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Essay/Term paper: Road rage

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Sociology Essays

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It seems like you can't drive more than two miles today ithout
encountering road rage. Some say that road rage is a national epidemic more
dangerous than drunk driving. Others find it to be a perpetual but
insignificant problem. Needless to say, almost everyone agrees that road
rage is an actual attitude that can be observed on most American roadways.
But what is road rage? Is it some kind of medical condition? A certain habit
or behavior? Or maybe it's an actual traffic accident?
Road rage has a short but interesting history. The term "road rage" first
appeared in England in 1988 and gained popularity rapidly. Mentioned only
about two dozen times in 1994, there was an extensive increase when the term
was mentioned 400 times the following year. In 1996 the term appeared 1,600
times and has been steadily growing since then. The public has grasped the
term and considers it to be one of the foremost national driving concerns.
In a recent AAA poll 44% of motorists ranked road rage as the biggest threat
on the road while drunk driving ranked second with 31%. Road rage is now an
everyday household term heard on the evening news and read in newspapers
daily (Bowles, Scott, and Paul Overberg).
So what is this new-sprung expression that has received so much attention
in recent years? Numerous people have tried to define the term and add some
clarity to it's meaning. Some have tried to determine it's psychological
significance and apply it to certain people. Others have defined the term
according to traffic violations--speeding, running stoplights and
recklessness. In addition, others have tried to classify it according to
poor driving conduct such as obscene gestures and unkind words. Each of
these definitions are valid interpretations of road rage's meaning
Many psychologists believe road rage to be an aggressive behavior disorder.
Arnold Nerenberg, a psychologist in Whittier, California, is one of the most
prevalent experts on road rage in America. Nerenberg believes that road rage
is a "mental disorder and social disease," which involves evolution. He
states that throughout history mankind has had a competitive spirit and
tries to dominate others. Nerenberg defines road rage as " basically a
maladaptive reaction to an identifiable psycho-social stressor that
with social functioning," or, more simply put, "one driver expressing anger
at another driver ... at least twice a year." John Larson, a psychiatrist at
Yale University, believes road rage is a "vigilante behavior" and that
different levels of road rage exist. Furthermore, Larson believes that road
rage is caused by association with sports, saying that a road rager is an
individual who is "strongly imbued with the sports model, either from high
school, college or professional sports; and from identification with sports
heroes who
become introjected models for behavior." Make and model of a car is also a
determining factor in road rage, according to Larson. People who drive a
sports car, sport utility vehicle, or pickup truck may be seen as targets of
aggression (Fumento). Psychology helps to define road rage but leaves some
questions unanswered, perhaps other factors can further define it.
Many states have passed road rage legislation and given their definition of
it. Arizona was the first state to pass aggressive driving laws. Arizona
defines aggressive driving as a misdemeanor violation that occurs when a
speeding car commits two of three other violations--erratic lane changes,
tailgating, and failure to yield (Bowles, Scott, and Paul Overberg). New
York has also recently passed road rage legislation. On February 9, 1998,
Governor Pataki announced the bill saying "this bill sends a clear message
to those who
choose to jeopardize the lives of others by turning New York's roads and
highways into danger zones. Too many collisions are not accidents. If you
choose to operate your car in a reckless, irresponsible manner, you will be
arrested and punished to the maximum extent the law will allow." New York
defines aggressive driving, or road rage, as "the unsafe operation of a
vehicle in a hostile manner, without regard for the safety of other users of
the highway. Aggressive driving includes frequent or unsafe lane changes,
failing to signal, tailgating, failing to yield right of way, and
disregarding traffic controls." Legal definitions help to define road rage,
however, obscene or menacing behavior towards other drivers is also a factor
in the term's definition.
Road rage can also be defined as simple acts of aggression which are
menacing to other drivers. For example, a car is going slower than the speed
limit and the driver behind it is late for work and speeding. The fast
driver will inevitably become angry, start to swear at the other driver and
pass him. While passing, the aggressive driver may display some obscene hand
gestures to the slow driver. There it is--a classic example of road rage.
Nothing particularly illegal took place, but anger and tension were present
in this case.
The definitions of road rage are numerous and cover a broad category of
ideas. Each one has it's factuality, but which one is the most valid? There
is no answer to that question. Each definition has it's advantages and
shortcomings. It all depends on what context you are using the word in--as a
psychological term, a legal term, or just everyday conversation. What's more
is that, with it's growing use, definitions of road rage are sure to become
even greater and broader. 

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