Aggressive Driving: Definitions, Laws and Prevalence
Division of State Patrol
CTC & Associates LLC
WisDOT Research & Library Unit
May 15, 2009
Transportation Synthesis Reports are brief summaries of currently available information on topics of interest to
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Request for Report
Aggressive driving has been a concern in the United States since at least the 1990s. In recent years, Wisconsin
legislators have attempted to enact penalty enhancers to punish aggressive driving, defined as a series of specific
traffic offenses occurring in a chain of events that collectively define a single act of “aggressive driving,” but the
legislation has failed to pass.
WisDOT’s Division of State Patrol requested a synthesis report about aggressive driving laws, focusing on the
• Which states have defined “aggressive driving” as a stand-alone traffic offense or as a penalty enhancement
for a series of traffic offenses?
• Have state aggressive driving laws been sufficiently well-defined for the law enforcement community, for
prosecutors, and for the courts?
• What does the research literature say about the reality and perception of aggressive driving—is it getting
worse, or more prevalent?
This synthesis report is divided into three sections:
• Legal Definitions of Aggressive Driving and Their Enforceability, which is divided into subsections on
comparisons of state aggressive driving laws, recent legislation, and the effectiveness of these laws.
• General Resources on Aggressive Driving, including major studies that address both the prevalence and
definition of aggressive driving, including its distinction from road rage.
• Are Road Rage and Aggressive Driving Overhyped?, which includes studies addressing the media
dramatization of road rage, as well as studies confirming the prevalence of aggressive driving as distinct
from road rage.
A summary of general conclusions from these sections follows.
Laws and Definitions
Fourteen states have passed laws addressing aggressive driving. Most states define aggressive driving as involving
the combination of at least two or three specified driving offenses, sometimes with the stipulation that these
actions be hazardous to others (Arizona, Nevada, Virginia) or involve the intent to harm or harass or a disregard
for safety (Georgia, North Carolina, Utah, Virginia). These laws are summarized below in a chart created by the
Governors Highway Safety Association.
Some researchers believe that laws specifying intent or disregard are less precise than laws focusing on driving
behaviors or offenses, because they require more subjective judgment by law enforcement officers (see especially
the chart by James and Nahl on page 5 of this TSR). This concern is supported by a survey (Flango and Keith, 2004;
see page 8 of this TSR) that suggests that aggressive driving laws are rarely enforced, largely because they are
difficult to distinguish from reckless driving statutes, and because reckless driving is easier to prove and often incurs
more severe penalties. This study recommends removing intent as an element of aggressive driving legislation.
In line with these recommendations to eliminate intent, a 1999 symposium sponsored by NHTSA, “Aggressive
Driving and the Law,” drew the conclusion that the definition of aggressive driving should at its core involve
“multiple violations occurring together or in rapid succession.” However, this symposium also led to a model that
includes elements of intent, including “wanton disregard for safety.”
The definitions of aggressive driving most commonly cited in the literature are as follows:
• NCHRP: “Operating a motor vehicle in a selfish, pushy, or impatient manner, often unsafely, that directly
affects other drivers”
• NHTSA: “Driving actions that markedly exceed the norms of safe driving behavior and that directly affect
other road users by placing them in unnecessary danger” or (from a law enforcement perspective) “When
individuals commit a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property”
• AAA: “Any unsafe driving behavior that is performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for
• Tasca (2000; see page 11 of this TSR): Behavior that is “deliberate, likely to increase the risk of collision
and is motivated by impatience, annoyance, hostility, and/or an attempt to save time,” where behaviors
include such actions as tailgating, weaving, failure to yield and other behaviors considered to be aggressive
by surveyed Canadian residents.
Most researchers make a firm distinction between aggressive driving and road rage, the latter being a form of assault
with intent to harm, and the former being a disregard for safety resulting from impatience or irritation.
Studies seem to confirm that aggressive driving is an increasingly common problem. The studies below cite surveys
and studies performed by the following agencies:
• NHTSA (1998): 60 percent of drivers surveyed believe that unsafe driving by others is a major personal
threat to them and their families, and 33 percent felt that driving was more dangerous than in the year
preceding the survey.
• AAA: 56 percent of fatal crashes from 2003 through 2007 involved one or more driver actions typically
associated with aggressive driving, and incidents of aggressive driving have increased by 7 percent every
year since 1990.
• Steel Alliance-Canada Safety Council (2000): 73 percent of Ontario respondents believe aggressive driving
is increasing, while only 22 percent believe the amount of aggressive driving is unchanged.
• Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (1998): Most of those surveyed think aggressive
driving is a problem, and 29 percent say they see it every day.
• Journal of Safety Research (2008): A “considerable percentage” of 1,201 Canadian drivers surveyed
admitted to engaging in aggressive driving.
• Delaware: Estimated that 53 percent of its fatal motor crashes in 2003 were caused by aggressive driving.
Are Aggressive Driving and Road Rage Overhyped?
As one study points out, gauging the prevalence of aggressive driving in the United States is difficult, as no
systematic observational studies of actual aggressive driving behavior on highways have been conducted. Most
studies involve driver surveys that compile self-reported behaviors or perceptions; others employ contrived
situations designed to provoke aggressive driving. A 1996 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
identified general trends in aggressive driving based on a review of articles in 30 newspapers and records from 16
police departments, but limited conclusions can be drawn based on that methodology.
While there seems to be data indicating that aggressive driving is a genuine problem and is on the rise, there is a
significant amount of skepticism in the literature about “road rage.” Several articles claim that road rage is
overhyped by the media, only rarely leads to injury, and is more a matter of criminal behavior than an issue having
to do with driving per se.
However, skepticism about media overhyping of road rage does not seem to extend to aggressive driving in general,
insofar as it is a distinct behavior. NHTSA hypothesizes that in fact aggressive driving is the predictable outcome of
increasing highway congestion and similar environmental factors, rather than—as some authors feel it is depicted in
the media—the dramatic effect of a cultural transformation, and something to be conflated with road rage.
Legal Definitions of Aggressive Driving and Their Enforceability
This section provides two tables comparing states’ definitions of aggressive driving, as well as a link to a database
of traffic safety legislation. This section also highlights analyses of the effectiveness of aggressive driving laws.
Comparisons of State Aggressive Driving Laws
Aggressive Driving Laws, Governors Highway Safety Association, October 2008
This Web site provides a chart comparing state aggressive driving laws, excerpted below. To date, 14 states have
addressed aggressive driving in their legislatures:
11 states have passed aggressive driving laws
1 state (Florida) is prohibited from enforcing its aggressive driving law by state statute.
2 states (California and Utah) have amended existing reckless driving laws to include aggressive driving.
1 state (Pennsylvania) has passed a resolution against aggressive driving.
Aggressive Driver Actions
Speeding and least two of the following: failure to obey
traffic control device, passing on the right out of regular
lanes of traffic, unsafe lane change, following too closely,
failure to yield right of way; and is an immediate hazard to
another person or vehicle.
Causing certain bodily injuries to people other than driver.
Amended reckless driving law to
Specifically cites drivers engaged in speed contests.
include aggressive driver actions.
At least three of the following: failure to obey traffic
control device, passing on the right, driving outside the
lanes of traffic, following too closely, failure to yield right
of way, failure to signal, failure to stop or yield at signs,
passing a stopped school bus, speeding.
At least two of the following: speeding, unsafe or improper
Statute does not permit
lane change, following too closely, failure to yield right of
way, improper passing, failure to obey traffic control
Intent to annoy, harass, molest, intimidate, injure or
obstruct another person, while doing one or more of the
following: overtaking and passing another vehicle;
violating traffic lane markings; following too closely;
violating signal, lane change, slowing or stopping laws;
impeding traffic flows; reckless driving.
At least three of the following: following too closely,
unsafe operation, passing on the right off of roadway,
unsafe stopping or slowing, unnecessary sounding of the
horn, failure to yield, failure to obey traffic control device,
speeding, repeatedly flashing headlights.
At least three of the following: failure to obey traffic
control device, overtaking and passing, passing on right,
driving on laned roadways, following too closely, failure to
yield right of way or speeding.
Within one mile, commits all of the following: 1) speeding;
In 2007, Nevada increased
2) at least two of the following: failure to obey traffic
penalties for subsequent offenses.
control device, passing on the right off of paved roadway,
following too closely, lane violation, failure to yield right
of way; and 3) creating an immediate hazard for another
vehicle or person.
New Jersey enforces against
aggressive driving under title 39,
through existing laws. The
offense may be adjudicated under
39:4-97 (Aggressive Driving),
39:4-97 (Careless Driving), 39-4-
97.2 (Operating a vehicle in an
Unsafe Manner) or any other
statute at the discretion of the
Speeding and driving carelessly and heedlessly in willful
or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others while
committing at least two of the following violations:
running a red light or stop sign, illegal passing, failing to
yield right of way, following too closely.
Passed resolution to encourage
drivers to drive courteously and
defensively, not aggressively. The
House also resolved to support
measures that would promote safe
Speeding and at least two of the following: failure to obey
traffic control device, overtaking on the right, driving
outside the lanes of traffic, following too closely, failure to
yield right of way, entering roadway unsafely, failure to
use turn signals, failure to stop or yield at signs, use of
emergency lane for travel.
Reckless driving defined as willful and wanton disregard
Amended reckless driving law to
for safety of persons or property or three or more moving
include aggressive driver actions.
violations in a single continuous period of driving.
Is a hazard to others with the intent to harass, intimidate,
injure or obstruct another person while committing at least
one of the following: failure to drive on the right side of
highway, driving outside of marked lanes, following too
closely, failure to yield or stop before entering roadway,
failure to obey traffic control device, passing when
overtaking a vehicle, passing on right, failure to yield right
of way, speeding, stopping on a highway.
Using Behavioral Language for Aggressive Driving Laws, Leon James and Diane Nahl, University of Hawaii
(scroll to bottom of page)
The following chart is taken from DrDriving.org, a site created by Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl, professors at
the University of Hawaii and authors of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare.
The text below is excerpted from their Web site:
More states are passing Aggressive Driving legislation. Some of the language used to define the offense calls
for subjective assessment by the officer of the intent of the driver and the style of the driving. This kind of
language is rated “vague” because it allows errors of judgment due to field situations and the officer’s
attitudes. Other language is strictly objective, calling for visually observing the occurrence of some behavior
and the number of times it occurs. This kind of language is rated “specific” because it is not influenced by the
officer’s attitudes and depends only on honesty and professional accuracy. A review of the aggressive driving
bills makes it evident that a mixture of vague and specific language is used by most states. Here is a
representative sample. Legislators and law enforcement officials can use this table to avoid using vague
language in their future bills or to amend existing ones.
= calls for officer’s subjective judgment
= objectively observable or measurable
committing any two or more acts of aggressive driving
within five consecutive miles
failing to obey traffic control devices
stopping on the roadway
operating a vehicle in a threatening or intimidating
manner with the intent to cause others to lose control or
be forced off the highway
operating a vehicle with a reckless disregard for the
rights of others or in a manner that endangers any
property or person
driving too fast for conditions
operating a vehicle in such a manner as to place another
in reasonable fear of physical injury or death
driving with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another
person in a manner contrary to law
changing lanes or speed in a manner that serves no
legitimate purpose and creates a substantial risk of injury
or death to another
intentionally causing a collision
driving in a threatening or intimidating manner
following too closely
honking the horn repeatedly
pointing a firearm or weapon while driving
drives a motor vehicle in a deliberately discourteous,
intolerant, and impatient manner that evidences a pattern
of dangerous conduct contributing to the likelihood of a
collision or necessitating evasive action by another driver
of a motor vehicle to avoid a collision
is convicted of four or more violations occurring at the
same time or three violations with one of the offenses
being exceeding the speed limit by at least 30 mph.
creates the offense of road rage for any person who
intentionally drives a vehicle, with malice, in such a
manner as to endanger the safety or property of another
when the violation results in great bodily harm or
disfigurement to another and is a class 4 felony
operates a vehicle carelessly or heedlessly in disregard
for the rights of others, in a manner that endangers or is
likely to endanger any property or person, or committing
three or more traffic offenses
operating a vehicle in a contentious or antagonistic
manner that endangers the safety of another or of
operating a vehicle while either the driver or a passenger
is brandishing a firearm, or any object similar in
appearance, in such a manner as to reasonably induce
fear in the mind of another
operates a vehicle with a willful and wanton disregard for
the life, limb or property of another
driving in a manner that evidences a pattern of dangerous
conduct contributing to the likelihood of a collision or
necessitating evasive action by another operator of a
motor vehicle to avoid a collision.
failing to stop when directed by a police officer
Drivers could be charged with aggressive driving if they
are cited for a combination of any three of the following
• using excessive speed
• driving recklessly
• changing lanes erratically
• being an immediate hazard to another person or
Drivers could be charged with aggressive driving if they
are cited for a combination of any three of the following
• committing two or more listed offenses that
include failing to obey a traffic control device
• passing on the right or on the shoulder
• tailgating or following too closely
• failing to signal lane changes or to change lane
• failing to yield the right-of-way
• running a red light or stop sign
• driving over the “gore” area entering or exiting
• passing a vehicle on the right by traveling off
An aggressive driver is anyone who operates a motor
vehicle in an offensive, hostile or belligerent manner,
thereby creating an unsafe environment for the remainder
of the motoring public.
The aggressive driver is identified through the following
violations of traffic regulations:
• Speeding (breaking the speed limit)
• Following Too Close (less than safe distance)
• Driving While Intoxicated
• Disregard Of Traffic Signs and Signals
• Driving While Suspended
The aggressive driver is identified through the following
violations of traffic regulations:
• Unsafe Lane Change
• Reckless, Careless or Inattentive Driving
• Improper Passing
Transportation Review: Aggressive Driving, Anne Teigen, National Conference of State Legislatures,
Pages 6 to 9 of this document include a chart similar to those shown above, with information on definitions and
penalties for 12 states.
NHTSA Summary Table on Aggressive Driving Laws, January 2001
This Web site includes a similar chart as well, with specific legal language and penalties for six states.
Tracking Recent Legislation
NHTSA Safety Legislation Database, 2009
This database is a useful tool for keeping track of current and pending traffic safety legislation. Information can be
tracked by state and topic, including aggressive driving. The most recent aggressive driving legislation was passed
in 2007 by Nevada and Utah. Many other bills are currently pending for Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan,
Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Effectiveness of Aggressive Driving Laws
“How Useful is the New Aggressive Driving Legislation?” Victor E. Flango and Ann L. Keith, Court Review,
This article assesses the experiences of states that have aggressive driving laws, and includes a comparison chart
(page 2 of the PDF) of driving statutes by state. The authors surveyed four states with aggressive driving laws and
the found that three of these states do not frequently issue citations. Although the remaining state, Florida, has a
significant number of aggressive driving violations, the violations do not carry a separate penalty. Of respondents
in all four states, 85 percent of law enforcement had never written a citation for aggressive driving, 90
percent of prosecutors had never or rarely charged a case, and 98 percent of judges had never or rarely
presided over a case. The most common causes of this lack of enforcement seem to be that reckless driving is
easier to prove and that the differences between reckless and aggressive driving are not clear. Asked if changes
could be made to increase the use of aggressive driving laws, most respondents said no: 62 percent of law
enforcement officers, 58 percent of prosecutors, and 75 percent of judges. Based on these results, the authors make
1. Remove “intent” as an element of proof for aggressive driving.
2. Propose more severe penalties for aggressive driving.
3. Add an “aggressive driving” tag to other traffic offenses to permit enhancing the existing penalties and to
track the incidence of aggressive driving for statistical purposes that may lead to changes in legislation.
