Reckless-Competitive and Angry Driving in the NYC Metropolitan Area
Road rage and aggressive driving are amazingly common. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that aggressive drivers are responsible for one-third of all crashes and two-thirds of the associated fatalities! The New York City Metro area is one of the top venues for aggressive driving in the USA. Many of the victims are pedestrians, often times children. Reckless-competitive and angry driving in the New York City area are so commonplace as to seem "normal" in our competitive, in-your-face culture.
Driving a vehicle on today's high-speed or congested roads can be frightening, frustrating, and stressful. You may be killed or maimed in a collision which you were helpless to avoid. People can be annoying when they drive too slowly or upsetting when they disregard our standards for safe driving behavior.
Driving in traffic is frustrating. You're crammed into an automobile in a relatively tight space and in a state of partial sensory deprivation. You are in command of a fast vehicle, but you are rendered powerless by congestion and unpredictable delays.
This driving environment creates a level of stress which, combined with one or more psychological factors, can fuel aggressive (reckless-competitive) driving or (high-anger) road rage driving).
You may be stressed, frustrated, or upset by other drivers or by traffic conditions, but you have choices--whether you are aware of it or not:
- You can fight the traffic (aggressive driving).
- You can fight with people (road rage).
- You can fight to stay in control or your feelings and behavior until you no longer feel like fighting.
The goal of this website is to provide information to help empower you to make the right choice in the heat of that critical moment.
I am a licensed NY and CT clinical psychologist with major specializations in anger management counseling (www.angermanagementnyc.com) and cognitive behavioral-therapy for psychological symptoms and dysfunctional behaviors. I have treated many clients with road rage and aggressive driving issues. Some are self referred. Many come in at the urging or insistence of a spouse, partner, or another third party.
Many come to counseling for other anger management problems or other psychological issues and had not paid much attention to their angry driving or reckless-competitive driving issues. They are often surprised to learn that road rage and aggressive driving may be part of an anger management or psychological problem simply a dysfunctional habit that can be changed.
Definition of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving
There is some confusion and inconsistency in the use of each of these terms. Road rage is a misnomer, a splashy media term from the 1990s that we have come to live with. It evokes headlines of modern road warriors or hoodlums shooting at other drivers or running them off the road. The NHTSA limits its definition of road rage to driving behavior that "involves a criminal act of violence, whereas aggressive driving can range from tailgating to speeding to running red lights."
I will use the more common, broader definition of road rage. Road rage refers to a wide range of inappropriate or dysfunctional hostile actions, directed at another person or object, when the "road rager" is experiencing anger. Road rage, in short, is about getting angry on the road and becoming verbally abusive or engaging in aggressive, physical actions (which may or may not be criminal). People who are referred to as "road ragers" should more properly be called " angry" or "high-anger drivers."
There is a mild statistical relationship between instances of active road rage and (1) having weak barriers to acting out angry feelings, (2) to being a younger driver, and (3) being male. Overall, men are more likely to experience strong anger and are more likely to act out or retaliate overtly when angry.
However, under certain circumstances, anyone can be susceptible to an instance of road rage--regardless of gender, age, socio-economic level, ethnicity, mental health or anger management issues. Woman, as we will see, sometimes have a more subtle way of expressing anger on the road.
Road rage and aggressive driving sound alike, but they are different in significant ways.
Road rage (RR)
- RR is powered by anger.
- A high-anger driver intends to annoy, intimidate, punish, harm, or humiliate a particular target of the driver's anger.
- RR encompasses a range of angry emotions and aggressive behaviors, from obscene language or gestures, aggressive horn honking and cutting off others, through assault, murder, or actions that seriously endanger others, like high-speed chase.
The milder forms of road rage mentioned above are extremely common. Also common are self-talk road rage (angry thoughts, statements and gestures not acted out) and passive-aggressive driving (covert hostile actions).
Aggressive Driving (AG)
AG is motivated by a variety of attitudes or feelings, including competitiveness, status seeking, thrill and stimulus seeking, impatience, or anxiety--but not primarily anger. AG includes inconsiderate and reckless driving behaviors like speeding, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, jumping lights, rolling through stop signs, and changing lanes without signaling.
