Preventing Road Rage
Aggressive Driver Stuck in Traffic

The Causes of Aggressive Driving & Road Rage: Impatience, Stress & Anger

Updated Dec. 16, 2020

To tackle the threat posed by aggressive driving we must understand its causes. The increasing number of vehicles on our roads, day-to-day stresses, tiredness and the growing prevalence of disrespectful behavior have all created an environment in which aggressive driving is rife. Only through individual motorists taking responsibility for their own feelings and actions can we begin to reverse this national epidemic. While aggressive driving is sadly commonplace, we must not mistake it for “normal” or excusable behavior.

The causes of aggressive driving come in various forms and are not always obvious. Some are undesirable roadway situations, while others are personality traits or states of mind. We are all complex human beings, with unique life experiences, who react differently to different situations. Some drivers may be predisposed to behave aggressively when driving at night. Others may succumb to aggressive tendencies more easily in hot weather, or tightly packed traffic. Of course, some situations – such as stress, tiredness or the bad behavior of other drivers – could lead any motorist to drive aggressively.

While learning to drive and at all times thereafter, you must monitor your mental state and watch out for anger, frustration or aggressive tendencies developing. These emotional states rarely come on suddenly and can easily escape your notice if you’re not paying attention!

Congestion and heavy traffic

There are few driving situations more frustrating than packed roadways, where every motorist is competing for space. Heavy traffic is even more stressful during rush hour, where eagerness to get home or fear of being late will lead many motorists to drive in a discourteous manner. Understand that you will encounter some bad driving behavior on extremely congested roadways. The key to staying safe is to treat these irresponsible drivers just like any other roadway hazard. Give them as much space as possible and do not let their behavior lead you to act aggressively in turn.


Egotism is a personality trait that describes consideration for one’s personal needs and desires above those of other people. An egotistical person may behave as if ordinary rules do not apply to them, on the roads as well as in day-to-day life. It only takes a minor inconvenience such as lateness, being cut off by another driver or being “disrespected” in some other way for an egotistical driver to start behaving aggressively.

When a self-centered person drives aggressively, their behavior may be directed at all other drivers, one driver in particular, a specific group of drivers or toward society as a whole. They may refuse to yield-the-right of way, block other vehicles from merging or speed up to prevent another driver from passing them. Even the most considerate of human beings can be capable of egotism on occasion, particularly when tired, hungry or stressed out by other events. Look out for these behaviors and feelings in yourself while driving.

Perceived anonymity

Many drivers experience feelings of anonymity and safety in their own vehicles, even when surrounded by hundreds of other vehicles on a relatively short stretch of road. Feeling protected and shielded from events and people outside the car can lead you to behave in a way that you wouldn’t if you felt somebody could see you. This phenomenon can make people who are polite and courteous in person behave with uncharacteristic aggression behind the wheel. Always remember that any aggressive, inconsiderate or otherwise negative action you take while driving will have equally negative consequences.

Poor emotional control

Poor control over emotions is an issue that affects many motorists, particularly novice drivers and teenagers. When coupled with “perceived anonymity” poor emotional control can be extremely dangerous. If you cannot regulate your mood, you may find yourself giving in to bursts of anger or frustration while driving. In this state, you are susceptible to making impulsive, poorly thought-out maneuvers.

Developing sound emotional control is a part of growing up. Driving is a responsibility and privilege reserved for mature young adults and adults only. If you would not let an emotional outburst get the better of you in a supermarket or your workplace, you must not give in to one behind the wheel.

Keeping negative emotions in check

Everybody experiences bad moods from time to time. It is essential to learn how to keep your negative emotions in check when they do arise, as they can quickly escalate with the added stresses of driving and result in full-blown road rage. Avoid driving if you are experiencing any of these emotions and cannot suppress them:

  1. 1

    If you let this feeling take over, you are likely to behave in a rushed and discourteous manner while driving. You may make impulsive, dangerous decisions or take actions that will anger other drivers.

  2. 2

    Extreme stress is incredibly distracting and tends to heighten all other emotional responses. While stressed, you may overact to minor annoyances on the road and fail to be properly attentive to the driving task.

  3. 3

    Anger is one of the hardest emotions to control and can rapidly evolve or get out of hand. If you drive while angry, irrespective of the cause, you are likely to home in on the first driver who behaves in a way you do not like and direct your frustrations at them.

Remember that as a new driver, you will easily fall victim to overwhelming emotions while in the driver’s seat. Therefore, it is even more important that you monitor your mental state and do not drive if you are experiencing any strong negative emotions. If you stay at home, your bad mood will wear off quickly. Behind the wheel, the negative consequences of your bad mood could end up lasting a lifetime.

Road rage self-assessment checklist

Are you likely to experience road rage? Remember, road rage can strike any person at any time; we can all lose our cool under the right circumstances. However, some people are more susceptible to becoming aggressive behind the wheel than others. If you understand your personal risk of experiencing road rage, you are more likely to be successful in preventing it from happening.

If you are easily frustrated, frequently stressed, known for having a short temper or for being impatient, you are at risk of becoming an aggressive driver if things don’t go your way. Do not be disheartened, knowledge is power!

Next time you are driving, monitor your mood and take note if you experience any of these thoughts:

  • “Why are they moving so slowly?”
  • “Why should I be courteous when everybody else is being rude?”
  • “I’ll drive closer to make them go faster.”
  • “I’m going to be late.”
  • “I’ll just squeeze in ahead of this person.”
  • “You snooze, you lose!”
  • “They are not letting me in on purpose!”
  • “I’ll show them!”

These are just examples, but they give you an idea of the kind of thoughts a motorist might have, right before taking some dangerous or aggressive action. Train yourself to watch out for these impatient, egotistical or angry thoughts and you should be able to put a stop to them before they make you do something stupid.

You may find it useful to have a go-to phrase or mantra which you can say instead when these negative thoughts occur. Some examples:

  • “These thoughts do not help me.”
  • “Getting angry will not change anything.”
  • “Relax. Getting worked up will not get me there faster.”

You will be surprised how drastically this type of positive statement can influence your mental state. The hardest part of dealing with road rage is recognizing the negative emotion developing in the first place. With the guidance we provide in this course, you will be well equipped to stop dangerous emotions and aggressive behavior in its tracks!

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