Aggressive Driving and the Law: A Symposium, NHTSA, May 1999
On January 22-23, 1999, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway
Administration brought together an array of public safety, legal and adjudication representatives to discuss the
problems associated with aggressive driving. Participants included prosecutors, district court judges, law
enforcement and emergency personnel, district and state’s attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, safety advocates
and activists, researchers, and government policy and state public safety personnel.
The symposium sought to derive action steps toward solving the problem of aggressive driving as approached from
six different perspectives: (1) statutory approaches, (2) applied technology, (3) charging decisions, (4) sentencing
strategies, (5) community leadership, and (6) enforcement strategies. These six categories served as topic areas for
framing participant discussions and resulting recommendations developed in breakout sessions.
This conference led to the development of the National Aggressive Driving Guide: A Criminal Justice Approach,
published in September 2001 (see
). This guide is meant to be
a planning tool for states, and includes statutory strategies that state legislatures can tailor to their own uses.
The guide recommends that multiple violations occurring together or in rapid succession be the key to defining
aggressive driving, and recommends that the following model statute text be used to improve states’ reckless driving
a. A person who operates any motor vehicle with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or
property commits the offense of reckless driving. “Willful or wanton” means the deliberate, conscious
indifference to the safety of persons or property. Proof of evil or malicious intent is not an element of
b. Upon the trial of any civil or criminal action or proceeding stemming from acts alleged to have been
committed by any person operating a motor vehicle, proof that in the course of a continuous driving
episode, such person committed three moving violations, either alone or in combination with one
another, shall give rise to an inference that the vehicle was being operated with a willful and wanton
disregard for the safety of persons or property. Such inference shall not be conclusive, but shall be
considered along with all other evidence in determining whether a violation occurred.
c. All persons convicted of reckless driving shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, except as provided under
subsection (d), which follows.
d. All persons convicted of committing a violation of subsection (a) above shall be guilty of aggravated
reckless driving if the violation results in injury or permanent disability or disfigurement of another person.
Aggravated reckless driving is a felony.
General Resources on Aggressive Driving
Many of these resources address both the definition and prevalence of aggressive driving; text relevant to these
topics is summarized or excerpted within each citation.
Aggressive Driving: Research Update, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, April 2009.
This paper reviews published scientific literature on aggressive driving; discusses various definitions of aggressive
driving; cites several specific behaviors that are typically associated with aggressive driving; and summarizes past
research on the individuals or groups most likely to behave aggressively.
Prevalence: This paper reviews published scientific literature on aggressive driving; discusses various
definitions of aggressive driving; cites several specific behaviors that are typically associated with aggressive
driving; and summarizes past research on the individuals or groups most likely to behave aggressively. It is
important to note that the data in this report, rather than applying a strict definition of aggressive driving,
quantifies the number of fatal crashes in which one or more driver actions typically associated with
aggressive driving were reported. 56 percent of fatal crashes from 2003 through 2007 were found to meet
this criterion. More detailed results can be found on pages 5-9.
Definitions: From pages 2-3, this report gives various definitions of aggressive driving by the NHTSA and
1. Tasca (2000, summarized below): “A driving behavior is aggressive if it is deliberate, likely to
increase the risk of collision and is motivated by impatience, annoyance, hostility, and/or an attempt
to save time”; behaviors include tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, failure to yield the right of
way to other road users, preventing other drivers from passing, driving at speeds “far in excess of the
norm,” running stop signs or red lights, and several others.
2. NHTSA: “driving actions that markedly exceed the norms of safe driving behavior and that directly
affect other road users by placing them in unnecessary danger” and (for police) “when individuals
commit a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.”
3. AAA: “We contend that any unsafe driving behavior that is performed deliberately and with ill
intention or disregard for safety constitutes aggressive driving.”
This report also distinguishes between:
• Aggressive Driving: Behaviors (speeding, tailgating, traffic violations, etc.)
• Road rage: Intent to cause physical harm
Aggressive Driving: A Literature Review, P. Ulleberg, Transportoekonomisk Institutt, April 2004.
The report presents a review of studies concerning aggressive driving behavior. The results of the review suggest
that driving behavior which can be labeled as “aggressive” is associated with increased accident risk.
A Guide for Addressing Aggressive-Driving Collisions, NCHRP Report 500, Volume 1, 2003.
This guide defines aggressive driving as “operating a motor vehicle in a selfish, pushy, or impatient manner, often
unsafely, that directly affects other drivers.” As part of the NCHRP series Guidance for Implementation of the
AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan, the guide provides strategies that can be employed to reduce the number of
crashes due to aggressive driving behavior.
A Web version of the guide is available at
. It includes links to
Appendices that are not part of the PDF version, including Appendix 6:
Appendix 6: Toward Developing Strategies to Control Aggressive Driving: An Introduction,
Richard I. Wark, Roy E. Lucke, and Richard A. Raub, June 2002.
This document details strategies that operating agencies can use to address aggressive driving, and includes
sections on developing a definition for aggressive driving and instituting deterrence programs.
Prevalence: According to a NHTSA survey on aggressive driving attitudes and behaviors, more than 60
percent of drivers see unsafe driving by others, including speeding, as a major personal threat to
themselves and their families. More than half admitted to driving aggressively on occasion. This
document suggests that congestion is a major cause of road rage, and includes an extensive
Definition: An NCHRP workshop group suggested making the concept of aggressive driving
operationally measurable by specifying behaviors:
• Driving, or attempting to drive, at a speed different from the prevailing speed and affecting other
drivers by the following series of actions:
Maneuvers which cause other drivers to react or take evasive action
Flashing lights or blowing the horn
Following too closely
Preventing faster drivers from passing
• Verbal or nonverbal expressions of anger aimed at other drivers when designed to encourage
retaliation on the part of other drivers.
• Deliberately ignoring traffic controls, usually demonstrated by increasing speed or failing to
slow for the controls.
• Driving in a way that attempts to gain an advantage over other drivers; e.g., appears to be taking
an unfair advantage, breaking notions of equity (e.g., ramp meter violations, shoulder riding).
“Risky, Aggressive, or Emotional Driving: Addressing the Need for Consistent Communication in Research,”
C. S. Dulla and E. S. Geller, Journal of Safety Research Vol. 34 No. 5, 2003: 559-566.
This article seeks to establish a standardized, unambiguous, operational definition of aggressive driving. The
authors suggest that the term “road rage” be eliminated from research, as it has been used inconsistently and has
little probability of being clarified and applied consistently. Instead, driving behaviors that endanger or have the
potential to endanger others should be considered as lying on a behavioral spectrum of dangerous driving. Three
dimensions of dangerous driving are delineated: 1) intentional acts of aggression toward others, 2) negative
emotions experienced while driving, and 3) risk-taking.
Bullying, Intimidation, Abuse and Assault on the Road—Selected Australasian Research and Comment on ‘Road
Rage’ and Aggressive Driving, STAYSAFE 58, edited by I.J. Faulks, December 2002. Sixteenth report of the Joint
Standing Committee on Road Safety of the 52nd Parliament, Parliament of New South Wales, Australia.
This 400-page compendium provides the full text of more than 20 studies covering research, legislation, policing,
cultural issues, and commentary on aggressive driving. It includes a 2002 analysis of crash statistics and driver
behaviors published by AAMI, an Australian insurance agency (see page 413 of this TSR).
We were contacted by Ian Faulks, editor of the report, who provided a synopsis of the graded aggressive driving
laws in New South Wales, which were enacted after the report was published:
• Menacing driving: Previous existing offense under the road transport legislation—the basic offense.
• Menacing driving with intent to menace: New offense under the road transport legislation. More serious,
as actions are manifestly intentional. Sustained sequence of behavior such as chasing, repeated driving or
swerving at someone.
• Predatory driving: New offense under the crimes legislation. Intentional action intended to cause harm or
Faulks adds, “If a crash occurs, or harm to a person, then general road transport and crimes offenses are used rather
than the aggressive driving offenses (but the aggressive driving offenses are typically charged as well).”
Contact: Ian Faulks, former director of Staysafe Committee,
Phone: +61 2 9487 2727
For more information: Staysafe Committee (Road Safety), New South Wales Parliament,
“A Review of the Literature on Aggressive Driving Research,” Leo Tasca, Aggressive Driving Issues
One of the most frequently cited sources in the aggressive driving literature, this literature review “suggests that a
more precise definition of aggressive driving would focus on deliberate and willful driving behaviors that while not
intended to physically harm another road user show disregard for their safety and well-being.”
Prevalence: This review notes that no systematic observational studies of actual aggressive driving behavior on
highways are available—most studies involve surveys of the driving public relying on self-reported behaviors,
or contrived situations designed to provoke aggressive driving. However, the available data from public
opinion surveys suggests that many people believe aggressive driving to be on the rise. The Steel Alliance-
Canada Safety Council survey  indicates that 73 percent of Ontario respondents believe aggressive
driving is increasing, while only 22 percent believe the amount of aggressive driving is unchanged. Further,
33 percent of the respondents in a NHTSA survey  reported they felt driving was more dangerous than it
was in the year preceding the survey. (See pages 11-12 of the PDF.)
Definition: This study also reviews aggressive driving definitions by AAA, NHSTA and others, and suggests
that “road rage” be viewed as a criminal behavior addressed by existing criminal statutes, while aggressive
driving be given a more precise definition as follows: “A driving behavior is aggressive if it is deliberate,
likely to increase the risk of collision and is motivated by impatience, annoyance, hostility and/or an
attempt to save time.” Specified behaviors include tailgating, weaving, failure to yield, and many others.
These behaviors were identified in a 2000 survey by the Canada Safety Council of 1,008 Canadian residents
concerning what driving behaviors they considered aggressive. (See pages 1-2 of the PDF.)
Aggressive Driving Enforcement: Strategies for Implementing Best Practices, NHTSA, January 2000
This guide was designed by NHTSA to provide step-by-step assistance to law enforcement personnel to develop an
aggressive driving enforcement program.
Prevalence: In 1998, “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a telephone
survey of 6,000 drivers, 16 years and older, who discussed their experiences, beliefs and behaviors regarding
speeding and unsafe driving, including aggressive driving. More than 60 percent of the drivers interviewed
believe that unsafe driving by others is a major personal threat to them and their families. Three out of
four drivers feel that doing something about unsafe driving is very important.” NHTSA claims that there is an
increase in the prevalence of aggressive driving caused by an increase in congestion (the number of
registered vehicles rose by 19 percent from 1985 to 1995) over a period of time in which the number of
enforcement officers has decreased; see the chart on this page:
Definition: “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as
‘when individuals commit a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or
property.’ Some other communities define aggressive driving as ‘the operation of a motor vehicle involving
three or more moving violations as part of a single continuous sequence of driving acts, which is likely to
endanger any person or property.’” See
Distinction from Road Rage: “Road rage differs from aggressive driving. It is a criminal offense and is ‘an
assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle
on the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle or is caused by an incident that occurred on a
This guide also includes examples of aggressive driving enforcement programs in various states.
Aggressive Driving: Background and Overview Report, National Conference of State Legislatures; Environment,
Energy and Transportation Program; January 2000
This report gives a comprehensive overview of issues related to aggressive driving—including definitions, law
enforcement efforts, and legislative initiatives.
Prevalence: A 1998 NHTSA survey of 6,000 drivers indicated that 33 percent felt driving was more dangerous
than in the year before, and 62 percent said the behavior of another driver had been a threat to them in the last
A 1998 New York study showed that most drivers think aggressive driving is a problem, and 29 percent see it
every day. According to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, incidents of aggressive driving increased
by 7 percent every year between 1990 and 1996, as reported in police records and newspaper articles. See
Definition: “A recent report prepared for NHTSA, from aggressive driving focus groups with legal and
adjudication staff, discussed definitions. Participants in the groups, which included judges, prosecutors,
defense attorneys and law enforcement personnel, generally agreed that aggressive driving is a sequence of
traffic violations that endanger others.” See
Legal History: In 1997, Maryland and Virginia were the first states to propose specific penalties for aggressive
driving. In 1998, Arizona was the first state to pass a law creating a specific aggressive driving offense.
Nevada and Delaware followed in 1999. Nine states introduced 26 bills in 1999. See
Are Road Rage and Aggressive Driving Overhyped?
“Aggressive Driving: A Survey of Attitudes, Opinions and Behaviors,” Ward Vanlaar, Herb Simpson, Dan
Mayhew, and Robyn Robertson, Journal of Safety Research Vol. 39 No. 4, 2008: 375-381.
A public opinion poll of 1,201 Canadian drivers found that a “considerable percentage” of drivers admitted to
aggressive driving. The authors conclude that “When gauging people’s attitudes, opinions, and behaviors, it
becomes clear that aggressive driving is a considerable problem.”
Transportation Review: Aggressive Driving, Anne Teigen, National Conference of State Legislatures, February
This review presents state legislative action regarding aggressive driving, discusses the effectiveness of state
enforcement programs, and lists federal action regarding aggressive driving. Cited research includes a study (also
mentioned elsewhere in this TSR) that reviewed police and newspaper accounts of aggressive driving from 1990 to
1996. The study found 10,037 incidents of violent, aggressive driving resulting in at least 218 fatalities and another
The review also cites aggressive driving data from Delaware: “In 2003, Delaware listed aggressive driving as a
contributing factor in 53 percent of the 127 fatal motor vehicle crashes that year. Delaware estimates that on
average, acts of aggressive driving are involved in 43 percent of all traffic crashes in the state annually.”
Pages 6 to 9 of this document provide a table of aggressive driving laws in 12 states.
“Is Road Rage Increasing? Results of a Repeated Survey,” Reginald G. Smart, Robert E. Mann, Jinhui Zhao and
Gina Stoduto, Journal of Safety Research Vol. 36 No. 2, 2005: 195-201.
Abstract: “This paper reports on trends in road rage victimization and perpetration based on repeated cross-sectional
telephone surveys of Ontario adults in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Logistic regression analyses examined differences
between years in road rage victimization and perpetration compared with the previous year, controlling for
demographic characteristics. Results showed that the prevalence of any road rage victimization in the previous year
decreased significantly from 47.5% in 2001 to 40.6% in 2003, while prevalence of any road rage perpetration
remained stable (31.0% to 33.6%). Logistic regression analyses revealed that the odds of experiencing any road
rage victimization was 33% higher in 2001, and 30% higher in 2002, than in 2003.”
