What is it about road rage?

By  •  June 6, 2013 at 5:48 pm  •  3 Comments

As the government announced new plans to give Traffic Police Officers powers to fine people on the spot for middle lane driving and for tailgating, the subject of road rage becomes a sensitive one again. So what is it about driving cars that can turn the mildest and calmest person into an aggressive, vindictive and potentially dangerous driver?

There’s a variety of buttons that get pushed. Let’s see which ones apply to you.


Stress and Fear

A lot of people find driving stressful and the underlying feeling that is promoting stress is fear. We may be scared of being late. We may be worrying about other drivers on the road or concerned we may get lost. Whatever it is if we are stressed by driving there is a fear of some sort at its core.

Now, if we add in the fact that cars are dangerous machines in the wrong hands and the fear multiplies many times over. If you are driving a large articulated lorry these fears are multiplied even more. The responsibility a lorry driver carries is huge.

All this pent up concern, worry and fear leads to the processing unit in our brain called the Amygdala being primed to a point where it is oversensitive and triggered by anything. This starts the fight, flight or freeze process in our bodies and we become adrenalized.

We cover up fear, hurt and sadness with anger

As life becomes more complicated it appears to be more common that we are not allowed to be honest about our feelings. Our feelings are a natural part of life and have evolved over time to give us an accurate barometer of how we are reacting to our environment. As we have evolved, we have learnt to judge people for openly and honestly expressing their feelings. As a result we feel that it a sign of vulnerability to admit that we are able to be hurt or that we are sad rather than happy. The feelings that require the most bravery to be honest about are fear, sadness and hurt.

When someone refuses to let you out of a side road onto a busy main road and you have an emotional reaction is that really anger? Or is it hurt because people are not paying attention to you or is it fear that if people don’t let you out you may be late?

When another driver cuts you up and you react emotionally is this really anger or are you covering up the fact that what just happened really scared you?

The car is an extension of my ego

We are all aware of the mid life crisis car but in fact for most of us there is a little bit if our ego wrapped up in our cars. It represents us in public and the adverts for cars do little to alter this perception. The whole of marketing around new cars is about aspiration, lifestyle and association. Unfortunately for most of us our egos are not the strong healthy parts of us that we may pretend they are. When we find ourselves on the road feeling disrespected, uncared for, unseen and unheard it’s easier to get angry than to take responsibility for our own self respect.

The car is an extension of my physical self

Whereas my ego is part of my emotional and psychological self, this issue is literal and physical. None of us like having our space invaded or our property damaged. When we drive on the roads we are moving a piece of our property around in a busy and frenetic environment. No wonder we need rules such as the Highway Code. As soon as we get in the car its boundaries become our boundaries and in many circumstances this is exaggerated to the point that you only need to drive a little closer to me than I may wish you to and I react angrily. Again it may be fear, it may be hurt or it may be old fashioned anger. Whichever reacting emotionally when driving a heavy piece of metal on rubber wheels in amongst a lot of other heavy pieces of metal with rubber wheels is not healthy. The possibilities for conflict are endless.

I’m late

I hate being late and I like to arrive on time and I don’t like to arrive too early. So my journey’s can often be finely balanced affairs. As soon as I experience delays such as traffic or road works my anxieties (fear) all rise to the surface. Of course when I am emotionally reacting I find it difficult to articulate that it is “because I am late and I wish to take full responsibility for my poor planning.” Instead I project anger on to the driver of the car in front who just happens to be in the correct lane, doing the correct speed.

Does any of this make sense? Does any of this apply to you?

How can you stop these outbursts on the road?

Working out whether you are actually hurt or scared rather than angry can help. It has a dual effect of helping you start to express feelings in a healthy way and also makes you stop and think a little before reacting. That said, at 40 miles and hour, in busy traffic working your way through all the above is not easy. That’s why we reduced it to a few tips.

3 Questions to ask yourself on the road


  1. If I wasn’t in this situation what would I see? – Taking a third person view often helps you see the real picture.
  2. Will this matter in 3 months time? –If it won’t why not choose to let it go now rather than taking three months to do it.
  3. Is this really directed at me? – It’s too easy to take something personally. That driver was not acting out towards you. They were just in a hurry.


Using these will help you and who knows; maybe you will save yourself the ignominy of being the first person in your friendship circle to be fined on the spot for tailgating.

On the other hand, if the issues described above are regular for you. May be you want to have a more in-depth chat. Feel free to call CalmPeople.

Julian Hall & Paula Backen are emotional resilience, stress and anger management specialists based in Derby & Birmingham.

To find out more call 07850614042 and ask for Julian 07950344658 and ask for Paula.

If you want to know more about the anger management, stress management, and emotional resilience courses run in Derby & Birmingham call the above numbers or click here

About the Author:

With more than 20 years experience working in challenging corporate environments and dealing with change programmes, Julian has gained extensive experience in counselling, facilitation and training techniques. Julian has an MBA from Nottingham Business School, has trained with the British Association of Anger Management and is an experienced and qualified practitioner of established coaching tools such as Myers Briggs.
Julian has built Calm People into an organisation that encompasses everything from delivering workshops on how to identify and deal with anger, to helping individuals to combat stress by improving their emotional resilience. The company’s continually evolving mindset has led to them developing an innovative training product for HGV and Bus/Coach drivers, technology assisted wellbeing packages, and a unique and exclusive Executive Resilience Retreat.

Whether you are an individual seeking to cope with challenging circumstances or an organisation looking to support cultural change Calm People can help you.



  1. haziza / June 10, 2013 at 3:49 pm /Reply

    Funnily enough,I used to question myself with most of the questions above,but from a cyclist point of view.Some months ago,I had to ride to work and from work and was just amazed by the cardrivers reaction when having to pass something as pointless as a bike.I suppose they are all well balanced and respectful persons in real life,nevertheless,I almost ended up rolled over in numerous occasions,as the victim of this massive ego.

  2. David Smith / June 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm /Reply

    I am ashamed to say that I relate to ALL the said facts above.
    I cannot believe how shallow and obnoxious I must seem.
    I shall more than ever change my attitude to life and above all other fellow human beings.

  3. Rusty Fleischer / July 15, 2013 at 2:39 am /Reply

    What you are writing here makes so much sense. Reacting to what someone else is doing on the road is giving away your power, letting the other person control you. He is driving the way he is driving for whatever the reason is and you are reacting.
    It is a matter of separating feelings from behaviors. Even if you are pissed off (your feeling) at what the other person is doing, it is his not yours. Take a deep breath and let it go (your behavior). When we talk about this in our anger support group the example we use is that you do not know what is going on with the other driver. He may be rushing to the hospital with his pregnant wife in the back of the car about to give birth or he may just be a jerk. Whatever it is , it’s not yours.

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