AG is "aggressive" in the sense that an intrusive salesperson may be aggressive in the pursuit of a sale. This is not really aggression since there is no intent to harm or punish others. AG can easily trigger fear, anger, or road rage in other drivers. Aggressive driving and road rage behaviors look alike at times. For example, both types of drivers may tailgate or menace another car or engage in a power struggle. However, the aggressive (competitive-reckless) driver tailgates to get a slower car out of his way. He doesn't especially care how the other driver feels. When he engages in power struggles with other drivers, it is to prove his superiority to himself, or gain a tactical advantage in traffic, or reduce his anxiety about being late, etc. The power struggle is relatively impersonal.
The angry (road rage) driver tailgates or engages in a power struggle with another driver to release his anger, to punish, annoy, or "get even," dominate, or prove something to the other driver. The struggle is anger based, reactive, and more personal.
For some drivers, aggressive driving behavior may actually be a form of passive aggressive driving behavior, a subtle type of angry or hostile driving. These drivers act out their covert or unconscious resentment through behaviors which are likely to get other drivers upset. It may appear that they are careless, inattentive, in a great hurry, aloof and indifferent to the feelings of others. However, their goal is to actually get other drivers upset--without appearing to be provocative or angry themselves. In this way, they get to act out their hostility without feeling the upset of anger or the fear of retaliation which is experienced by a typical road rager.
A righteous, resentful, or spiteful person may drive at the speed limit in the passing lane and force drivers behind him to go at his speed or to pass on his right. He doesn't want to go any faster but wants to make hard for others do so. A driver may "innocently" cut off another driver or prevent them from merging just for the satisfaction of thwarting them.
Some people get angry or drive aggressively most every time they drive; others, infrequently or never. Drivers can learn to change these behaviors by candidly admitting them, by understanding the underlying psychology of aggressive driving and road rage, and by taking concrete steps to change their attitudes and driving habits.
Psychology of High-Anger Drivers
Psychological factors which can contribute to a single instance of road rage include:
- Driving while intoxicated weakens our social judgment and self control.
- Driving when frustrated, e.g., when stuck in traffic or running late, creates stress and anger.
- Driving while already in a state of anger can prime us for hostile road behaviors.
- Encountering a careless, incompetent, or reckless driver can stimulate an automatic fear response which may lead to angry driving behavior.
These factors can affect anyone. We can respond appropriately or dysfunctionally to upsetting road conditions and other people's driving behavior. The choice is ours.
Individuals with extreme or habitual road anger tend to have low frustration tolerance, poor impulse control, and/or drug or alcohol problems. These issues weaken our ability to cope with frustrating road conditions or the annoying or dangerous behavior of other drivers.
Anger management issues prime us to automatically react with anger, resentment or rage across a variety of situations. If we have a payback mentality, we are predisposed to retaliate for minor or imagined transgressions against us.
Self-worth issues, depression, PTSD, or other experiences may give us a particular sense of vulnerability or a "chip on the shoulder." If we feel especially small, weak, powerless, or victimized, we sooner or later will react angrily to people whose driving leads us feel worse.
When upsetting road conditions or another person's driving induces additional fear or tension, it can "put us over the top" and trigger road rage. Another possibility is a self-righteous, indignant attitude about how others should drive and an inappropriate sense of entitlement which wrongly empowers us to "teach them lesson", "show them how you feel" or "give it back to them".
It's important to understand what is behind a person's road rage in order to devise an effective treatment strategy.
Psychology of Reckless-Competitive Drivers
Aggressive driving is something most of us do on occasion or even more often. We may be in a hurry on a particular day. We may not be in a position to verbally apologize for our lapses into aggressive or inconsiderate driving. However, we soon return to a more responsible style of driving. On the other hand, if we notice that others drive aggressively, and there appears to be no consequences for them, after a while our aggressive driving tends to increase. Then, we don't give it a second thought--except to justify it.
The Habitually Aggressive Driver
Aggressive drivers are defined by the fact that they tend to selectively ignore social rules--when they're on the road. Few aggressive drivers would cut a line at a supermarket or a ticket booth. On the road, however, aggressive drivers may risk an accident to cut off the next guy in order to get ahead. They feel empowered to break the social and legal rules when they step into their car.