“Is Road Rage a Serious Traffic Problem?” R. G. Smart, R. E. Mann, Traffic Injury Prevention Vol. 3 No. 3,
September 2002: 183-189.
This paper analyzed current road rage research with a view toward assessing the evidence on several questions, such
as: what are the definitions employed; is road rage increasing; is road rage related to aggressive or rage behavior
generally; is road rage related to alcohol and drug use, or to various environmental problems such as overcrowding
and congestion; and what is missing in road rage research and what new research is most needed?
“American ‘Road Rage’: A Scary and Tangled Cultural-Legal Pastiche,” R. F. Blomquist, Nebraska Law
Review Vol. 80 No. 1, 2001: 17-63.
This paper presents a cultural, legal and policy perspective on the implications of the evolving use of road rage
parlance over the last 10 years, focusing on providing a better understanding of the legal perspective of this term and
Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare, Leon James and Diane Nahl, 2000.
Four chapters of this book address “conflict mentality,” considering whether “road rage” is a real phenomenon or
the creation of a media thirsty for drama. The book also addresses the manifestation of road rage worldwide, and
road rage as a symptom of the expanding “age of rage.”
“Road Rage—Media Hype or Serious Road Safety Issue?” Barry J. Elliot, Third International Conference on
Injury Prevention and Control, May 1999.
The paper examines the nature and extent of the behaviors labeled “road rage” in the media. It argues that the
terminology “road rage” should not be used and that major, serious forms of “road rage” should be regarded
as violence and assault. An excerpt: “Aggressive behaviors labeled as ‘road rage’ are often a result of bad driving
habits on the part of at least one of the parties involved. Behaviors subsumed under the heading of ‘road rage’
only rarely lead to injury. ‘Road violence,’ on the other hand, is a criminal matter and does not justify any
diversion of road safety resources to the problem.”
“Concerns About Aggressive Driving Mount in Beltway Survey,” A. Karr, Traffic Safety Vol. 98 N. 5,
September 8, 1998.
Abstract: “Drivers’ concerns about safety hazards posed by other drivers’ aggressive behavior increased sharply
over 3 years, according to a 1997 NHTSA survey of drivers who use the Washington, D.C., Capital Beltway. The
results show aggressive driving as the top concern of “general” motorists interviewed. Eight focus groups were
interviewed: three groups of general drivers, three groups of commercial drivers, and two groups of aggressive
drivers. Fully 75% of the aggressive drivers said they always or often compete with other cars in traffic jams,
while none of the general-group participants said they do so that frequently. The majority of aggressive drivers
blame unsafe driving on others while admitting that they typically travel above the posted speed limits.”
“Road Rage Versus Reality: A Media Coinage That Rests More on the Infectious Appeal of Alliteration Than
on the Weight of Evidence,” Michael Fumento, Atlantic Monthly, 1998: 12-17.
The author states that no data support the existence of road rage as an epidemic, or even as a growing phenomenon.
He challenges the often-cited 1996 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:
The study has numerous problems. Consider that the 218 deaths Mizell claimed were directly attributable to
aggressive driving occurred in a period during which 290,000 people died in traffic accidents. He identified
12,610 people whose injuries were attributable to aggressive driving out of a total of 23 million people injured
by vehicles. And the survey was hardly scientific. Rather, Mizell simply drew on stories from about thirty
newspapers, reports from sixteen police departments, and insurance-company claim reports. He didn't even
demonstrate that the changes in his numbers from year to year were statistically significant. Couldn't an
increase in the number of incidents reported simply reflect increased awareness of and publicity for aggressive
driving, along with an explosion in the use of the term “road rage”? Mizell essentially dismissed this idea both
when I interviewed him recently (“We would have picked up on this”) and in his report, where he called the
influence of such factors “almost certainly not significant.”
The author cites declining accident, fatality, and injury rates as evidence against the assertion that aggressive driving
is a growing epidemic.
“The Road Rage Epidemic: Hype or Reality?” Driver/Education Vol. 7 No. 3, Summer 1997: 1-2.
This article states that road rage is a massive problem, and one that is getting worse as traffic becomes more intense.
However, it should not distract the traffic safety community from the real issue of unsafe driving and crash rates.
While a problem group of drivers may cause crashes out of proportion to their numbers, crashes generally occur
because of a combination of driver inattentiveness and improper lookout. Although road rage may be a
convenient way to piggyback driving issues into the media, treating the symptoms of traffic problems will not
solve the underlying causes: drivers who are ill-equipped to deal with the modern automobile, on the modern road,
in a skillful and mature manner.
Aggressive Driving: Three Studies, Louis Mizell, Matthew Joint and Dominic Connell, AAA Foundation for Traffic
Safety, March 1997
This page provides highlights from three papers that address various aspects of aggressive driving. Two papers cite
studies done in the U.K., while the third gives details on a 1996 AAA study that is frequently cited in other
aggressive driving literature. In that study, researchers identified 10,037 incidents of “aggressive driving” from 1990
to 1996 in articles in 30 major newspapers, reports from 16 police departments, and insurance company claim
reports. These incidents killed 218 people. See
BULLYING, INTIMIDATION, ABUSE AND
ASSAULT ON THE ROAD - SELECTED
AUSTRALASIAN RESEARCH AND COMMENT
ON ‘ROAD RAGE’ AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING
ISBN 0 7310 5123 1
Report No. 18/52
MEMBERS OF THE
Mr Grant McBride, M.P. (Chairman), Member for The Entrance
The Hon. Ian West, M.L.C. (Vice Chairman)
Mr John Bartlett M.P., Member for Port Stephens
Mr David Campbell M.P., Member for Keira
Mr Kevin Greene M.P., Member for Georges River
Mr Russell Smith M.P., Member for Bega and Opposition Whip
Mr Thomas George M.P., Member for Lismore
The Hon. John Jobling, M.L.C., Opposition Whip
The Hon. John Tingle, M.L.C.
STAFF OF THE STAYSAFE COMMITTEE
Director of the STAYSAFE Committee Mr Ian Faulks
Ms Cheryl Samuels
Ms Jodie Young
Assistant Committee Officer
Ms Susan Tanzer
Grant McBride MP, Member for The Entrance
Joint Standing Committee on Road Safety
This report arises from the STAYSAFE Committee’s investigative report into the
recent media and community concern about the phenomenon of ‘road rage’.
During the course of the STAYSAFE Committee’s inquiry into aggressive and
intimidatory and threatening behaviour by drivers towards other road users, a large
number of research and review papers and documents were gathered by the
Committee. A considerable number of these papers and documents were either
unknown or little known to most road safety workers. Some of the papers and
documents had remained unpublished for a variety of reasons, or if published had
either not received wide dissemination or had been issued many years ago and were
largely forgotten and uncited by more recent road safety workers.
The STAYSAFE Committee requested its Director, Mr Ian Faulks, to edit a
compilation of the papers and documents addressing issues associated with the
actions of drivers in obstructing, harassing, humiliating and threatening other road
The STAYSAFE Committee hopes that this compilation of papers and other
documents relating to the phenomenon of ‘road rage’ will assist further research and
policy formulation to address risky and unsafe actions by drivers on New South
A significant aspect of the STAYSAFE Committee’s operation is the bipartisan
manner in which the Committee members conduct their inquiries and deliberations. I
am grateful for the hard work of my colleagues, be they Government Members,
Opposition Members, or from the cross bench.
In the preparation of this report, the STAYSAFE Committee has been ably served by
its staff, in particular, the Director, Mr Ian Faulks, who selected and edited the papers
for inclusion. Dr Paul Adams, past Committee Officer, also assisted in the editing of
the papers included in this report.
I commend this report to Parliament.
Members of the STAYSAFE Committee
Grey, E., Triggs, T. and Haworth, N.
Driver aggression: The role of personality, social
Characteristics, risk and motivation.
Aggressive and intimidatory driving.
Wright, P.G., Gaulton, P.E. and Miller, I.
Road rage: An exploratory study.
Road trauma—An act of violence?
Road rage: A hot issue or just lukewarm?
The anatomy of road rage—Aggressive driver behaviour may
well be caused by the car itself.
Bay Street Communications
Aggressive driving/Young drivers: Road safety
campaign literature review.
Purdon Associates Pty Ltd..
Aggressive driving focus group discussions.
Purdon Associates Pty Ltd. and Bay Street Communications
Road safety campaign evaluation report:
‘Let’s stop driving people mad’.
Anderson, R., Shaw, P. & Stuart, E.
The ‘Let’s Stop Driving People Mad’ campaign: Can you reduce
Elliot & Shanahan Research
An examination of the nature and extent of ‘road rage’
—A discussion paper.
Harding, R., Morgan, F. Indermaur, D., Ferrante, A. and Blagg, H.
Road rage and the epidemiology of violence: Something old,
Preventing driving related violence
Road rage: What, who, when, where and how.
Road hogs to road rage.
Hatfield, J. and Job, R.F.S.
‘Road rage’: Methods for reducing aggression on the road.
‘Road rage’: Media hype or serious road safety issue?
Fraine, G., Smith, S. and Zinkiewicz, L.
The private car: A home on the road?
Monsters in metal cocoons: ‘Road rage’ and cyborg bodies
Constructing ‘road rage’ as news: An analysis of two Australian
Road rage: Drivers’ understandings and experiences
Aggression and violence associated with motor vehicle use
Can speeding be justified?
Mayhew, C. and Quinlan, M.
Occupational violence in long distance road transport:
A study of of 300 Australian truck drivers
Rage on our roads
2002 AAMI Crash Index
DRIVER AGGRESSION: THE ROLE OF
PERSONALITY, SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS,
RISK AND MOTIVATION
E.M. Grey, T.J. Triggs and N.L. Haworth
Monash University Accident Research Centre
SOURCE: Grey, E.M., Triggs, T.J. & Haworth,
N.L. (1989). Driver aggression: The role of
personality, social characteristics, risk and
motivation. Report CR 81. Canberra ACT:
Federal Office of Road Safety (FORS).
The report addresses the topic of aggression in driving, with a consideration of
a number of subject areas: theories of aggression; the definition of aggressive
behaviour in driving; measurements of aggression; extreme forms of driver
aggression; less extreme forms of driver aggression. The report’s conclusions
focus on society’s role in aggressive behaviour, strategies for coping with
aggression, including driver education and screening, and directions for future
This report addresses the topic of aggression in driving and related areas of research. A
range of different subject areas are reviewed including theories of aggression, factors
contributing to aggressive driving behaviour, the measurement of aggression, the
characteristics of driver groups at high risk of crash involvement, strategies for combating
aggression in driving and the identification of a number of research issues.
Approaches to the study of aggression
There are a number of different theoretical approaches to the study of aggression. However,
none are considered to be complete explanations but reflect the orientation and
requirements of the researchers who developed them. Biological theories consider
aggressive behaviour to be innate, although specific responses can be modified by
experience. In the psychoanalytic tradition, the frustration-aggression hypothesis proposes
that the origin of aggressive behaviour is to be found in external factors. Finally, social
learning approaches argue that aggression is a learned response through observation or
imitation of socially relevant others. Aggression is the result of the norms, rewards,
punishments and models to which individuals have been exposed. Although these three
approaches differ in the emphasis they place on the role of biological (genetic inheritance
and evolutionary) processes and experience (learning through exposure to environmental
factors), they generally assume that aggressive behaviour is the combined result of these
Defining aggression in driving
Aggression can be defined as any behaviour directed at causing physical or mental injury.
However, as Bandura (1983) points out, the classification of an act as aggressive depends
on subjective judgements of intention and causality. For the purposes of this report, the
concept of intent is useful in discriminating between driving acts where the intent was to
cause harm and other driving acts which reveal a willingness to chance dangerous
outcomes in order to fulfil the driver’s motives. This latter situation necessarily encompasses
behaviour in which the driver may not intend to harm other road users and may not be aware
that significant risk is involved. Two definitions of aggression in driving are proposed which
encompass the range of possible aggressive behaviours. The first definition of aggression in
driving includes what would normally be classified as extreme behaviour. These are acts of
murder, suicide and wilful and malicious assaults (physical or psychological). The second
definition encompasses the concept of risk taking. This driving behaviour is aggressive in
appearance, but does not necessarily imply intent to cause harm, although it may
subsequently put other road users at risk.
The motives of drivers
The behaviour of the road user (of which aggression is one aspect) needs to be considered
within the framework of the social and psychological context in which it occurs. The view is
expressed that the road user’s behaviour is seen as reflecting a balance between personal
motives (for example, thrills, the desire for speed or position in the traffic stream) and the
subjective risk of crash involvement. Central to this view is the argument proposed by
Naatanen and Summala (1974, 1976) that drivers in general do not perceive any risk of
crash involvement. This lack of subjective risk of accident involvement allows drivers to fulfil
a variety of other needs. Another approach to the concept of subjective risk has different
implications for driver risk taking. This is the concept of risk homeostasis which argues that
road users always operate at the maximum level of risk that they are prepared to accept.
This theory assumes that the driver is aware of and desires the level of risk he or she is
taking. Other factors may also influence aggressive or risky behaviour. There is evidence
that stress and alcohol may influence aggressive behaviour. In contrast, however, there
appears to be relatively little information available with regard to the effects of other drugs
and disease on aggressive behaviour.
Methods of Measurement
For the most part, investigations of aggression in driving have focussed on the evaluation of
personality variables. A large number of studies have used psychometric tests in order to
measure or predict aggressive driving behaviour. Psychometric tests used in the
investigation of aggression in driving have included; projective techniques, objective
techniques, and psychiatric or more general interviews. The use of these tests is not without
serious problems with regard to their reliability and validity. Adequately standardised tests
employed in the correct way may provide useful information about an individual’s personal
characteristics, although it may be only qualitative in nature.
Studies comparing driver characteristics and crash record have produced equivocal results.
While many studies claim to have distinguished between crash involved and crash free
drivers on the basis of particular personality or social traits, the majority of these findings
have not been validated. These differences in findings may be due to differing or inadequate
methodology. Methodological problems found in these studies include; inadequate control
for variation in exposure and hazard level, small sample sizes, use of inadequately
standardised tests, and failure to validate findings with different populations.
Extreme forms of driver aggression
There are a number of different dimensions to be considered when discussing aggression on
the road. These include how society views traffic offenders and the association between
crash involvement and crime (including suicide and murder) in the community. The argument
is made that society for the most part regards people who break the law as deviants.
