higher among men for every type of road injury victim in several developing countries. In Kampala, Uganda, for instance, the ratio for males and females is between 2 and 7 to 1 among injured vehicle drivers, passengers and pedestrians. In the United States male drivers have more possibility of getting injured or killed in road accidents than females. Figures showed that male accounts for 71% of all driver fatalities. This figure is consistent since 1975.

To a certain degree these differences are explained by the greater exposure of males to potential accidents because there are more men who are licensed drivers and have greater annual mileages than women.  But this factor however do not account for the fact that levels of male driver injuries and fatalities and those resulting from being a pedestrian, passenger, cyclist etc. are almost similar. This goes to show that the risk-proneness of men while driving is directly reflective of their risk in a number of other settings not just in driving.  The number of driver deaths fell substantially between 1977 and 1995 but the relative male/female ratios remained substantially the same throughout the period.

Differences between men end women in terms of their driving behavior and accident rates have long been revealed in the UK, mainland Europe, the United States, Australia and in many other countries. In all studies and analyses, without exception, men showed a higher rate of crashes than women. This gender difference is particularly noticeable for those 25 years below.  Somehow this is also evident among older drivers. The difference between the sexes in terms of the number of fatalities resulting from road crashes is similarly marked.

The scale of this difference between the sexes is very substantial. Chipman et al (1992), for instance, show that men have double the number of crashes (per 1,000 drivers) than women. Waller et al (2001) also note that in addition to having a higher number of crashes, men encounter their first crash earlier in their driving career and are more likely than women to be held to blame for the incident. Norris et al (2000) and others believes this greater level of crash-proneness is due to higher driving speeds among men and less regard for traffic laws.

Waylen and McKenna (2002) observe that the pattern of road accident involvement also differs between the sexes. Men are more likely than women to be involved in crashes that occur on bends, in the dark or those that involve overtaking. Women, on the other hand, have a greater frequency of crashes occurring at junctions than men. This supports the suggestion by Storie (1977) that men are more at risk from accidents involving high speed while women are at more likely to be involved in accidents resulting from perceptual judgment errors.

Studies revealed that in the age category 20-29 years the fatality rate for males (including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, etc.) was 535% greater than that of females. The difference between the sexes declined sharply with age – the difference between men and women in their sixties and older being insignificant. This is consistent with the findings of Maycock et al (1991) that the greatest difference between males and females in this context is in the 16-20 and 21-24 age groups.

The WHO report and other research documents put forward various reasons to explain the observed sex differences in the risk of injury or death while driving. These, overall, fall into three distinct groups, indicating differential levels of:
• aggression
• speeding and violation of traffic laws
• sensation-seeking and risk-taking


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