Habitually aggressive drivers have psychological issues which drive their behavior. I believe that many compulsively aggressive drivers have self-concept, mood, anxiety and other psychological issues. These are keys to understanding their behavior and to helping them.
We tend to treat our automobiles as extensions of our self concept, emotions, or moods. Unfortunately, they offer us an opportunity to act out our personal issues at deadly speed. Here are some examples.
- A kid with self-worth issues may feel powerless and frightened in the world. However, in a turbocharged, 15 year old car, he can feel like he's on top of the world when effortlessly blowing past others at 35 mph above the speed limit.
- A newly hired MBA has self-confidence issues. He evokes a longed-for sense of competitiveness and feels like a Master of the Universe when weaving his new BMW through Parkway traffic at 90 mph.
- Similarly, a timid, resentful, or rebellious person can gratify his need for an illusion of power by honking or tailgating to make others get out of his way.
- A worried person or someone with OCD may speed dangerously, jump lights and tailgate because he fears being late. He has decided (incorrectly) how long the trip should take. Anything or anyone who gets in his way (slows him down) is a potential source of stress for him.
- A depressed person may feel the need to drive at dangerous speeds because the adrenaline this generates make him feel better. Similarly, a person may drive at the edge of automotive disaster because it provides distraction and relief from what is really bothering him.
- A person with narcissistic personality characteristics may put his feelings, fantasies, and goals far ahead of other drivers' feelings and rights.
Group Psychology of Reckless Driving and Speeding
In the NY metro area, we are surrounded by other drivers. People in groups often behave differently than when they drive alone.
- Generally, aggressive driving happens when a driver routinely doesn't monitor and evaluate his emotions or self concept, and they hijack his mind as well as his driving.
- People in a group are more willing to engage in dangerous risk-taking behavior.
- There is also a reduced sense of personal responsibility when "everyone is doing it;" that is, doing something wrong.
- Some drivers speed only when others around them are speeding. They experience a social conformity pressure to speed.
- By contrast, some drivers speed for to achieve social differentiation or social status. They want to present themselves as more skilled, "hard driving" and thus successful than others. Some want to distinguish themselves by projecting an image of power, physical courage, and aggressiveness. Still others simply want to be noticed by others. (There is a tendency for aggressive drivers to favor SUVs and sports cars over more ordinary passenger vans and family sedans.)
Aggressive drivers can trigger road rage in others or themselves. The bad road manners of aggressive drivers tend to provoke anger in others. Their behavior feels hostile, threatening, arrogant, unfair, spiteful, or disrespectful. The driver with a history of road rage is primed to experience emotional pain (fear, humiliation, or victimization, etc.). He blames others for triggering his negative emotions or his self worth meltdown. The aggressive driver is tailor made to trigger this high-anger driver, who then feels compelled to "give it (the pain) back to him (the aggressive driver)."
The high-anger driver may have a self-worth meltdown ("He's making me feel like crap." He may experience catastrophic thoughts ("If I back down now, I'll never be able to live with it.") He may have a flashback connected with being bullied. Any of these can automatically trigger a powerful fight-or-flight reaction in particularly vulnerable individuals.
At that point, the high-anger driver is in the grip of an actual rage reaction. This can involve serious weakening of social perception, judgment, and impulse control. After the road rage incident, the RR driver may have a distorted and biased memory for the event, or no memory of it at all in some cases. A full-blown rage reaction in a moving automobile constitutes a potentially lethal situation.
An aggressive driver, too, can shift into road rage. A competitive, anxious, depressed or narcissistic mentality has high potential for combative reactions to other drivers' negative reactions to their aggressive driving behavior. Aggressive drivers are themselves driven by adrenaline, ego, or worry. This makes them vulnerable to being they brought down when deliberately frustrated, confronted or challenged by others
The aggressive driver who is on an ego trip or who is experiencing a harried, nightmare commute may react angrily if feels that he is being thwarted in his compulsive need for speed or punctuality. An angry verbal exchange or even violence may ensue, including high-speed chasing, tailgating, or road racing. Clearly, the aggressive driver and the road-rager are trapped in their own self concept, worldview and psychological reactions.