However, this attitude does not extend to people convicted of motor vehicle offences. A
number of researchers consider that these people are still regarded by society as law
abiding citizens whose behaviour is not only tolerated but excused. Researchers have
considered the idea that serious traffic offenders may be more likely to have criminal records
than non-offenders. This idea has been extrapolated to argue that in societies in which there
are high rates of violent crime there will also be high rates of deaths and injuries by motor
vehicle crash. The results of several studies suggest that there is a correlation between
rates of death or injury by motor vehicle crash and violent crime. However, due to
methodological problems, these results should be treated with great caution. Fatalities which
are the result of motor vehicle crashes are very rarely certified as suicides. Evidence
suggests that probably substantially less than five percent of all deaths by motor vehicle
crash are the result of suicide. In addition, while the characteristics of successful suicides
and those involved in fatal accidents were considerably more deviant than the general
population, greater deviancy was found in the suicide sample than in the crash sample.
Other reports of wilful acts of violence or malicious damage on the road directed against
other road users are rare although they do occur.
Less extreme forms of driver aggression
The concept of ‘accident proneness’ (as it is always referred to in the literature) has had a
major influence on the study of personality factors of crash-involved drivers. Early
investigations into personal factors and crashes originate at least in part from studies of
accident proneness. Accident proneness can be defined (very broadly) as a propensity to
have accidents. This propensity refers to one or more personality trait/s or type/s. The
concept has a number of problems and has generally fallen into disfavour as it has failed to
provide a means by which to predict individual accident involvement. While accident
proneness has for the most part been put aside, the research into aggression in driving
continues to embody the notion that some individuals by virtue of their personal
characteristics are more likely to be involved in accidents than others. Drivers at high risk of
crash involvement exhibit a broad range of personal and social characteristics. Certain
demographic features are associated with increased risk of being involved in a crash. These
include age less than 25, education of less than twelve years, being a semi-skilled or
unskilled worker, single marital status and low socioeconomic status. Within this population
of high risk drivers are a number of subgroups which include crash-repeating drivers, people
who drive under the influence of alcohol, young drivers (particularly young men) and possibly
the mentally ill. Personal factors which have been identified as associated with motor
vehicle crashes include generally high levels of aggression and hostility, competitiveness,
less concern for others, poor driving attitudes, driving for emotional release, impulsiveness
and risk taking. A background of social disruption and deviancy appears to be more
common amongst high crash and/or violation drivers. The potential value of research into
the personality and social characteristics of problem drivers lies in establishing effective
means of’ predicting crash reliability. However, while some consistency has been found in
these characteristics, there appears to be no single test or test battery by which individual
accident liability can be predicted.
The role of aggression in driving
The attention focussed on the role of aggression in driving and the personality
characteristics of repeated crash and conviction-involved drivers appears unwarranted given
the likely contribution of these factors to crash causation. The accurate identification of such
individuals is problematic. Furthermore, the effect of removing these individuals from the
driving population would appear to be comparatively small as they can be considered to
constitute only a small proportion of the driving population. Also, in general the composition
of the crash repeater group is not constant from year to year. The extent of the problem also
needs to be questioned. A study investigating the contribution of aggression to road crash
statistics claims that of the human factors identified as being involved in crashes only 0.6
percent were identified as frustration or aggression and 1.6 percent as reckless driving
(Sabey and Staughton, 1975 cited in Hampson, 1984).
There can be little doubt that there is a substantial learned component (at least in the ways
and situations in which aggression is expressed) to aggressive behaviour. The argument is
made that society as a whole determines the level of safety margins. Risk taking and
competitiveness can be considered, in part, to be encouraged by society.
Further understanding of the context in which aggressive driving takes place is required.
Possible strategies for coping with aggressive driving include; screening drivers and
modifying driver behaviour
(enforcement and driver education). However, attempts to
modify driver attitudes have been largely unsuccessful. Further research is required to
identify the reasons for the general lack of effectiveness of driver education and publicity
The study of risk taking and risk assessment by drivers may be a more productive line of
research ban attempting to identify aggressive personality traits. Greater understanding of
the contexts in which aggressive or risky driving takes place is required. The study of the
personality and social characteristics of crash involved drivers may not be productive as
these traits have been found to change with time, age and situation and cannot yet be used
to predict accurately the crash history of individual drivers.
Any further research investigating possible causal links between aggression and road traffic
crashes using psychometric testing needs to employ stricter methodological controls than
those used to date. Given the apparently small number of drivers involved repeatedly in
crashes and the inadequacy of the psychometric instruments available, it may be more
productive (in terms of countermeasures) to concentrate on other areas of research.
For the last twenty years, significant progress has been made in upgrading the safety
characteristics of both vehicles and the roadway environment. However, it is now
recognised that many of the easily implemented improvements on road safety resulting from
initiatives in these two areas have now been achieved. As a result, some road safety
practitioners are encouraging increased emphasis to issues relating on driver behaviour and
While road users are only one component in a complex interacting system, they
nevertheless determine to a very large degree the level of road safety that is achieved. The
personal attributes of drivers, along with their abilities and limitations, have a significant
effect on the number and type of crashes that occur. For example, it is known that young
males, as a group, are overrepresented in crash statistics.
One personal attribute frequently cited as a contributing factor to road crashes is aggression.
For example, eye witnesses will report that one vehicle appeared to be driven in an
aggressive or hostile manner. Statements concerning the aggressive tendencies of a
particular driver are to be heard in courts of law. The purpose of this report is primarily to
examine the construct of aggression and to review related topics.
Theories of aggression will be briefly reviewed in the report to illustrate the diversity of
approaches to the topic. This will provide a basis for examining issues concerning
aggression on the road. However, it can be generally said the more basic research in the
area of aggression has had relatively little influence on considerations linking road safety
Aggression can be regarded as an expression of a driver’s motives, as a manifestation of
risk taking in a particular environment, as a more permanent personality factor, or as the
primary factor in some drivers experiencing repeated crashes (the so-called ‘accident prone’
driver). Because aggression on the road is closely related to the concepts of motives, risk
taking, personality, and accident proneness, these topics will also be reviewed in some
Investigators have observed that aggression can take a wide range of forms. Murder and
suicide on the road would represent the more extreme form of aggression, and these areas
are reviewed. Aggression in its less extreme forms has often been considered in terms of
the prediction of traffic crashes by psychological tests of individual characteristics or, less
frequently, by observations of behaviour on the road. The focus here is on studies
concerning personality or social factors, rather than tests of abilities such as information
processing. A number of deficiencies in this literature will be identified.
Crash producing factors associated with the topic of aggression and personal characteristics
will be discussed, including the role of alcohol, the young driver and the mentally ill. It is
interesting to note that much of the research in this field was conducted more than twenty
years ago. The relatively little research in recent times probably reflects the judgement of
many investigators that the identification of drivers likely to have crashes by such means is
not a fruitful approach. There appears to be a widespread belief that research in this pea will
probably not result in substantial and effective countermeasures Nevertheless, some
research topics can be identified that are deserving of attention, and these are discussed at
the conclusion of the report.
APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF AGGRESSION
The range of definitions of the term aggression reflect the diversity of approaches which
have been developed to investigate the concept. None of these approaches can be
considered complete explanations of the phenomenon of aggression. However, each
appears to reflect a different aspect
1981) depending on the needs of the
researchers who developed it. One of the difficulties in aggression research has been the
freedom with which it has been applied to both human and animal behaviour both in every
day usage and in research. As Brain (1981) notes, the concept of aggression as applied to
may refer to an extremely diverse assortment of written, verbal and physical
have an element of value judgement. Whether an action is aggressive or a
reasonable action depending on the convictions of the observer.
include reactions generally considered to be products of complex interactions
between biological, environmental and experiential factors.
The area of aggression research is associated with an extremely large selection of papers
from such diverse areas of research as physiology, zoology, psychology and sociology and
has involved research into both animal and human aggression. This chapter is not intended
to provide an in-depth analysis of the various approaches to the study of aggression but will
briefly consider a number of distinct approaches to the study of aggression. In addition the
associated concepts’ of motivation and personality will be briefly considered.
Theories of aggression
Biological theories of aggression emphasise the innateness of the aggressive response
(Edmunds and Kendrick, 1980). The genetic material of a species is seen as the primary
determinant of a range of possible behaviours (including aggression) (Barchas, 1981). This
base may be modified by experience. This is not to imply that there are no differences in
patterns of aggressive behaviour between humans and animals particularly primates.
However, it is generally assumed that some similar principles of behaviour may be seen in
both groups. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions are one of the most important
traits to have developed in humans. In this perspective, emotions are regarded as having
evolved for specific functions
(Plutchik and Kellerman,
1980). Emotions are seen as
communicators from one animal to the next, providing information about the probability of
occurrence of a given behaviour. Emotions are viewed as being basically adaptive, helping
to organise the animal’s behaviour in a way which meets the demands of the environment.
Ethological theories A major biological approach to the study of aggression is that of the
(those concerned with detailed observation of behaviour). Most
classical ethologists claim that aggression is in part a consequence of an organism’s
biological inheritance, making it subject to evolutionary pressures. Aggression is regarded
as fulfilling useful biological functions. However, some researchers make no claims
regarding the innateness of aggressive behaviour
1981). Ethological views of
aggression have been received pessimistically by some (Brain, 1981). Hinde (1978, cited in
Brain, 1981) notes that there is no dispute that aggressive behaviour has been selected as
an adaptive characteristic in a larger number of the higher species other than humans.
Hinde has argued for the survival value of aggressive behaviour. Lorenz (1966, cited in
1981) has emphasised ‘the utility of aggression to social organisation in human
(1971, cited in Brain,
1981) argues for the view that
aggression may have cohesive force in a society when one common enemy has been
identified. From the biological point of view, man can be seen as being
predisposed to behave in a fashion that can be label led as ?aggression? under defined
circumstances of experience and in the presence of particular environmental factors’ (Brain,
1981, p. 619). The majority of ethologists agree that situational and experiential factors are
important in the control of aggression. However, the degree to which aggression (in humans
particularly) is determined by genetic, physiological or learning factors is open to debate. A
debate which according to Brain is ‘inherently sterile’ (p. 619).
Psychoanalytic theory Another approach to the study of aggression is based on
psychoanalytic theory. Freud viewed aggression as a basic instinct or a fundamental need
or drive for aggressive behaviour (Barchas, 1981). Aggressive behaviour occurs when need
for aggression has built to such a level that it can no longer be contained. However, through
socialisation and resolution of developmental stages of growth, the aggressive drive can be
attached to more constructive behaviours (Barchas, 1981)
Drive theories: The frustration-aggression hypothesis
The general principles of the frustration-aggression hypothesis were developed from the
psychoanalytic tradition and the work of Freud (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer and Sears,
1939). However, in contrast to Freud, Dollard et al (1939) proposed that the origin of
aggressive behaviour was to be found in external factors (that is, accumulated frustrating
experiences) whereas Freud had postulated an internal (or instinctive) base for aggressive
behaviour. Initially, in the original statement of the frustration-aggression hypothesis (Dollard
et al, 1939), it was assumed that aggressive behaviour was always the consequence of
frustration. It was hypothesised that a one-to-one relationship existed between frustration
and aggression. Aggression was defined as ‘an act whose goal response is injury to an
organism (or organism surrogate)’ Dollard et al, 1939, p. 11). Frustration was defined as
‘that condition which exists when a goal-response suffers interference’ (p. 11). The intensity
with which the frustration was experienced was seen to depend upon three factors. These
included the strength of the instigation to the frustrated response, the degree of interference
with the frustrated response, and the number of previous goal-response sequences
frustrated. Obviously, the stronger the feelings of frustration, the stronger the aggressive
response. This definition of aggression was later revised (Miller, 1941, cited in Kaufmann,
1965) to say that frustration produces an instigation to aggression. The instigation may or
may not be strong enough to provoke aggressive behaviour. However, when aggression
has been elicited, the organism will be instigated to attack an opponent. Berkowitz (1962,
1981) subsequently argued that an organism has a tendency to continue an activity until its
goal has been reached. Inability to achieve this goal causes frustration. Catharsis (as
Berkowitz terms it) occurs when and because the aggressor achieves his or her aggressive
goal. Contrary to the arguments of Dollard et a] (1939), Berkowitz (1981) argues that the
occurrence of aggressive behaviour (or the achievement of an aggressive goal) would
decrease only the aggressive instigation that had provoked the behaviour and not reduce
accumulated instigations that are the result of previous frustrations. Berkowitz (1981) notes
that it is not possible to say that only one type of aggression exists or that there is only one
sort of aggressive goal. He goes on to argue that it is worthwhile to differentiate between
hostile and instrumental aggression. In hostile aggression the goal is to injure the object of
the attack, whereas in instrumental aggression the primary goal of aggressive behaviour is
to reach a goal beyond causing injury to the victim of the attack, such as domination, access
to resources and so on. It could be hypothesised that much of the aggression’ observed on
the road would correspond to this second type.
Social learning theories
Social learning theorists argue that aggression is not due to instinct or drive, but is the result
of the norms, rewards, punishment and models to which individuals have been exposed
Aggression is therefore viewed as a learned response, through
observation or imitation of socially relevant others
1981). The more often
aggressive behaviour is reinforced the more likely it is to occur again. For example values
which indicate that ‘to be a man, sometimes you have to stand and fight’. If parents punish
children for aggressive behaviour, such behaviour may soon become inhibited in the
presence of the parents, however, the imitative response will be strongly learned.
Aggressive behaviour would then be expected to occur in situations in which the parent is
not present. Physically punishing children for aggressive behaviour may effectively act as a
model for aggressive behaviour.
Biological mechanisms set limits on the types of aggressive behaviours that can develop and
influence the rate of learning (Randura, 1983). In the social learning view, individuals are
understood to be endowed with neurophysiological mechanisms which allow them to behave
in an aggressive way. However, the elicitation of aggressive behaviour depends on the
occurrence of appropriate stimulation and is largely under cognitive control (Bandura, 1983).
Thus, the actual form the aggressive behaviour will take, the frequency of its occurrence and
the circumstances in which it arises will depend on complex social learning factors (Bandura,
Aggressive behaviours may be learned through observation from aggressive models.
Bandura (1983) proposes that aggressive behaviour patterns can be obtained in Western
society from three primary sources. Possibly the most fundamental of these is the role of
family members in the modelling of aggressive behaviour. However, the family is contained
within a complex social system which plays an important secondary role in the modelling of
aggressive behaviour patterns. Finally, the mass media is viewed as the third most
important source of aggressive behaviour modelling for individuals. According to Bandura
(1983) there is mounting evidence that television affects behaviour and may act as a
symbolic model for aggressive behaviour. He goes on to say that television has been found
to affect behaviour in four ways; by teaching aggressive behaviour styles, altering restraints
over aggressive behaviour, desensitising and habituating viewers to aggressive behaviour,
and shaping viewers’ images of reality, upon which they base much of their behaviour.
