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Chapter 2, Section 1: Identifying Aggressive Driving Behaviors

(15 minutes required)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) has found through a variety of surveys that many aggressive drivers think of driving as an aggressive sport. These drivers generally blame others and do not see themselves as a problem. They think they are in control when they are not, and admit to being impatient. The defendant in a Colorado road rage case that drew national attention was one such driver who refused to accept responsibility for his actions and preferred to cast the blame on others.

November 8, 2005 probably began just like any other day for three men but ended in the deaths of two. 50-year-old Greg Norman had just held a soccer practice for the team he coached and was on his way home. 35-year-old Gregg Boss was a Postal Service special agent traveling in the opposite direction. The man who would forever alter the lives of their families was Jason Reynolds, who had a history of tailgating at high speeds as well as pulling in front of other drivers and then slamming on his brakes. Reynolds, who was driving behind Norman, began tailgating, angry about the slowness of the vehicle in front of him. Norman then changed lanes, but apparently that was not enough for Reynolds. After passing Norman, Reynolds suddenly cut off the other driver and hit his brakes. Norman swerved to avoid Reynolds, but this caused his car to flip over the median and crash into a car driven by Boss. Both Norman and Boss were killed instantly.

In the arrest report for Reynolds, Colorado State troopers said, "Reynolds seemed irritated and his attitude was indifferent to the deceased drivers of the other vehicles. He did not seem upset even though we were only 100 feet from away the other vehicles and the deceased bodies." Reynolds even told a tow truck driver who had arrived at the scene and later testified at the trial that Norman "got what he deserved and what he had coming." In 2007, 34-year-old Jason Reynolds was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder with extreme indifference and sentenced to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

When given the opportunity at his sentencing hearing to make a statement, he gave a brief, unemotional apology to the families of his two victims. However, he then declared that he was "not responsible for the deaths or the accident that occurred." He blamed Norman for causing the crash and said, "I am not responsible for the deaths or the accident that occurred in November '05. I was tried and convicted in December '05 and January '06 when the media whores started their slanderous campaigns against me." Reynolds showed no remorse even when members of his victims' families, including Boss' girlfriend and Norman's eldest daughter, spoke in court.

Judge Carlos Samour, who handed down the sentence, told Reynolds after he had finished, "Mr. Reynolds, you might as well have been standing in the middle of the highway with a gun pointed at people. You used your car as a weapon, and you played Russian roulette." Samour then said, "You were not convicted because of the media. You were convicted because of your senseless act." The judge bluntly told Reynolds, "You killed two people. Not one person but two people. And you murdered them because of your extreme indifference to the value of human life, because of your universal malice."

Colorado has no "road rage" law; in this case, prosecutors used existing laws as a basis for prosecution. Other states, including Delaware, follow the same principle in handling road rage cases when no "road rage" law exists. In Delaware, for example, you may be charged with assault if you intentionally injure another person as a result of your driving.

Aggressive Driving Behaviors

There is some consensus that aggressive driving usually involves a combination of at least two of the following behaviors:

  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Changing lanes in an unnecessary or unsafe manner
  • Running traffic lights
  • Running trains
  • Failing to yield
  • Making rude gestures
  • Flashing your headlights
  • Honking the horn for no reason
  • Cutting people off

How have you contributed to an aggressive and hostile atmosphere on our roadways? Answer this question in your Anger Journal, taking note of the behaviors and offenses discussed in this section.

[ CLICK HERE to add an entry into your Anger Journal ]

Chapter 2, Section 2: Who are the Aggressive Drivers?

According to the NHTSA, some common characteristics of aggressive drivers include the following:

  • They are high-risk drivers, more likely to drink and drive, speed, or drive unbelted.
  • Their vehicle provides anonymity, allowing them to take out their frustrations on other drivers.
  • Their frustration levels are high, and their concern for other motorists is low.
  • They consider vehicles as objects and fail to consider the human element involved; therefore, they seldom consider the consequences of their actions.
  • They run stop signs, disobey red lights, speed, tailgate, weave in and out of traffic, pass on the right, make unsafe lane changes, flash their lights, blow their horns, or make hand and facial gestures.
A photograph of a man raising his fist in anger out of a car window.