See Examples of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving, and take the American Institute for Public Safety road rage test at www.aipsnews.com/rurrageous.htm.
Anger Control for Couples in a Car
Why do couples fight when driving? There is something interesting and instructive in the kinds of answers couples sometimes give when asked why they fight so often or so fiercely in a car.
"(S)he's gonna get us killed one day!"
Driving at modern rates of speed is dangerous. Couples have differences in anxiety levels, fear thresholds, and their capacity for risk and denial. She may experience his hard-driving style as anti-social, terrifying and foolhardy; he thinks she is needlessly timid and drives like a slow-poke. Or vice-versa. After an upsetting incident, a couple in car can fight about who was right and who was wrong, who was being inconsiderate, and who was being too unreasonable or demanding.
"I guess you don't commute on the Long Island Expressway."
Driving in heavy traffic in the New York metro area is frustrating. On some highways it's literally maddening. If one partner needs to "fight traffic" to feel better, and the other needs to go with the traffic to avoid getting upset, it is likely that they will end up fighting with each other.
"Who else am I going to fight with?"
Your partner can unintentionally serve as a lightening rod for angry feelings about a stressful situation on the road. It's easy (but not wise) to dump your upset on your partner. You can fool yourself into thinking that you can get away with it, or that you're justified in doing so, but you are opening a can of worms in your car.
"We're in a car. Where am I going to go?"
Arguments accelerate because you both feel trapped. Once an argument starts in a moving automobile, it's hard to call a timeout. You can't go into another room or take a walk. You're stuck in a car and can't take a break and cool off.
Couples have natural differences in their driving style, in their need to correct or control, and in their sensitivity and compassion for each other's feelings. Personality differences and communication style play a large role in how well a couple gets deals with driving issues.
We tend to be very subjective and free with our judgments about how other people should drive. A person who likes to drives at or just below the speed limit may characterize others as "driving like maniacs," while a faster driver may consider slower drivers to be unacceptably sluggish. Just as we dislike it when someone corrects us or comments on the manner in which we speak, or eat, or walk, we tend to take it very personally when a partner or a spouse complains or criticizes the way we drive.
It's ironic that the person who is most likely to correct or criticize our driving is the person we are intimately involved with. That is unfortunate because this is also the person for whom the driver has the greatest degree of emotional vulnerability. By the same token, a frightened passenger naturally expects the driver to respond with a receptive, positive attitude to their upset feelings.
We may be harshly critical of our partner's driving because couple-bonding tends to create a psychological mind-merge that leads the passenger to expect his/her partner to drive "the right way," that is, the way the passenger would like prefer him to drive at any given moment. If the driver is unreasonably insensitive or the passenger is neurotically demanding, there is likely to be a great deal of conflict.
In a bonded relationship, the passenger feels a great deal more entitled to consideration and to make more demands upon the driver. Further, the passenger may feel that he or she should be able to get away with harshly criticizing the driver for a good cause. Unfortunately, in a bonded relationship, the driver also tends to make comparable emotional claims on the passenger's understanding, patience and emotional self-control.
The potential for conflict is built in, and the stage is set for an escalation for demands and anger even in the best of circumstances. As a couple learns to understand each other's point of view better, to overcome their own sensitivities, and respect each other's limitations, they usually learn to be more accommodating. For both driver and passenger, a demonstration of goodwill and a willingness to compromise are helpful.
Road Rage & Aggressive Driving Create Couple Problems
The process of mutual accommodation doesn't happen as readily for a couple when the driver has significant road rage or aggressive driving problems. This driver evokes a great deal more stress and fear than the partner (and, sometimes, their marriage) can handle. Ingrained habits, underlying issues and denial get in the way of appreciating the partner's fearful, hurt or angry reactions.
Furthermore, an angry driver may take out upset feelings on a partner, who may be sitting there in an already-stressed, anxious, or terrified state. This can lead to extreme distress. In most situations like this, the driver is usually the man and the woman is the passenger, but these observations can apply to either gender.
The high-anger driver (unreasonably) expects a partner or spouse "to be on his side," right or wrong. The driver may feel hurt or betrayed if his passenger disagrees or criticizes his angry driving behavior. This unfortunately adds to driver's anger. This "betrayal" makes it easier, and more convenient, to fight with her than with the driver of the other car.