Direct experience in the social learning approach is also considered to influence aggressive
behaviour styles. The formulation of suitable behaviour patterns is developed from
observing the effects of one’s own actions (Bandura, 1983). Such reinforcement appears to
act as an informative and motivational mechanism rather than as a mechanical response
Overview of theories of aggression
The various theories of aggression differ in the types of behaviour which they include under
the heading of aggressive behaviour. They also differ in the aspects they emphasise in
terms of biological, motivational and social factors. However, generally they assume that
human aggression is caused by the combined result of biological factors (genetic inheritance
and evolutionary processes) and experience (learning through exposure to environmental
factors). The significance attributed to each of these factors and the process by which they
influence behaviour depends on the approach being examined. The forces postulated to
determine the occurrence ok aggressive behaviour also differ according to the theory being
examined. The motivation of humans deliberately to engage in aggressive activity has been
hypothesised by biological theories to be driven by innate forces of which the individual is
not necessarily aware. However, other theories place emphasis on external conditions
(such as cultural forces) as motivating factors. Therefore, the motives of individuals have
been seen variously as being conscious or unconscious, compelled by drives and instincts,
or determined by incentives, goals and values (Cofer and Appley, 1964).
The extent to which differing personality types influence the occurrence of aggressive
behaviour is not really known. The opinions expressed by researchers will very much
depend upon their orientation toward the causes and development of aggressiveness. The
emphasis placed on innate factors and/or social forces in the development of personality will
also be determined by the personal orientation of the researcher. However, whatever the
orientation adopted by researchers, it is difficult to relate aggression to personality as at
present it does not appear possible to identify the aggressive individual on the basis of any
single cluster of so called aggressive personality traits (Feshbach, 1970, cited in Johnson,
1972). Much of the literature on aggressive behaviour in driving relates to attempts to
associate personality characteristics of individuals with the frequency of occurrence of
crashes or traffic violations. Crashes and violations are thus regarded as being the
behavioural indicators of the occurrence of aggression and, as such, indicators of the
individual’s propensity for aggressive behaviour.
In spite of a range of approaches to the study of aggressive behaviour in humans, it would
appear that, with only few exceptions, a general definition of aggression has been agreed
upon in the literature. This general definition would define as aggression any behaviour
directed at causing physical or mental injury. Behaviour not directed at inflicting harm is
excluded from this definition.
Given the diversity of approaches to the study of aggression, and the wide variety of
contexts to which it has been applied, an operational definition of aggression in driving
needs to be considered. Aggression can generally be defined as behaviour which results in
personal harm and/or physical injury. This personal harm may be physical or emotional (for
example, verbal abuse) (Bandura, 1983). However, not all acts which result in some form of
injury can be labelled aggressive. The intent of the perpetrator is central in determining
whether a given act was aggressive or not. However, whether an act will be classified as
aggressive depends on subjective judgements of intention and causality (Bandura, 1983) by
observers. Furthermore, the same injurious act may be viewed differently depending upon
the sex, age, attractiveness, status, background, etc. of the perpetrator (Bandura, 1983).
Bandura reports that people are more disposed to judge harmful acts as unintentional if the
perpetrator is favoured than if he or she were not favoured. This problem in part, has lead
Buss (1961) to propose that the concept of intent is awkward and unnecessary in the
definition of aggression. As Buss points out, intent is a private event which the individual
may or may not be able to express verbally. This approach leads to obvious problems ?
how can injuries caused accidentally by a second party be equated with deliberate cause of
To some extent, the definition of aggression used in this literature review must be
determined by the way in which the concept has been employed in the literature on road
user aggression. The literature on aggression in driving has covered a broad area of
research from investigations of homicide and suicide by motor vehicle to relatively common
aggressive acts such as risk taking (for example, speeding). For the purposes of this
literature review, the concept of intent is useful in discriminating between driving acts where
the intent was to cause harm and other driving aggressive acts which reveal a willingness to
chance dangerous consequences in order to fulfil the driver’s motives. This latter situation
necessarily encompasses behaviour in which the driver may not intend to harm other road
users or himself and may not be aware that significant risk is involved. However, due to the
involvement of other factors, the driver performs in a manner which endangers other road
users. Such behaviour would be aggressive in appearance, however, the intent of the driver
may not be readily definable. Neither of these two definitions makes any assumptions
regarding the awareness of the individual of his or her motivation or the basic nature of the
aggressive response. Thus, in terms of the definition of aggression in driving it is possible to
distinguish a range of behaviours that may be described as aggressive.
We would therefore, like to view the range of possible aggressive behaviours from extreme
forms of aggression in which the intent to cause harm is fairly explicit to less extreme forms
of aggression in which other motives (not necessarily including intent to cause harm)
influence the road user to drive aggressively and therefore dangerously. We would therefore
propose two definitions of aggression in driving. The first (strong) definition of aggression in
driving encompasses more extreme forms of aggression, including any behaviour the intent
of which was to cause physical and/or psychological harm or damage to oneself, other road
users, or property. Examples of such behaviour include wilful, malicious acts such as
assault (psychological or physical) of other road users, homicide, or suicide. The second
definition of aggression generally involves less extreme behaviours and encompasses both
actual aggressive behaviour and aggressive-looking driving behaviour. Here Berkowitz’s
(1981) concept of instrumental aggression is useful. The primary goal of the individual’s
behaviour in this situation is not the injury of a victim, but some unknown factor (motive)
beyond this. These motives are commonly quoted in the literature. A wide range of motives
which may be conscious or unconscious have been postulated including; faster speed,
arriving sooner, thrills, release of emotional tension, bad temper. While the intent of the
driver is not necessarily to cause harm, the behaviour reveals the individual’s willingness to
risk hazardous outcomes. This willingness may be due to any number of conscious or
unconscious motives, or may in fact communicate a lack of awareness of current road
THE ISSUE OF AGGRESSION IN DRIVING
What is aggressive driving?
Parry (1968) argues that, it may be accepted that some accidents are precipitated by
‘chance situations’ difficult even for the experienced motorist to foresee. In such a context
the term ‘accident’ carries the proper and accurate meaning. However, it would be totally
incorrect to suggest (as some do) that all accidents are the result of chance situations, fate,
or some such random occurrence, and therefore are bound to happen (p. 4).
While such a statement can be challenged, this quote underlies the position that individual
characteristics contribute significantly to crashes. Parry goes on to suggest that many of
these types of crashes could be avoided but for the frame of mind and the personality of the
driver involved. A dominant theme of many studies investigating the causes of motor vehicle
crashes, although not so much in recent years, has been the expression by drivers of
aggressive patterns of behaviour. In terms of the definition of aggression in driving it is
possible to distinguish a range of behaviours that may be described as aggressive.
As discussed earlier, a strong definition of aggressive driving would be driving with the intent
to cause harm to other road users, to oneself or to property. Examples of such behaviour
are assault (psychological or physical) of other road users, homicide, or suicide. It would
appear unlikely that the majority of road traffic crashes reported in the literature are the result
of attempted suicide, homicide or assault. Overt aggression and irresponsibility would
appear to cause only a small number of crashes (Road accidents and driving behaviour,
1978). This is a view supported by police assessments of the situation (Road accidents and
driving behaviour, 1978). It is important to differentiate between the aggressive types of
behaviour encompassed in the extreme definition of aggression and the less extreme
aggressive or aggressive-looking behaviour encompassed by the second definition. This
second type of aggressive driving behaviour has been called less extreme in order to
differentiate it from acts of murder or suicide. Much of the literature to be discussed later
deals with crash repeaters whom research has attempted to distinguish from the normal
driving population on a number of personality dimensions
? notably aggressive traits.
However, subjective experience would also indicate that even members of the ‘normal’
driving population exhibit aggressive driving behaviour relatively frequently. Members of the
‘normal’ driving population may also become aggressive when faced with difficult driving
situations such as slow moving traffic. In this view, aggressive-looking driving behaviour
(risk taking) is also considered. The driver in this situation does not have any conscious
intent to harm other road users but his or her exhibition of deviant behaviour puts other road
users at risk. The next chapters will consider the motives of drivers for driving behaviour in
addition to investigating the personality characteristics of drivers with multiple crashes or
It is likely that the majority of people who drive dangerously do not do so through an impulse
either for self destruction or to injure others. Some of the literature to be discussed focuses
on the role of driving as defined by the extreme definition (suicide, homicide or assault).
Most of the literature to be considered in this review looks at the less extreme end of the
aggressive driving spectrum, examining the motivational components of road user
behaviour, their underlying characteristics, expression and control.
The motives of drivers
The behaviour of the road user (of which aggression is one aspect) needs to be considered
within the framework of the social and psychological context in which it occurs. As Wilde
(1976) remarks, it is probably difficult to find examples of road user behaviour completely
free from some form of social influence—these being social customs, habits, values and
expectations. Naatanen and Summala (1976) put forward the proposition that it may be
more fruitful to investigate the behaviour of drivers within the context of their motivation to
behave in a particular way. They argue that with regard to safe driving behaviour, the critical
determinants of the road user’s behaviour are motivational in nature. Clifford and Marjoram
(1978) claim that the embracing of a more responsible attitude to driving by road users is a
fundamental pre-requisite to obtain substantial and permanent improvement in road safety.
The driver needs also to be regarded as a creator of traffic situations, and not just as a
responding agent. The literature to be considered in this review testifies to the position
expressed by Naatanen and Summala that the driver does not always (naturally) give his or
her best in order to avoid crashes. In this view, the road user’s behaviour is seen as
reflecting a balance between personal motives
(thrills, speed, headway etc.) and the
subjective risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash.
In general, the principal motives accepted for drivers driving have been commonly presumed
to be travelling to a given destination, and arriving safely (Naatanen and Summala, 1976).
Naatanen and Summala also stress the wide variety of other kinds of motives individual road
users might have. All of which may result in expressions of aggressive behaviour. These
motives have been termed the ‘extra motives’ of the driver. The importance of these ‘extra
motives’ in the determination of driver behaviour has not been widely studied (Naatanen and
Summala, 1976). The ‘extra motives’ of drivers have been termed ‘excitatory’ in order to
contrast them with ‘inhibitory’ motives the most important of which is the subjective risk of
crash involvement. Naatanen and Summala argue that, in general, there is an absence of
subjective risk on the part of the driver.
In the view of Naatanen and Summala,
“Man satisfies his needs everywhere that is possible. If (and when) road traffic
affords opportunities for this in abundance and the absence of perceived risk
presents him with plenty of subjective freedom of choice, then why not take
advantage of the opportunity” (Naatanen and Summala, 1976, p. 79).
The lack of subjective risk and the extra motives of road users are considered to be among
the major causes of the failure of many countermeasures designed to influence driver
attitudes (Naatanen and Summala, 1976).
Naatanen and Summala’s concept of the ‘extra’ motives of drivers is important when
studying driving behaviour as it allows us to consider not only the sources of possible
aggressive behaviour but also other risky driving acts and the behaviour (motives) of drivers
not only among so called ‘high risk’ driver groups, but also amongst the general driving
population. However, the intent of the driver may be difficult if not impossible to determine.
The concept of risk taking and aggression in driving are closely associated. The next
sections will investigate Naatanen and Summala’s concept of ‘extra motives’ and the road
user’s feelings of subjective risk of being involved in a crash and the source of his or her
subsequent risk taking behaviour in the light of the relevant literature. Any of these motives
may give rise to aggressive or aggressive-looking driver behaviour, which may subsequently
put other road users at risk.
Naatanen and Summala’s (1976) broad classification of the kinds of the possible ‘extra’
motives drivers is as follows:
(a) Aims of the road user for the trip he or she is taking. For example, goals
arising from a desire to get to point B with haste, competition between drivers,
timetable pressures, obtaining a better position in the traffic flow. Driving to attain
these goals may result in increased risk taking behaviour.
(b) Behavioural models. Traffic behaviour is influenced by the driving norms of
the individual’s peer group. Klein (1972) remarks that for many adolescents
knowledge about, ingenuity in modifying and skill in driving motor vehicles may
represent the only means of achieving status with peers. A motor vehicle may be
used as a means of asserting manhood for some young male drivers (Robinson,
1972, cited in Henderson, 1972). Naatanen and Summala comment that some
individuals tend to be very assertive and competitive drivers, believing such
behaviour to be a sign of driving skill. Competitiveness in driving could
conceivably be ascribed to aggressiveness (Naatanen and Summala, 1976).
Adolescents in particular may be attracted to high powered vehicles.
Advertisements for high powered cars or sports cars imply symbolic autonomy
and power (Klein, 1972). The message of advertising is that of speed and
acceleration. This type of advertising to sell vehicles while being successful,
serves only to reinforce the extra motives of the driver. The example set by other
road users may also influence behaviour. Lefkowitz, Blake and Mouton (1955,
cited in Naatanen and Summala, 1976) observed that pedestrians more often
crossed at red traffic lights when an experimenter’s model was present who
violated the rule, than if the model was not present.
(c) The driver may feel the need to prove his or her skill as a driver. Naatanen
and Summala argue that consciously or unconsciously people generally seem to
regard driving speed and overtaking ability as a measure of driving skill. They
also argue that this conception is maintained by motoring advertising, magazines
(d) Hedonistic objectives. The excitement of driving especially at speed are also
cited by Naatanen and Summala as extra motives. Black (1966) in a study
comparing the responses of drivers to aspects of driving such as safety in the
hypnotised and unhypnotised states observed that drivers while under hypnosis
stressed the freedom of owning a motor vehicle. To quote one subject ‘the
pleasure comes from moving. .. I feel free...I’m driving fast and enjoying what that
means to me’ (p. 66). Parry (1968) reports one subject responded in a sentence
completion task to the phrase ‘to take a risk when driving...is exhilarating’ (p. 38).
Naatanen and Summala (1976) make the point that the desire to travel at speed
(which is expressed not only in fast car driving but also in our-desire to play on
roller coasters and so on) may be seen as a reduction in drive or tension from a
biological point of view. Or for the experience of a new sensation. However, it
may also relate to Klein’s conception that risk taking and aggressiveness are
attributes valued by our society and therefore instilled in members. In this view
the desire to drive fast may be accounted for in social learning theory.
Emotions. Aggressive emotions may be aroused by factors within the
driving situation itself. Whitlock
(1971) points to the generally frustrating
nature of driving which may be continually constrained by other traffic. Turner,
Layton and Simons (1975) present evidence suggesting that some drivers
become angry and frustrated by the behaviour of other drivers. Parry’s
anecdotal reports of drivers’ responses indicate that hand gestures, swearing,
light flashing and facial expressions are used by drivers in response to other
drivers who irritate them. A large number of Parry’s drivers were driven to
actually chasing and confronting (often fighting with) the drivers who had
irritated them. However such drivers represented the extreme end of a
spectrum of aggressive behaviour which may occur in response to frustration.
