Teens, Road Rage: Is It All In Their Heads?

Published on June 01, 2018 11:43 AM in Safe Driving, Teen Driving
Teens, Road Rage: Is It All In Their Heads?

Responsible adults struggle to keep their temper in check while driving.

Imagine the difficulty teenagers with minimal driving experience and still-developing brains face when road rage rears its head, according to Dr. Bob Nemerovski, a psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and expert on road rage.

“People become legal adults at 18, but in terms of brain development teenagers don’t have access to normal full adult executive function for several more years,” Nemerovski said.

Besides brain chemistry, Nemerovski cites entitlement on the roads, a feeling of anonymity and learned behaviors as factors for road rage among young drivers.

“Even if you don’t verbally abuse other drivers, your children notice if you tailgate or cut someone off and they pick up on that,” he said. “You’re priming them to be competitive on the roadway.”

Parents who struggled with their emotions while driving may have a difficult time ahead convincing their children to do better, Neverovski said.

“Even though teenagers are more about seeing what you do than listening to what you say, you need to talk with them face-to-face and acknowledge what you could’ve done better,” he said.

An unwarranted sense of ownership or superiority contributes to road rage, the psychologist added.

“Drivers of all ages get the sense they own the road,” Nemerovski said. “In reality, everyone’s time is valuable and we’re in a shared community when we’re driving.”

Teenagers aren’t the only ones at-risk of engaging in road rage.

A recent NHTSA study revealed 94 percent of all traffic accidents result from driver error. Of those incidents, 33 percent could be linked to behaviors typically assigned to road rage--like illegal maneuvering or misjudging the intent of another driver.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports roughly eight out of every 10 drivers expressed aggression, anger or road rage at least once in the past year.

“Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” said Jurek Grabowski, Director of Research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.”

A feeling of anonymity also contributes to aggressive driving. Even though in an identifiable vehicle, the actual driver doesn’t personally know the other motorist and that makes viewing them as an adversary easier, Neverovski said.

“If you asked 100 random drivers about what causes anger at another motorist I would bet anonymity would be the first thing out of about 95 of their minds,” he said.

Here are some of Dr. Nemerovski's suggestions for coping with road rage:

  • Give yourself time. Leave 10 minutes early so you won’t be stressed about being late.
  • Learn to let go. Remember FIDO (Forget It; Drive On)
  • Practice empathy. Try to imagine the other driver’s perspective and why they may be acting aggressively.
  • Remember what’s at stake. You are driving a 3,000-pound vehicle in a sea of similar objects.
  • Your health, your passenger’s well-being and the welfare of those around you isn’t worth risking.
  • Keep your anger in check. You are entitled to your anger and you can indulge in it privately. But the second you turn that anger toward another person you are out of line.

Nemerovski shares tips for dealing with road rage at his site, www.drnemerovski.com.