When we are in the grip of anger, we don't pay enough attention to the fact that our anger or road rage behavior is not only inappropriate, but upsetting or terrifying to someone we care about.
Aggressive drivers need to slow down and drive in a more considerate manner, if not for safety's sake, then at least out of concern for the feelings of the passenger.
Our wife or girlfriend is likely to become frightened if she feels endangered.
She is also likely to be offended when she perceives that her fear or emotional upset is being ignored or dismissed by someone she cares about.
She may feel uncomfortable, hurt or angry for other reasons. Women often consider aggressive driving to be a sign of personal immaturity or selfishness in men. In addition, women generally expect to feel protected rather than frightened or embarrassed in the presence of their partner.
Like the road rage driver, the aggressive driver may feel hurt, misunderstood, or betrayed in this situation. He may have a strong anger reaction to being corrected, criticized, or thwarted. He may become defensive and try to justify himself to her. If that doesn't work, he may experience an emotional crash followed by a rage reaction. In any case, the couple may end up fighting while driving, a very dangerous situation.
Road rage and aggressive driving are learned behaviors. They tend to become habitual behaviors, so they just don't go away. Neither does the fear, anger and bitterness that such intense couple fights engender over time. The passenger's fear reaction is neurologically hard wired (especially in women) and are not readily subject to control. So it is the driver's competitive-reckless driving or road rage behavior that has to be changed for the sake of the relationship.
Tips from a CBT and Anger Management Psychologist
People with problem driving may or may not need face-to-face CBT or anger management counseling for their aggressive driving or road rage. As a licensed psychologist with decades of experience, I am convinced that what effective counseling mostly offers is good ideas. For a person whose driving problem is not so deeply embedded, these tips for aggressive driving and road rage may be sufficient. Some of the best tips for road rage and aggressive driving follow. These "tips" include information, perspectives, advice, and self help techniques for road rage and aggressive driving. The word "respect" appears often--because it is important. It means, in this context, willingly doing the right thing based on knowledge, understanding, and or caring rather than compliance or coercion.
Respect your body
Get enough rest or sleep before driving. Sleep deprivation is dangerous and can affect your mood. Don't allow alcohol or drugs to impair your performance, emotional self regulation, or judgment. Check out your body for signs of tension, like headache, jaw clenching, shallow or rapid breathing, muscle tightness, or jerky motions.
Respect your mind
Don't take your state of mind for granted. Your mind needs to be understood and cared for. Take time to de-stress, calm down, and focus every moment behind the wheel. Breath deeply and exhale the stress away.
Chronic anger is the key psychological contributor to road rage as well as heart disease. Regular exercise works as well as, or better than, medication for stress.
Don't get into an automobile angry or otherwise emotionally upset. Take a less stressful route and/or leave at a more favorable time if you can. Listen to soothing music or a relaxation CD. Avoid loud music, news, commercials, or talk radio in your car if they are contributing to your stress or anger.
Commit yourself to ending the negative self talk, especially the cursing and resentful thoughts, that set you up for acting out. Remember this: when you are angry, your judgments of other drivers are biased and cannot be trusted.
Prepare yourself to adopt a positive attitude towards other motorists regardless of your driving situation, preconceptions, or negative thoughts. Give them the benefit of the doubt even if you feel that they don't deserve it.
Accept the limitations inherent in driving. You are sitting in this car, on this road. You can't be in control of the of the traffic or the way other people drive. However, there is something very important that you have control over. You can, with practice, control the negative thoughts that set the stage for road rage and aggressive driving problems. Try to accept the driving situation and the behavior of others. Tell yourself:
- Slow down. I'll get there when I get there--and that will be good enough.
- Just relax. It is what it is. There's no catastrophe here. Just a temporary situation. It's no big deal.
- People drive the way they drive. There's no changing them--so there's nothing I have to correct.
- Don't react to this guy. It's just feelings. It's okay. Let it pass. In half an hour this ride will be forgotten--unless I make it into something it doesn't have to be.
Don't drive while arguing with someone in the car, or on the phone, or in your head. People act out their issues with anger on the road. To prevent road rage, practice managing angry thoughts and feelings all day, not just on the road.