Increased risk taking behaviour was reported by Ebbesen and Haney (1973)
who found that drivers accepted shorter gaps in traffic flow when turning left at
a T-intersection after waiting for vehicles in front to turn than when the driver
had been in the first position immediately. This behaviour was explained in
terms of frustration generated as a result of having to wait in a queue.
is required to work off a cheerful mood...is a slow-moving truck that cannot be
overtaken on a winding stretch for several kilometres’
Summala, 1976. p. 42). The stronger the emotions generated by the given
situation, the greater will the danger be that emotions will make the driving
decisions and not the traffic situation
(Naatanen and Summala,
Subsequent behaviour may result in increased risk of crashes which is
indicative that some drivers become aggressive when frustrated. The
frustration leads to aggression hypothesis would predict that the arousal of
emotions in response to frustration may lead to attempts to decrease the
frustrating nature as soon as possible. For example, the hurried driver may
overtake with only narrow margins. Whitlock (1971) in trying to make sense of
aggressive behaviour by ‘normal’ drivers, has suggested that the ‘combative’
attitude which arises in difficult driving situations, may have its foundations in
the ethological view of territorial rights. That is, drivers become aggressive in
defence of their perceived territorial rights. However, both the above views
must be considered purely speculative as no firm evidence for either exists,
particularly in terms of driving behaviour.
Emotions may also be stirred up by factors external to the traffic situation.
Selzer, Rogers and Kern (1968) report that 20 percent of the drivers they
investigated who had been involved in fatal crashes had been upset about
some incident in the last six hours of their lives. This was also indicated by
Holt (1982), Selzer (1969) and Selzer and Vinokur (1974) who reported that
emotional crises in the form of quarrels with significant others contribute to an
increase in crash and violation rates. The road user who drives when upset or
angry may be doing so to blow off emotional steam (Naatanen and Summala,
1976). Such behaviour may be overtly aggressive behaviour (such as suicide
or murder) or increased risk taking (such as speeding).
(f) Risk taking. Risk taking in driving is the expression of an increased
willingness to take chances when driving and include behaviours engaged in
purely for the enjoyment of driving dangerously (risk taking for the sake of risk
taking). An English study (Quimby and Watts, 1981) of driver attitudes to
(for example, speeding, drink driving legislation, seatbelt usage)
revealed that drivers sometimes knowingly engaged in dangerous behaviour,
although attitudes toward this type of behaviour improved with age. An
American study (Schuman, Pelz, Ehrlich and Selzer, 1967) reported that one
half of the male drivers they studied in the 16 to 18 age bracket reported
taking part in ‘daredevil’ practices in the previous month. These included
racing and taking dares. Approximately 30 percent of the 16 to 18 year old
group also reported that they often took chances with friends in cars. The
incidence of the above types of behaviour decreased with age although 20
percent of the 23 to 24 age bracket reported daredevil driving and 10 percent
reported that they took chances when driving. Pelz and Schuman (1968)
reported that two in five of the young drivers they interviewed who were crash
and violation repeaters said that they spent at least ten hours a week in motor
vehicles for fun. Only one in five of the safe drivers reported this type of
This type of driver risk taking behaviour in which risks are taken for fun or
thrills most certainly has the appearance of aggressive driving. The extent of
the risk incurred and the consequences will be determined by the extent to
which the individual is willing to put his or her safety and that of other road
users at risk. Klein
(1971) in discussing American society contends that
societal values place risk taking and aggressiveness high on the list of socially
desirable attributes. Klein proposes that Americans do not want as safe
conditions as could be achieved by the implementation of current technical
knowledge. Klein argued that the values taught by schools and the mass
media reinforce an outdated view of America as a frontier society. These
values reflect competitiveness, individual initiative, control over one’s
environment, masculinity (which implies toughness and aggression), challenge
and excitement, and that social rewards can be best achieved through
individual achievement rather than cooperative effort. It is likely that these
values are also reflected in Australian society. Hampson (1984) discussing
the Australian situation comments that society encourages risk taking and
competitiveness which is reflected in our driving behaviour. Klein goes on to
say that industrialised society minimises risk taking and concentrates decision
making into fewer and fewer hands. As a consequence smaller numbers of
people can gain feelings of control, individual achievement or a sense of
power from their work. In addition, increasing affluence and decreasing work
schedules provide people with even greater opportunity for risk taking. In
terms of road users, Klein (1971) argues that in a society with these values,
drivers, and young drivers in particular, find little manifestation of them in their
work activities, but can find them in driving activities. Tillman and Hobbs
(1949) make the comment that ‘men drive as they live’. However, Shaw (1965,
cited in Parry 1968) qualifies this comment when she says that people may
also ‘drive as they would like to live’. This view may be more appropriate for
Klein’s argument. It cannot be claimed that all young drivers represent a
driving risk because of the motives for risky driving outlined above. Shaw and
(1971) propose that well integrated people will not change their
behaviour when they sit behind the wheel of a motor vehicle (as proposed by
Parry). However, a poorly integrated person, who could possibly find driving
an outlet for feelings of frustration, conflict and aggression may well undergo a
change in behaviour when driving.
The issue of risk taking is highly complex and continues to be the subject of
controversy, particularly with regard to questions of drivers’ basic motivations
for risk taking behaviour. Central to the issue of driver risk taking behaviour is
the concept of awareness of risk. Do drivers (adolescents in particular)
knowingly take risks while driving? The papers presented above would
indicate that some drivers do. However, other analyses of driver risk taking
behaviour, while not denying that some drivers do knowingly take risks, argue
that other drivers are generally not aware of many of the risks they are taking
The subjective risk of crash involvement
The difficulty with attempting to measure drivers’ subjective feeling of risk is that it cannot be
measured directly. Such events are internal and not necessarily available for conscious
examination by the individual or by others. Two approaches to the concept of subjective risk
are outlined below. Both of these approaches have implications for the prevention and
control of aggression in driving, and represent different approaches to solving the problem.
The first of these is the concept of risk homeostasis which argues that road users always
operate at the maximum level of risk that they are prepared to accept. This theory assumes
that the driver is aware and desires the level of risk he or she is taking. The other view is
that in everyday driving situations road users do not experience feelings of subjective risk,
but operate as though they were in a totally safe environment. In this situation, the
aggressive driver may not be aware that his or her driving represents a high crash risk
whereas risk homeostasis theory indicates that the aggressive driver is prepared to put him
or herself into high risk situations.
The concept of risk homeostasis:
The validity of the assumptions underlying the risk homeostasis concept has profound
implications for the prediction and control of the occurrence of crashes which are seemingly
the result of aggressive behaviour. The concept that road users attempt to maintain a
consistent level of risk has been controversial because of the implications it holds for the
effectiveness of safety countermeasures. The theory has been called danger compensation
(O’Neil], 1978, Peltzman, 1975) and more recently risk compensation (Wilde, 1982a). The
theory of risk homeostasis developed by Wilde from risk compensation has been the focus
of attention in the last few years.
The basis of compensation theory is the concept of utility. That is, the idea that the
individual, will always act to maximise the expected gains for a given activity. Safety is
treated as one of a number of goods (Evans, 1985). Other utility gains (possibly resulting in
aggressive behaviour) may be driving faster, getting to work faster and more thrills. In
driving, the individual is expected to act to ‘optimally adjust his behaviour to maximise his
expected gain in the face of a change in the driving environment’ (O’Neil], 1978, p. 158).
The users thought to balance the risks involved in having a crash with the benefits of using
some of the margin provided by the safety measure to fulfil his or her other motives (such as
driving faster). Aggressive driving may in these circumstances be a reflection of the drivers’
desire to maximise his or her utilities, whatever they may be. In this situation risk may be
defined as, ‘the selection of one alternative or course of action from among many in which
the consequences of that choice could leave the individual in a worse position than if he had
selected otherwise or not selected at all’ (Bem, 1980, p. 2). In addition, risk taking relates
only to the subjective aspects of risk. Risk taking as an intentional act can only take place if
the person involved believes danger to exist (Taylor, 1976).
The type and size of the various tradeoffs made by drivers will depend on the individual.
(1975) has chosen to call these other driving goals, driving intensity. By
increasing safety through the use of countermeasures, we are in effect decreasing the risk
price attached to driving intensity. For example, by installing better braking systems in cars,
we are encouraging the driver to engage in behaviour that he or she otherwise might not
have considered. Utility theory can be used to predict that the crash rate will remain
unchanged (Evans, 1985). In risk homeostasis theory, the human is seen as acting in a way
that may be understood as a homeostatically controlled regulation process.
‘At any moment
of time the instantaneously experienced level of risk is compared with the level of risk the
individual wishes to take and decisions-to alter ongoing behaviour will be made whenever
these two levels are discrepant’ (Wilde, 1982a, p. 20). Safety measures in general, while
providing the user with greater opportunity for safety, do not affect the driver’s motivation to
be safe (Wilde, 1982a). The user will recognise either consciously or unconsciously the
safety benefit provided by a device and will alter his or her behaviour accordingly. The level
of risk that the individual driver is prepared to accept is the only factor that will influence
driver risk taking behaviour in the long term (Wilde, 1982a). The level of risk accepted by
the driver is determined by cognitive and motivational states. These are in turn influenced
by other underlying variables such as, long term factors (for example, cultural values), trip
specific variables (for example, fatigue, mood) and momentary fluctuations (for example,
frustration with other drivers or passengers, day dreaming). The implications for attempts to
prevent aggressive driving are extremely important. The risk homeostasis model would
predict that individuals who drive aggressively do so because they are operating at the level
of risk they are prepared to accept.
A strong empirical base for this theory has yet to be established. While a great deal has
been written concerning the theory of risk homeostasis, very few firm conclusions have been
drawn. A number of methodological problems exist with studies investigating the validity of
risk homeostasis such as lack of external controls in before-after studies, or the presence of
uncontrolled variables in studies of risk taking.
Studies investigating risk homeostasis have obtained contradictory results, although the
majority of the literature does not appear to support the concept. Studies by Adams, 1981,
Hurst, 1979 and Peltzman, 1975 have found an increase in deaths with the implementation
of seat belt legislation. This evidence has been interpreted as supporting the risk
homeostasis theory. Conybeare (1980) although reporting a decrease in occupant fatalities,
also reported an increase in the number of nonoccupant deaths. However, McKenna (1985)
disputes the conclusion that Conybeare’s findings supports risk homeostasis theory.
Although a significant decrease was observed in the number of occupant fatalities, the
increase in non-occupant fatalities was not significant. Instead of a net decrease in safety, a
net increase was observed. Other studies have also failed to find evidence of risk
homeostasis. Hakkert, Zaidel and Sarelle (1980) and Robertson (1977a, 1981) report a
decrease in the number of fatal crashes coinciding with the introduction of safety legislation.
They also did not report any increases in the rate of non-occupant fatalities as is predicted
by the shift in risk hypothesis. In Australia, Cowley and Cameron (1976) and Foldvary and
Lane (1974) estimated that the saving in lives was somewhere in the range of 10 to 20
percent below the pre-legislation trend. Muller (1980) and Watson, Zador and Wilks (1980)
report that the repeal of motorcycle helmet laws led to an observed drop in helmet use of
approximately 40 to 50 percent. Both studies concluded that as a result of the repeal of the
laws, there was an increase in the number of fatalities. This was somewhere in the
magnitude of 38 percent (Watson et al, 1980).
Two of the major studies which have been cited as evidence for risk homeostasis theory
have been severely criticised. Peltzman (1975) regressed traffic death rates on a set of
variables which he had postulated would-influence a driver’s demand for risk taking
behaviour in the period 1945-1966 (after which time there was a great increase in the
enactment of safety regulations). These factors were; the (economic) cost to the driver of
having a crash, increase in income, time related income (for example, taxi drivers), level of
alcohol in the blood, age the driver, the speed at which the driver is travelling.
It was predicted that there would be a 10 to 25 percent decrease in the occupant fatality rate
and a 7 to 20 percent decrease in the total vehicle fatality rate (Peltzman, 1975). The aim of
Peltzman’s study was to investigate any changes in the fatality rate for the pre-regulatory
period compared with the post-regulatory period. Peltzman concluded that there had been
no decrease in the fatality rate in the post-regulatory period.
Peltzman’s methodology has been severely criticised (Joksch, 197G, Lindgren and Stuart,
1978, Robertson, 1977b) on a number of points. It is argued that the multiple regression
model used by Peltzman did not predict the fatality rate accurately for the period prior to
regulation. He did not separate the deaths which involved cars subject to the regulations
from deaths involving cars not subject to the regulations. Vehicles fitted with seat belts in
the year following the passing of seat belt laws were found to have a lower casualty rate
when compared with pre-regulation vehicles. Joksch (1976) argues that the fatality rate
contradicted published information concerning their crash involvement. When applied to the
Swedish situation, the type of analysis used by Peltzman revealed a significant decrease in
the fatality rate for car occupants (Lindgren and Stuart, 1980).
Adams (1981) attempted to compare the crash rate of 13 countries with mandatory seat belt
regulations with four countries without such legislation. The total road fatalities of all the
countries were converted to indices with 1973 (the year of the oil crisis) set at 100. Indices
containing the average indices of the countries with laws were obtained and compared
against the average indices of the countries without laws. The crash fatality index of
countries with mandatory seatbelt laws was found to drop by 17 percent in the post-
regulatory period. However, the index for non-law countries dropped by 25 percent.
A number of criticisms have been levelled at the Adams study. It is argued that only
occupants affected by seatbelt legislation should have been used and that a distinction
should have been made between occupant fatalities and non-occupant fatalities
(motorcyclists, pedestrians etc.). Only those road users affected by the legislation should be
expected to show any signs of compensation (Matthews, cited in Hamer, 1981, Tingvall,
1982). The seat belt wearing figures used by Adams were clearly underestimated, a fact
which calls into question the validity of his results. Tingvall (1982) divided drivers according
to seatbelt usage. A clear distinction was made between those drivers who wore seat belts
before and after the law was enacted, those belted after the law but unbelted previously, and
those drivers unbelted both before and after the law was introduced. Drivers unbelted
before and after the law tend to belong to high risk groups (young males, drunk drivers).
Tingvall found no evidence for an increase in the fatality rate in the year following the
enactment of seat belt legislation. A relevant point may be that in 1975 in Sweden, 44.7
percent of all front seat passengers killed were not wearing their seatbelts.
Evans and Wasielewski (1982a, 1982b) used vehicle headway as a measure of driver risk
taking behaviour. The rationale behind this study was that short headways (those less than
one second) were indicative of a willingness to take greater risk than the longer headway
used (those greater than or equal to one second). This assumption appears to be borne out
by the fact that a significant relationship was found between crash involvement and driver
risk taking behaviour. However, in an investigation of the effect of seatbelts on risk taking in
two jurisdictions (Ontario and Michigan) one of which had mandatory seatbelt laws and the
other that did not, Evans, Wasielewski and von Buseck
(1982) found no relationship
between driver risk taking and the wearing of seatbelts. In fact, the drivers wearing their
seatbelts (in both cities) were more likely to drive with longer headways than those without
seatbelts. Evans et al concluded that there was no evidence to support the concept of
compensation, but nor was there any directly to refute it.
