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What triggers angry driving?

By Lisa Dorn

Everyone has encountered highly angry, distressed, often aggressive drivers on our roads, whose behaviour pose a significant risk for themselves and other road users. Studies suggest that people are not more likely to experience anger in driving situations compared with non-driving situations, but they do express it more frequently behind the wheel. Driving diaries reveal that high anger drivers engage in 3.5–4.0 risky behaviours per day, whereas low anger drivers report 1.5–2.0 risky behaviours (1). In other words, high anger drivers engage in approximately twice as many risky behaviours as low anger drivers. Apart from the impact of angry driving on the health and well being, driving angry has a major effect on crash risk. An analysis of naturalistic on-road driving using data from multiple onboard video cameras and sensors gathering information from 3,500 drivers across a three-year period was undertaken. The results found that driving while observably emotionally agitated increased crash risk by nearly 10 times compared with apparently alert and attentive driving episodes (2).

Three main triggers for angry driving

So, what is triggering angry driving? According to a review of research (2), there are three main factors that trigger driving anger. First, progress impediment, including slow driving or traffic obstructions. Second, being put at risk, either by reckless or illegal behaviours from other road users; and third, hostility or discourtesy of other motorists. Having one’s progress impeded is the most commonly occurring driving anger factor. Impedance blocks the driver from achieving personal goals like getting to work and seems to be linked to time constraints. Perceived discourtesy of other road users elicits the angriest responses. An angry driver believes that the offender has deliberately behaved in a provocative manner and these hostile appraisals trigger impatience and a confrontive coping style (3). For angry drivers, the perceived or actual violation or affront generates anger, and often stems from a belief that they should not be inconvenienced by any traffic problems or inconsiderate road users.

Angry driving - it's transactional

Several experiments in simulator-based studies have investigated driving performance in different traffic contexts: driving on an open road with no other traffic, following a lead vehicle with overtaking prohibited, and driving in slow-moving traffic with opportunities to pass. The findings showed that when permitted to pass slow-moving vehicles, aggressive drivers drove faster, committed more errors, and executed more high-risk overtakes. However, aggression did not relate to speed in open-road driving, as dangerous behaviours were more likely to be elicited in interaction with other road users reinforcing the transactional nature of driving behaviour (4).

As anger-related collisions are due to deliberate behaviours, the emotional and behavioural responses can be changed using behaviour change techniques. Interventions aim to tackle the underlying beliefs and perceptions that trigger angry driving to alter anger-enhancing ways of viewing the roads and road users. Here, the person learns to process things in less demanding, inflammatory, aggressive way and think about them in more realistic, calm, problem-oriented way, thereby reducing anger and developing safer coping skills (5).

Developing your knowledge and skills in Human Factors

The second module of Level 2 of the accredited Human Factors and Road Risk Management programme covers the role of anger and emotion on driver behaviour. Road safety practitioners learn new models and theories on the Human Factors for managing road risk. The programme is delivered live over 2 full days by Dr Lisa Dorn and includes approximately 15 hours of learning material including a pre-read workbook. The course encourages active, value-driven discussions and tailored to the specific interests of the delegates attending. The next course runs on 18th and 19th April 2024. For more information and other dates, click here


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(1). Deffenbacher, J. L., Stephens, A. N., & Sullman, M. J. (2016). Driving anger as a psychological construct: Twenty years of research using the Driving Anger Scale. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour42, 236-247.

(2). Dingus, T. A., Guo, F., Lee, S., Antin, J. F., Perez, M., Buchanan-King, M., & Hankey, J. (2016). Driver crash risk factors and prevalence evaluation using naturalistic driving data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences113(10), 2636-2641

(3).  Matthews, G., Dorn, L., Hoyes, T. W., Davies, D. R., Glendon, A. I., & Taylor, R. G. (1998). Driver stress and performance on a driving simulator. Human Factors, 40, 136-149.

(4).  Dorn, L. (2021). Driver stress and driving performance. International Encyclopaedia of Transportation, Elsevier.

(5).  Deffenbacher, J. L. (2016). A review of interventions for the reduction of driving anger. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour42, 411-421.


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