Respect your Time
Leave enough time to get ready for the drive as well as more than enough time to get there. Plan alternative routes just in case traffic is unusually bad. Have a backup plan for how to deal with your day in the event that road conditions cause you to be very seriously late.
Driving aggressively may make you feel powerful but will never make you more competitive, successful, or fulfilled in the real world. Maybe you can save a few minutes on the way to your appointment or to work, but you could end up maiming or killing yourself or someone else. The bad feeling that comes with self restraint (tension, frustration, powerlessness) is painful, but it will soon pass if you let it. The consequences of road rage and aggressive driving will ultimately cause you a great deal more pain.
Acting-out self-worth issues on the road is living dangerously--in an illusion. This isn't a movie in which the Good Guys give the Selfish their just deserts, or where injustice is rectified though bold words or violent action. You could end up in civil court, in jail, in an ambulance, or on a slab.
Respect your Self
Aggressive drivers, remember that you have nothing to prove to other drivers or to yourself. Making yourself miserable over being late, or risking your life to save a few minute's time, is extremely disrespectful to yourself.
Angry Drivers, do you feel disrespected by other drivers' inconsiderate behavior? Consider this: their rude or aggressive behavior may be a reflection of their poor self-worth and have nothing to do with you. Fighting with them is pointless. They cannot take your self worth. Don't give away your power to control how you feel about yourself by dignifying their bad behavior with a response.
Empower yourself to "take the high road." Truly disrespectful motorists offer us an opportunity to be offended and then angered. Resist that opportunity.
Protect your dignity, not your pride. Maintain and build your self worth through self control rather than defaulting to false or childish pride.
Respect Your Passenger
When you get behind the wheel of an automobile, you take on more than fifty percent of the responsibility for the fearful reactions that your driving induces in your passenger(s). That's because, as the driver, you have all the control; the passenger has none. You have to appreciate how frightening it can be the passenger when a driver is engaging in aggressive driving or road rage behavior. So you have the responsibility to protect your passenger from fear. If you can't or won't, get out of the driver's seat and let your passenger drive.
CBT Exercise for Driver Rage and Recklessness
Here is an example of a cognitive-behavioral therapy technique for controlling aggressive driving and road rage. This is a training exercise, not a meditation. We're trying to reprogram your mind and your driving behaviors through cognitive rehearsal. So stick to the script and don't dwell upon an exercise after you have completed it. Practice when you are not driving to get yourself ready to do the right thing in the moment.
Make a list of the situations and feelings that lead to unwanted target driving behaviors. For example, perhaps when you are late for work and stuck in city traffic (situation), you typically feel anxious (feelings), and you yell, honk your horn, or jump traffic lights (target behaviors) to relieve the tension. Here's a short list as an example.
| Outer Trigger or Situation
|| Inner Trigger or Feeling
|| Target Driving Behaviors
| 1. Congestion
||Cursing at others (High-anger driver)
Jumping lights (Aggressive Driver)
| 2. Daily Commute
||Speeding, weaving in and out (Aggressive Driver)
| 3. A driver honks, yells, etc. at you
||Disrespected, Slighted, Humiliated
||Menacing (High-anger driver)
- Remember or imagine a situation (like 1. Congestion) in which you engaged in road rage or aggressive driving behaviors.
- Remember the feelings (frustrated, helpless, trapped, etc.) just before you got angry or engaged in reckless or competitive driving. Remember how you acted out in your car (menacing, cutting off another driver or other target behaviors).
- Reach down and allow yourself to get just as upset as you have ever been in this type of situation. Feel that upset or rage--but only for a quick second.
- Now stop. Take a deep breath or breaths and relax.
- Say something reassuring out loud to help you calm down like, "It's all right. There's no emergency, no big deal."
- Now, imagine doing the right thing instead, e.g., smiling instead of yelling, stopping safely before the light turns red, etc.
- Imagine feeling pleased and relieved at your ability to get free of dysfunctional anger or unsafe driving habits. Repeat this exercise several times a day until you are confident that you will remain in control in a similar situation. Then go on to the next item on the list. Don't start with the hardest ones.