Rumar, Berggrund, Jernberg and Ytterbom (1976) measured possible driver risk taking
behaviour in relation to the use of studded tyres. The speeds, following distances, and the
presence or absence of studded tyres were checked on several thousand vehicles. Contrary
to the prediction of risk homeostasis, drivers did not totally offset the safety advantage
provided by the use of studded tyres. Furthermore, drivers with studded tyres on their
vehicles still drove with a greater safety margin than did drivers of vehicles with unstudded
tyres. Given the evidence (Tingvall, 1982) that drivers who do not wear seatbelts tend to
belong to high risk groups, (drivers more likely to take risks and be involved in crashes) it
may be that those drivers who do not choose to fit their cars with studded tyres are also
more likely to belong to the same type of high risk group. The presence or absence of risk
homeostasis cannot be measured by a comparison of these two groups.
A number of theoretical issues also present problems for the risk homeostasis theory.
Firstly, the model assumes that risk is the controlling factor in driver behaviour (Cole and
Withey, 1982, Slovic and Fischhoff, 1982). In doing so, other costs and benefits would not
be accounted for. There may also be a major difference in the influence of active safety
measures (a safety measure that directly changes the probability of crash involvement) and
passive safety measures (a safety measure that does not change likelihood of crash
involvement, but does reduce the severity of the crash when it occurs). The problem with
passive safety measures is that no direct compensatory mechanism exists (Slovic and
Fischhoff, 1982). It is not possible to drive in such a way that the safety advantage of a
padded dashboard is offset. With an improved braking system, it is possible to offset that
advantage directly, by braking later than if the system were not as good. This is particularly
important considering that most of the work in the area has involved detailed analysis of
crash statistics in relation to the introduction of seatbelt legislation. Devices designed to
reduce crash frequency have not always worked, but it is not necessarily true that this is the
case given safety devices aimed at reducing crash severity. Graham (1982) argues that
when the consequences of an act are improbable and are painful to imagine (such as a
severe car crash) an individual’s actions will not be altered by changes in the margin of
The concept of subjective risk would appear to be far more complex than the risk
homeostasis model would imply. The analysis of the problem of subjective risk is made
more difficult as there is no direct means to measure it. Nor, when such measures are made
can we be certain that the subject’s definition of risk is the same as that of the researcher.
People are often biased in their interpretation of risk (Slovic, Fischhoff and Lichtenstein,
1980, Tversky and Kahneman,
A number of the basic assumptions of risk
homeostasis are yet to be verified. Most importantly, these concern the ability of road users
to perceive risk accurately. The qualitative aspects of risk perception and effects of indirect
(passive) versus direct (active) safety measures require further investigation. In terms of
aggression in driving, the model implies that the road user is driving at the level of risk he or
she is prepared to accept.
Absence of subjective risk:
Naatanen and Summala (1974, 1976) and Summala (1986), advance the view that road
users for the most part do not experience feelings of subjective risk of being involved in
crash while on the road. First advanced by Naatanen and Summala in 1974, this view
postulated the existence of a subjective risk monitor which when activated generates varying
degrees of subjective risk
(or fear) depending on the amount and nature of the risk
experienced in the current or expected driving situation. Summala (1986) proposed a zero
risk theory of driver behaviour which postulates that drivers tend to adapt to the risks on the
road and that their motives drive them towards higher speeds and riskier driving habits.
The zero-risk theory in general describes any situation in which the driver maintains a given
adequate safety margin. Driving is seen as an habitual activity based on largely automatic
control of safety margins. The driver is not normally concerned with risks, but in most
situations knows what he or she must do in order to avoid the possibility of crashes. Instead
of regulating some kind of risk measure as in risk homeostasis theory, drivers control safety
margins around themselves.
‘A perceived or anticipated threat to this critical space triggers
the fight or flight response’ (Summala, 1986, p. 9). The subjective risk monitor is activated
and some kind of immediate escape response is elicited. Another response which Summala
(1986) has called the avoidance learning process affects future decision making and
behaviour. In the avoidance learning process, the experience of risk or fear is the primary
‘The driver learns which cues anticipate this experience which is of
course closely related to objective hazards’ (Summala, 1986, p.10). The driver in general
tends to both escape and avoid such aversive experiences.
With increasing driving experience it is postulated that the driver acquires an internal
representation of the traffic system in addition to internal models of expectancies for specific
(Summala, 1986). These expectancies are more perception-like and
deterministic than the real driving situation (Naatanen and Summala, 1976). As a result
there develops an inability on the part of the driver to take into account the small stochastic
fluctuations in traffic risks in addition to the disappearance of the drivers original fear
responses to many driving situations. As a consequence the driver’s subjective probability
of the outcomes of their behaviour are distorted, resulting in driving with too small safety
As with risk homeostasis theory, this theory has major implications for the approach taken to
the control of dangerous and aggressive driving. If the level of subjective risk is almost non-
existence, then the driver is able to satisfy any of the other motives he or she may desire to
see fulfilled (for example, thrills, fast driving—activities frequently labelled aggressive driving)
without the constraint of fear (feelings of risk). In support of this, Quimby and Watts (1981)
observed that road users who drove at inappropriate speeds resulting in greater risk taking
appeared to consider the risk to be quite low. Naatanen and Summala (1976) present a
number of claims as evidence for their argument. However, whether road users are actually
acting in these ways must still be considered open to debate.
In support of their argument, Naatanen and Summala argue that:
1. People do not seem to minimise their exposure to the road environment.
2. Many forms of behaviour on the road appear to indicate a lack of subjective risk.
3. Choice and maintenance of motor vehicles often reflect no concern for safety.
4. Many of those safety countermeasures which have been based on the premise that
drivers feel some subjective risk have failed.
5. The individual experience of road users does not seem to contain elements of the
subjective risk of crash occurrence.
Naatanen and Summala (1976) consider a number of factors to be responsible for reducing
the road user’s sense of the subjective risk of having an crash. Research into risk
perception has found that many people feel that although the risk of having a crash in
particular situations does exist, that it won’t happen to them
(Svenson, Fischhoff and
MacGregor, 1985). It appears that people learn of risks through their own everyday
experiences. These include personal experiences with crashes, close calls and those
incidents they see occurring or reported in the media. It is also known that drivers often
discuss traffic crashes and pay close attention to those reported in the media (Wilde and
Ackersviller, 1977, cited in Wilde, 1982b). When asked to rate the frequency of death of a
number of crash types in the United States, it was found that people generally knew which
events were most often fatal. However, they seriously misjudged the frequency of events
within that framework (Lichtenstein, Layman and Coombs, 1978, cited in Slovic et al], 1980).
Traffic crashes were among those factors generally overestimated.
In spite of this, there is evidence to support the notion that people do not feel that they
belong to the same population as drivers involved in crashes (Svenson, Fischhoff and
MacGregor, 1985). Goldstein (1964) argued that drivers thought that a small group of bad
drivers caused all the crashes on the roads. The above points are further supported by
evidence which suggests that most drivers feel that they are more skillful and less likely to
be involved in crashes than the average driver (Svenson et a], 1985). This has also been
reported by other researchers
(Preston and Harris,
(1966) found that
hypnotised subjects were not concerned that there were dangers on the roads. They felt
skillful enough to deal with those dangers that did exist on the road. This is in contrast to the
opinions held by the subjects when not hypnotised, who felt that there was great danger to
be found on the road.
Zuercher, Sass, and Wiess (1971, cited in Naatanen and Summala, 1976) noted that crash-
involved drivers apportion their own driving skill a major share of credit for saving peoples’
lives in crashes. Grieg (1970, cited in Naatanen and Summala, 1976) remarks that this lack
of subjective risk may explain why fear-arousing campaigns to encourage drivers to drive
more carefully have failed. Drivers involved in risky traffic situations have also been known
to interpret these dangerous situations as being less dangerous or of slight risk (Naatanen
and Summala, 1976).
It would appear therefore, that while people overestimate the likelihood of crash involvement,
their behaviour implies that they rate the likelihood of car crash involvement as quite low
(Naatanen and Summala, 1976). Personal experience would indicate that the driving task
does not entail feelings of subjective risk until a situation arises that requires action to avoid
a collision. To quote McKenna (1982), ‘from the armchair there is a clear risk of crash
involvement, as the statistics demonstrate, but from the driver’s seat there appears to be
little experience of these statistics’ (p. 873).
The feeling of drivers that crashes do not happen to them is reinforced by the fact that
crashes are rare events when compared with the amount of time spent on the road. Drivers
may not feel the need to change their driving behaviour (dangerous or not) in view of their
experiences. The probability of being involved in a crash on any given trip is quite low
(Slovic, Fischhoff and Lichtenstein, 1978). Summala (1986) reports that a Finnish driver on
average would experience a fatal crash once in every 4.0 million kilometres. Each safe trip
reinforces the idea that seat belts are not needed. ‘The expense of buckling up has been
saved without bearing any costs’ (Slovic et a], 1978, p. 281). On the other hand, the driver
who does wear a seat belt is ‘punished’ for the effort, inconvenience and discomfort without
gaining any benefit.
Summala (1986) argues that, as beginners, most drivers at first feel uncertain or fearful in
many driving situations. However, with experience and continued increases in driving skill,
such feelings are extinguished. To a large extent, the driver as the operator of the vehicle
can determine the nature and degree of the difficulty of the traffic situations he or she should
cope with. As such, drivers have a subjective feeling of control when in the driving situation
(Naatanen and Summala, 1976). That such feelings may exist is evidenced in the work of
Bragg and Finn (1985) who found that subjects, while travelling as passengers in a vehicle,
perceived a greater risk than when they drove themselves. It is likely that the qualitative
feeling of control over unexpected situations is decreased for the person travelling as a
passenger. As an indication of this, LeGarde, Lubman and Hartnett (1971) propose that
non-drivers can more readily be persuaded to wear seatbelts than drivers, because the need
to wear seatbelts can be determined to some extent by the driver. Naatanen and Summala
(1976) generally conclude that the effect of being the driver of the vehicle is to reduce
relative risk. As drivers we may feel that we are better able to control any unforeseen events
than as passengers. This aspect of control is aided by drivers, because of their experiences
on the road, having certain expectancies about the traffic situation ahead.
Other factors also influence perception of risk by drivers. An example of this is lack of
supervision on the road. The risk of apprehension for traffic violations is relatively small
(Naatanen and Summala, 1976). Traffic violations come to be viewed as risk free, especially
if the legal norms for traffic regulations are not accepted. Distortion of perceptual and
cognitive processes or underestimation of the physical forces at work may also act to reduce
subjective feelings of risk (Naatanen and Summala, 1976).
In addition, other drivers can be seen displaying no concern for the possible risks involved in
dangerous driving, with the effect of influencing other drivers (Naatanen and Summala,
1976). The social learning theory of aggression would predict that drivers would imitate the
behaviour of others, in particular the behaviour of other individuals important to the driver.
Bandura (1983) has proposed three principal sources on which aggressive behaviour may
be modelled; the family, the subculture in which the family reside and the mass media. This
view supports that of Carlson and Klein (1970) who found a positive correlation between
fathers’ and sons’ convictions for traffic violations. Bandura (1983) and Eron and Huesmann
(1984) are now convinced on the basis of their evidence that television plays a significant
role in influencing aggressive behaviour patterns. There are important implications for the
way in which driving behaviours are modelled. Some aggressive drivers may in fact model
their own particular driving behaviours on the high speed car chases which frequent the
small screen, and in which the vehicle (or vehicles) is generally destroyed. ‘However, the
hero walks away unscathed.
The view can be supported that there exists a close link between the issues of aggression
and risk taking by drivers. This report has considered two quite different approaches to the
issue of risk taking by drivers, the controversial theory of risk homeostasis and the zero-risk
hypothesis’. Further research into the role of the motivational determinants of driver risk
taking behaviour and methods of risk assessment by drivers is required.
Other factors influencing aggressive behaviour
A number of different authors have investigated the interrelationship between the occurrence
of violent and aggressive behaviour and other internal
(psychological or physiological)
factors and external (environmental) factors. The majority of this review has and will be
considering the role of psychological and sociological factors governing aggressive
behaviour amongst road users. The literature to be considered in this section will consider
factors other than these (for example, organic brain disease, alcohol, marijuana, ambient
temperature, noise) which may modify the expression of aggression in driving. The literature
on the general effects of these factors is relatively large. However, very little has been
conducted in relation to road users. Most of the studies have reported that the expression of
aggression is influenced by environmental stressors such as noise (Mueller, 1983), ambient
temperature (Bell and Baron, 1981), the consumption of alcohol (Taylor and Leonard, 1983),
and brain pathology (Moyer, 1981).
A number of authors have reported that stressful events may be related to the occurrence of
traffic crashes. McMurray (1970) reports that during the six months before and after divorce,
drivers in her study had a significantly higher crash and violation rate than the general
population. The types of violations more often found at these times included speeding,
failure to yield, and close following. Holt (1982) , Selzer (1969) and Selzer, Roger and Kern
(1965) reported that social stressors in the form of personal crises and quarrels with
significant others contribute to an increase in crash and violation rates. Hampson (1984)
reports three in-depth studies of crashes (Mclean, 1981, Sabey and Staughton, 1975 and
1980) that identified emotional stress as a contributing factor in crashes. The
percentage contribution of emotional stress reported by each of these studies was 3.2
percent, 1 percent and 2.1 percent respectively. Selzer and Vinokur (1974) argue that life
change and current subjective stress may be more important in the occurrence of road traffic
crashes than personality or social factors. Stress may act in a number of different ways
such as increasing aggression, or causing distraction. There is some implication in these
studies that emotional stress may influence aggressive behaviour, possibly by increasing
risk taking, bad temper, or as Macdonald (1964) recorded, triggering suicide attempts.
There is speculation with regard to the reasons why stress may be related to crashes.
Increased risk taking while under stress has been suggested (Valentine, Williams and
Young, 1977). Another suggestion relates to the discharge of emotion when under stress
which result in crashes (Viney, cited in Valentine et a], 1977). This is similar to the concept
of discharging of tension postulated by a number of authors to relate to causes of crashes.
Drivers with low tension tolerance were postulated to use their vehicles to release tension
(Schuman, Pelz1 Ehrlich and Selzer, 1967). It appears that risk taking and aggressive
behaviour may be influenced by some stressful events, however, the exact relationship has
not been determined. Hampson (1984) reports that the exact relationship may be difficult to
determine, given the possible variation in definitions and "the indirect relationship between
emotional stress and immediate human actions" (p. 15).
While a complete review lies outside the scope of this study, a number of authors have also
suggested that alcohol in addition to psychomotor impairment (impaired motor skills, vision,
reaction time), has the effect of modifying the expression of the personality (Goffioul, 1971)
or releasing aggressive personality traits (Payne and Selzer 1962). Yates, Meller and
Troughton (1987) regard acts of aggression to be a major behavioural complication of
alcoholism. They comment that alcohol seems to precipitate violence in some alcoholics.