Some statistics also point to the following profile:

  • Male
  • 18-26 years old
  • A past criminal history
  • Heavy use of alcohol and other drugs
  • A history of violent behavior
  • Highly stressed due to:
    • Sleep deprivation
    • Financial problems
    • Relationship frustration

This profile is not always accurate and correct, as everyone has the capacity to become angry while driving a vehicle. Can you identify with any of the traits in the "Road Rage" profile? Are you between 18-26 years of age? Are you usually high-strung and stressed out? Write about your profile in your Anger Journal. The most important aspect of this profile is that a person with a history of aggressive behavior is likely to develop "Road Rage." If you attempt to maintain self-control while at the wheel, road rage shouldn't affect you to a life-threatening extent. Even if we do maintain control and attempt to be calm, there is nothing we can do to control the other drivers on the road. But we should not provoke them into aggression.

[ CLICK HERE to add an entry into your Anger Journal ]

Chapter 2, Section 3: Types of Aggressive Drivers

A picture of an angry man honking his horn.

People express their anger or aggression in various ways on the road using at least one of the mechanisms just described. Dr. John Larson, the author of two books on aggressive driving and road rage, suggests that there are five types of aggressive drivers:

  1. The Speeder
  2. The Competitor
  3. The Passive Aggressor
  4. The Narcissist
  5. The Vigilante

The Speeder wants to get from one point to another as quickly as possible and will become enraged if forced to slow down. Some "speeders" simply drive fast because they enjoy the rush that it brings. Others are simply in a hurry. These become problems when the focus is on making good time. "Speeders" become stressed when they fall behind schedule and will take out their frustration on others.

The Competitor sees driving as a series of contests and will do what it takes to be in the lead. Our society puts an emphasis on winning, but when "competitors" take this attitude to the road, they become a danger to others. These drivers are highly stressed because they are on constant vigil, watching to make sure no one else passes. Often the other drivers are unaware that there is a race, since it exists only in the competitor's mind. They become angry if another driver appears to be "winning" and may take steps to even the score. For example, they may attempt to merge first into an exit lane. Lost in the rush to stay "number one" is any sense of compassion for others.

The Passive Aggressor is also competitive but approaches events differently than the competitor. Drivers who are passive-aggressive may, for example, block other drivers and keep them from passing or merging. "Passive-aggressors" refuse to allow other drivers to "push them around," so they may try to keep others from moving into the lane ahead of them. They may also slow down if someone is tailgating them.

The Narcissist takes a dislike to another driver because of race, sex, type of car, or any other self-created standard which he or she feels the other person does not meet. "Narcissists" believe that these other drivers do not belong on the road. They are often successful or hold important positions. When another person gets in their way, these drivers may get angry and respond aggressively.

The Vigilante takes traffic offenses personally and seeks to make a violator of the rules pay. "Vigilantes" that believe everyone should obey the speed limit may block the left lane to slow down others. Those who believe that the left lane is for passing only may tailgate a slower driver to force him or her to move over.

What type of aggressive driver do you most closely resemble? Answer this question in your Anger Journal now and explain your choice.

[ CLICK HERE to add an entry into your Anger Journal ]

Chapter 2, Section 4: General Relaxation Techniques for the Road

A photograph of an angry man shouting.

How can you attempt to avoid frustration and anger on the road?

  • Give yourself lots of time to get to your destination. Try to leave home in the morning as early as it takes to reach work in time without acting obnoxious or hostile on the drive there. If this means going to bed earlier at night, a simple half hour can make all the difference in your attitude when you wake up in the morning.
  • Don't take other drivers' mistakes personally. Remember that every driver on the road has his or her own agenda for the day and some are more stressed out than others.
  • Be courteous, be patient, and practice good driving habits. How would you like to be treated if you mistakenly sat in the right turn lane without making a right? Would you want the people behind you honking and making a commotion? Probably not. Lend others the courtesy you would like to receive on the road. Be patient with other drivers and be patient with your passengers.
  • Listen to soothing music at a reasonable volume while driving. Loud music can be distracting to yourself and other drivers.
  • Don't retaliate. The one finger salute has caused more problems than it has solved. Honking, swearing, glaring, and yelling out of your window are unlikely conflict resolution techniques. Once again, attempt to remain calm and be patient.
  • Leave enforcement to the police and don't become a vigilante. Let officers of the law do their jobs. Officers are trained to handle a situation if it gets out of hand.

How will you incorporate these calming techniques into your driving routine? Answer this question in your Anger Journal. We will look at specific relaxation techniques that will help you to better cope with your anger and frustration in a later chapter. But first we will look at traffic laws and ways that you can be a safer driver.

[ CLICK HERE to add an entry into your Anger Journal ]