Practice this exercise for each target behavior on your list. If you practice enough, when a similar circumstance arises, you will be automatically cued to do the right thing.You will be in better position to deliberately put in a pause and chose wisely in the moment.
Who Needs Counseling for a Driving Problem?
Some people don't need counseling in order to change their road rage or aggressive driving behavior. They simply need to see the upset in the faces of loved ones who witnessed their frightening behavior.
Some people need to read about road rage on a webpage like this to recognize their issue and get the information and tips to help them change. For many people, reading about the problem in general and getting some road rage and aggressive driving tips are not enough.
If you have a road rage or aggressive driving problem, you will probably need professional help in order to overcome the natural, painful resistance to acknowledging, understanding and working these issues through. Professional counseling for a road rage or an aggressive driving problem targets specific behaviors you need to change and provides support and CBT tools to help make that happen.
If you think that you are at risk for endangering yourself or others, or if others believe you are, you should almost certainly get road rage help or aggressive driving counseling right now. You may sort of know that there is a problem, but you may find yourself pushing back and delaying facing it. Drivers with significant road rage or aggressive driving issues often deny or underestimate the seriousness of the problem. So it is worthwhile to consider the feelings and opinions of others.
If your attempts to change have produced only a sense of frustration or partial, short-lived improvements, you can get help from a psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioral and anger management techniques for overcoming road rage or aggressive driving problems.
There are some people with road rage or aggressive driving problems that CBT, anger management, or other forms of counseling usually can't help. They are acting out individuals who have three or more of the following characteristics:
- They are not fearful or worried about dying in a fight or accident. They're not so much in denial: they just don't care very much.
- They are extremely impulsive and physically aggressive, and/or they are stealthily deceptive and predatory.
- They feel no compassion, guilt or remorse about endangering or assaulting others.
- They are emotionally superficial in their relationships.
- They are blatantly or covertly disrespectful of social norms and the rights of others.
This pattern starts in the mid-teens or earlier and continues into the present. They comprise a very small percentage of drivers with chronic road rage or aggressive driving problems.
What Is The Best Treatment for Road Ragers and Aggressive Drivers?
What is the best counseling approach for road rage or aggressive driving? There is no one-size-fits-all best treatment for road rage or aggressive drivers in general. Clinical experience counts a great deal in choosing the best counseling method or combination of treatment techniques for aggressive driving and road rage. For a given client, the best counseling for road rage or aggressive driving depends on what treatment or combination of techniques is likely to get the most durable and quickest results. That stated, there are a number of approaches to consider.
Traditional Counseling Methods for Road Rage and Agressive Driving
Traditional counseling addresses road rage and aggressive driving by helping a client focus on identifying the driving behaviors that need changing. They provide useful information and coaching to achieve specific goals. This level of counseling works best drivers for who are highly motivated and committed to change, are not emotionally or behaviorally entrenched in road rage or aggressive driving, and can use a structured, professional counseling approach to formulate and pursue their goals.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Problem Drivers
When problem driving is an established habit or part of a client's sense of self worth, a psychologist who employs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques for road rage can more quickly help a client to create new habits and to move on. CBT for for high-anger and aggressive drivers can help control the dysfunctional thoughts, attitudes, and habits that drive them.
Words are the programming language of the brain. In any particular driving situation, what we say to ourselves programs our brain and body for action. Negative self-talk can prime our primitive "reptile brain" to overreact to perceived or imagined threats. This sets us up to act defensively (aggressively) out of fear, worry, or resentment. Positive self-talk, by contrast, can prepare us to "put in a pause" when we feel the onset of a powerful negative emotion. This gives our higher brain functions the crucial moment needed to catch up and analyze the situation correctly. A Cognitive Behavioral Therapist can help you to monitor your thoughts and feelings and to build the habits you need to change negative self-talk.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps a client to identify and challenge assumptions that affect the way we behave on the road. Each person's irrational or dysfunctional assumptions are different. Here are a few examples.
It's unacceptable for anyone or anything to slow me down.
- As long as I don't hit anyone, I'm free to drive the way I like. If people don't like it, that's on them.
- It's OK to show people how I feel about the stupid way they drive.
- Disrespectful behavior by others is unbearable and justifies immediate retaliation.
CBT helps people to change dysfunctional attitudes, reactions, and habits and to replace them with useful ones. Some people who drive in an aggressive, unsafe or threatening fashion may also need specialized psychological help like CBT to change deeply rooted compulsive or addictive driving behaviors.
Road rage is often powered by a fear of being harmed by an aggressive, reckless, or negligent driver, or by a chance event, or by a fear of being defeated or disrespected. I provide common sense coaching and cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques for anxiety and phobia to reduce anxiety that triggers anger and road rage.
Anger Management Counseling for Angry Drivers
Anger control has been a problem for individuals and societies since Cain slew Abel and Achilles killed Hector. Until relatively recently, dysfunctional anger has been an unsolved problem for mental health professionals as well. No single school of traditional psychology or psychotherapy has the concepts and tools to get enough traction to effectively deal with the powerful emotion of anger and the wide range of anger problems.
Currently, the best anger management counseling for road rage and aggressive driving issues includes a combination of concepts and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy, supplemented by interpersonal, psychodynamic, and humanistic psychology.
Angry driving behavior is almost always an anger management issue. As such, it responds better and more quickly to anger management counseling. A psychologist who specializes in anger management has a depth of understanding as well as a range of techniques like CBT and other anger management tools to control road rage.
Psychotherapy and Counseling for Aggressive Drivers and Road Ragers
Motorists whose aggressive driving or road rage is deeply rooted in ego, emotional issues, addiction to excitement, or to impulsive anger may find it impossible to change on their own. Aggressive drivers and road-ragers may need help with underlying issues of personal identity, depression or psychological conditions that they may or may not be aware of. In that case, we have to go deeper and address the psychological issue that is driving a client in order for cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to provide effective and lasting results.
Solution-Focused Therapy for Anger and Aggression on the Road
My solutions-oriented therapy approach draws upon a variety of treatment approaches including humanistic psychology, interpersonal psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. My specialties include marriage counseling, couple therapy, relationship and communications counseling, as well as personal and executive coaching.
Effective counseling for road rage or aggressive driving produces results when a counselor focuses on the right issues, provides useful insights, and pursues practical behavioral solutions. When you combine insight with behavioral change, it's much easier to push out painful emotions and symptoms. Real change helps you feel freer. It makes you feel better about who you are. Within a year or so, your self concept actually changes.
The traditional, non-directive approach--simply talking about one's symptoms (like anger) or dysfunctional behavior (fighting) provides some relief through the mere ventilation of emotion. However, it leads to little practical change. Without implementing a relevant action plan, such treatment goes nowhere. A purely behavioral approach, on the other hand, lacks perspective and risks missing key relationship, character, and identity variables, if present. A multi-method solutions-focused approach to road rage and aggressive driving provides all that is needed and only what is needed for effective treatment.
I don't believe that counseling for road rage or aggressive driving needs to go on and on. It gives me satisfaction when a client achieves useful goals and moves on. That's why I place a strong emphasis on behavior, goals, coaching, and outcomes.
As we are working on a problem, a client may present additional issues that they want to address. I am happy to do so, after the the road rage or aggressive driving issue is in hand, or along side if that works well.
My usual approach is to be engaged, candid and collaborative. I feel free to share my knowledge, hypotheses, and intuitions. Change is a serious business. I enjoy laughing with my clients, but I am also very willing to confront my clients to help them get unstuck and move things along. I am happy to be challenged or informed when I am wrong or just off the mark--really. This gets us on the same page more quickly and helps us to move forward.
Counseling for Problem Driving in NYC, White Plains, NY & Greenwich, CT
I provide counseling and consultation for road rage and aggressive driving issues in my psychology practice offices located in White Plains, NY (Westchester), Greenwich, CT (Fairfield County), and midtown Manhattan (New York, NY).
The White Plains office is near the Cross Westchester Expressway (I-287), Exit 6; in New York City, 3 blocks South of Grand Central Station on Park Avenue; and in downtown Greenwich, CT, off I-95.
I also treat a variety of psychological conditions like depression, panic disorder, and phobias with cognitive-behavioral therapy, to mention a few. I employ CBT techniques when treating a wide variety of dysfunctional behaviors including rage reactions and aggressive driving.