Yates et a] (1987) also report on the antisocial personality disorder which is frequently
associated with alcoholism. The antisocial alcoholics in this study were more likely to be
involved in motor vehicle crashes, fights, marital disputes and suicide attempts than were
nonalcoholic patients with antisocial personality disorder.
Mitchell (1985) maintains that the opinion that alcohol consumption impairs judgement and
increases risk taking behaviour is controversial and has been since the 1950's. The early
studies which popularised the concept actually measured subjective evaluation of
performance under intoxication. Mitchell argues that experimental results have been
conflicting and that studies have shown that individual differences in the response to alcohol
are quite large. Wallgren and Barry (1970, cited in Barry, 1973) have argued that these
differences are attributable to different motivational and emotional changes caused by
alcohol. Barry (1973) has also reported that according to some atypical reports, alcohol
increases aggressive and nervous moods. More often however, laboratory experiments on
humans have shown little evidence for an increase in aggressive behaviour (Barry, 1973).
Barry reports that studies of self rated moods have often reported a decrease rather than an
increase in aggression. In conclusion, Barry argues that alcohol can have a sedative and a
disinhibitory effect. The sedative effect will cause inattention and sleep, whereas the
stimulating, disinhibitory effect (which relates to aggressiveness) can increase driver risk
(characterised by impulsive actions) in the form of self-destructive
behaviour, increased assertiveness, dissociation from sober driving habits and impaired self
criticism (resulting in impaired risk estimation).
This short examination of the literature suggests that there is some relationship between
alcohol use and risk taking in driving although it has not been firmly established. Simpson
and Warren (1981) argue that the exact causal link between alcohol and crashes can only
be inferred from experimental studies. Donovan, Marlatt and Salzburg (1983) in a review
article concluded that alcohol serves to increase levels of covert hostility and overt
aggression which may be translated into driving-related aggression, speeding, risk taking
and sensation-seeking behaviour. However, while violence and aggression would appear to
be characteristic of at least some alcoholics, not all alcoholics are aggressive or have
crashes while intoxicated (Yates et al, 1987). The behavioural problems associated with
alcohol and driving may be the direct result of alcohol and or the result of a more basic
problem that has also contributed to the individual’s difficulties with alcohol.
The role of drugs other than alcohol in crash causation is receiving increased attention.
Brahams (1987) in an article on medicine and the law comments that drugs intended to calm
and sedate may produce unexpected aggression or lessening of control. However, the
extent to which this view can be accepted is uncertain. Linnoila and Seppala (1985) argue
that the effect of antidepressants on driving is unknown, although clinical studies indicate
that some impairment of skills occurs. However, they also found that antidepressants may
have beneficial effects. Sharma (1976) makes the comment that barbiturate intoxication is of
ten accompanied by aggressive behaviour and lack of emotional control.
Seppala, Linnoila and Mattila (1979) report that cannabis may impair driving to a dangerous
degree. While Moskowitz (1976) recognises that marijuana use produces impairment in
driving skills, he argues that there appears to be no evidence that driver risk taking is
affected. In fact, he found that subjects were less willing to take risks when under the
influence of marijuana. Subjective reports indicate that marijuana appears to have a
sedating rather than stimulating effect (Le Dain Commission, 1972, cited in Moskowitz,
1976). In a study by Pliner, Cappell and Miles (1972, cited in Moskowitz, 1976) subjects
under the influence of marijuana were rated as being less aggressive. This conclusion is
supported in a review by Seppala, Linnoila and Mattila
(1979) who observed that, in
laboratory studies, willingness to take risks is reduced. It would appear, therefore that
marijuana does not contribute to aggressive displays of behaviour.
Research into the influence of brain pathology in crash causation appears to be quite limited.
The information related here is purely anecdotal. It would seem unlikely that brain diseases
play a major role in the occurrence of aggressive behaviour which results in road crashes,
however, it may be implicated in a very small number. Maletzky (1973) describes the
episodic dyscontrol syndrome. Each of the subjects examined by Maletzky had a history
characterised by episodes of violence. Subjects frequently used their vehicles aggressively
and admitted to using a car as a weapon or to release tension. The cause of this syndrome,
if it exists as a separate disease, is not clear. However, it serves to illustrate that a range of
possibly organic factors can influence driving behaviour. Moyer (1981), reports on brain
tumours that cause aggressive outbursts if located in a particular part of the brain. Sweet,
Ervin and Mark (1969, cited in Moyer, 1981) describe one patient who had displayed
hyperirritability for a number of years. He began to have extremely destructive rages and
began to drive his car recklessly. After removal of a tumour from hi< temporal lobe, these
symptoms disappeared to be replaced by more stable and placid behaviour patterns.
In conclusion, this chapter has discussed the view that drivers do not always place safety as
their first priority while driving, and has described a number of other motives road users
might have for aggressive behaviour when driving. However, this is not to say that other
motives for driving behaviour do not exist. In view of this, aggressive behaviour may be
generated when drivers attempt to fulfil motives other than those of safety first and arriving at
their destination. The assessment of risk and the willingness of the individual to be involved
in dangerous behaviour may also influence the probability of the driver engaging in risky
driving practices. Other factors may also influence aggressive or risky behaviour. There is
evidence that stress and alcohol may influence aggressive behaviour, however, there
appears to be little information with regard to the effects of other drugs and diseases on
aggressive driving behaviour.
Methods of measurement
For the most part, the concept of aggression in driving has been dealt with by investigation
of personality variables. A large number of studies have employed psychometric tests in
order to measure or predict aggressive driving behaviour. It is therefore useful at this point
to discuss briefly the theoretical basis of such tests and their validity.
The nature and use of psychological tests
The traditional function of psychological tests has been, "to measure differences between
individuals or between the reactions of the same individuals on different occasions"
(Anastasi, 1982, p. 3). One of the major contemporary developments that has shaped
present day use of psychological tests occurred in the nineteenth century, when it became
apparent that a systematic method of identifying and classifying mental capacities was
"A psychological test is essentially an objective and standardized measure of a sample of
behaviour" (Anastasi, 1982, p. 22). The rationale behind sampling a relatively small section
of an individual's behaviour is the hypothesis that performance on a psychological test
(provided the nature and number of items on the test have been correctly chosen)
corresponds to another larger area of behaviour. A test's diagnostic or predictive value rests
on the degree to which it acts as an indicator of a "relatively broad and significant area of
behaviour" (p.22).' Psychological tests should therefore be regarded as "behaviour samples
from which predictions regarding other behaviour can be made" (Anastasi, 1982, p. 23-24).
Empirical assessment is the only means by which to establish the effectiveness of the
measured behaviour's ability to serve as an index of other behaviour.
The American Psychological Association has developed a detailed guide for the assessment
of psychological tests. Using the present state of knowledge as a base, this guide
represents a summary of recommended practices in test construction administration and
evaluation. Recommended practice includes adequate standardization of test stimuli.
Standardization should be regarded as a, "special application of the need for controlled
conditions ill all scientific observations"
The process of
standardization includes the formulation of detailed instructions for administering the tests.
An important step in the standardization of test procedures is the development of 'norms' .
No previously determined standard's of pass or failure typically C\:~5t for psychological
tests. Generally, an individual's test score is evaluated by comparing it with the scores
attained by others on the same test. Norms, therefore, are only the average (or 'normal')
performance and are established by administering the test to a large representative sample
of the group of people for whom it was designed. This sample is known as the
standardization sample. Norms correspond to the performance of typical or average
persons, and so may not necessarily coincide with the most desirable or ideal performance
Psychological tests are now widely used in manyNar'eas to solve a wide variety of practical
problems ill addition to their use in basic research (for euample, the armed forces, schools,
the clinical setting, and business). The area of psychological testing of concern to this
literature review is that of Personality testing. The assessment of personality is generally
concerned with, "affective, non-intellectual areas of behaviour" (Anastasi, 1982, p. 17). In
this context the term personality test refers to measures of such characteristics as emotional
states, interpersonal relations, motivation, interests and attitudes as distinguished from
abilities. Many of the studies to which we will be referring in this review have also conducted
aptitude and intelligence tests.
A number of different approaches have been developed in attempts to assess personality.
Anastasi (1982) in her book on psychological testing, argues that,
"all available types of personality tests present serious diffiiculties, both
practical and theoretical. Each approach has its own special advantages and
disadvantages. On the whole, personality testing has lagged far behind
aptitude testing in its positive accomplishments" (p. 18).
This lack of advancement, she goes on to say, is not because of a lack of research being
conducted iIi the area, but because of the "rather special difficulties encountered in the
measurement of personality ..." p. 18) . Mischel (1968, cited iii Williams, Henderson and
Mills, 1974) concluded "that standard personality measures have only low predictive ability
with much of the behavioural variance being accounted for by the situation rather than
personality traits as traditionally conceived" (p. 107). In addition, the validity of a given test
can only be established with reference to the particular use for which the test is being
considered. It should be noted at this point that wh)le'Anastasi
(1982) holds grave
reservations with regard to the validity and reliability of the majority of personality measures,
she does not recommend that they be discarded altogether. Given that the test involved has
been adequately standardized and employed in the proper manner, psychometric tests may
be able to provide useful information, although it may be qualitative in nature. The majority
of psychometric techniques are subject to the qualities, experience and training of the test
administrators, and other variable characteristics of the testing situation. Studies using
psychometric measures discussed in the following sections need to be assessed with care,
paying special attention to the methodological practices of the researcher/s.
The next section on psychometric tests and methodology will. discuss the types and validity
of the various psychometric techniques available to and used by researchers in the area of
Psychometric tests used in the measurement of driver aggression
Psychometric tests used in the investigation of aggression in driving have included;
projective techniques, objective techniques (self report inventories), and either psychiatric or
more general interviews. The majority of studies appear to have used questionnaire and
interview techniques, but projective techniques have also been used extensively. A large
number and variety of tests have been employed by researchers in a wide variety of
settings. Most have been employed in attempts to identify aggressive and/or hostile
personality traits of drivers. In addition to the use of personality tests, the following measures
have also been taken:
intelligence and aptitude tests.
various psychophysical measures (reaction time, depth perception).
various psychophysiological measures (galvanic skin response, heart rate).
Intelligence tests used in studies of driver aggression have included, the Shipley Abstraction
Test (Quenault, 1968a, 1968b, Quenault and Parker, 1973), Raven's Standard Progressive
(Williams et al,
1974), Weschler-Bellevue Intelligence
(Conger, Gaskill, Glad,
Hassel, Rainey, Sawrey and Turrell, 1959) and the Gallup Thorndike Verbal Intelligence test
(Malfetti and Fine, 1962). Other tests have included the Semantic Differential Test (Malfetti
and Fine, 1962) and the Standardized Test of Traffic and Driving Knowledge for Drivers of
Motor Trucks (Malfetti and Fine, 1962).
Problems with the use of projective and objective techniques
The use of questionnaire and projective techniques in the measurement of aggression is not
without problems. In particular, the degree to which the scores obtained on projective and
questionnaire tests actually reflect an individual's propensity to engage in aggressive
behaviour requires close scrutiny. The vast majority of these tests do not directly measure
aggression but attempt to obtain information regarding hostile feelings and impulses. Terms
such as hostility and aggressiveness have been used interchangeably to indicate the
individual's propensity for aggression. Kaufmann (1965) has pointed out that the degree to
which this can be determined on the basis of test scores depends on the degree to which the
subject has some belief that his or her behaviour will actually reach its intended victim. If the
individual's subjective probability of their behaviour reaching its goal is zero, then it is not
possible to determine whether the individual's actions would have been different given a
greater than zero prc~bability of the aggressive behaviour being successful. In addition,
personality tests can be expected to reveal large subcultural as well as cultural differences
(Anastasi, 1982). For example the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)
revealed significant elevations on certain scales in other countries when the original
Minneapolis norms are used (Dahlstrom and Dahlstrom, cited in Anastasi, 1982) . Cultural
differences about the type of behaviour considered socially desirable may influence scores.
Studies investigating the characteristics of drivers involved in crashes have found conflicting
results. This may be due to a number of different factors such as methodological differences
arid/or the method of implementation and interpretation of tests. No attempt will be made
here to provide a detailed review of the methodologies or the findings of these siudies, as
they will be reviewed in later sections. However, a short discussion of the use of
psychometric tests would be appropriate.
Tables 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4 provide a summary of the projective, questionnaire and interview
techniques employed by various researchers in order to investigate road user characteristics
in different countries over the last 30 to 40 years, although the listing is not exhaustive. The
majority of studies included in this listing are post-1955. Goldstein (1961) provides a listing
of research up to 1957 on human variables in safe motor vehicle operation which includes
lists of psychometric tests employed by researchers.
Projective techniques which have been used in research into driver aggression include: the
Rorschach (Malfetti and Fine, 1962), Holtzman Inkblot (Pitariu, 1985), the Rosenzweig
PictureFrustration test (Burkner, 1975). Projective techniques are generally concerned with
emotional, motivational, interpersonal arid intellectual aspects of behaviour. These types of
test typically focus attention on personality as a whole rather than measuring of individual
traits. The projective technique originated in the clinical setting and most ref lect the
influence of psychoanalytic concepts (Anastasi, 1982).
TABLE 3.1 Types of projective tests used in the investigation of driver
Conger et al (1957)
Conger et al (1959)
Malfetti and Fine (1962)
Preston and Harris (1965)
Thematic Apperception Test:
Conger et al (1957)
Conger et al (1959)
Malfetti and Fine (1962)
Panek and Wagner (1986)
The Sentence Completion Test:
Malfetti and Fine (1962)
Sacks Sentence Completion Test:
Conger et al (1959)
According to the exponents of projective techniques, these tests are, "especially effective in
revealing covert, latent or unconscious aspects of personality" (Anastasi, p. 565).
Projective techniques are generally distinguishable by the unstructured nature of the task.
That is, the tasks designed for use in projective tests generally permit an unlimited variety of
possible responses. Testing procedures are disguised so that the type of psychological
interpretation that will be made on the basis of the individual's responses to the test are
rarely obvious to the person undertaking the test. The instructions provided to the individual
undertaking the test tend to be very general, to allow "free play to individual fantasy"
(Anastasi, 1982, p. 564). Test stimuli also tend to be ambiguous for the same reasons.
The hypothesis upon which projective techniques are based argues that A...
. the way in
which the individual perceives and interprets the test material, or "structures" the situation,
will reflect fundamental aspects of her or his psychological functioning@ (Anastasi, 1982, p.
564). The individual's responses reflect significant and relatively enduring personality
attributes" (p. 588)
When evaluated as psychometric instruments, the majority of projective tests perform very
poorly. Anastasi (1982) reports that in spite of the popularity of projective techniques in
clinical settings, there is a large and growing body of evidence that indicates that many other
factors also influence a given individual's test responses, in particular, temporary states such
as those induced by hunger, sleep deprivation, drugs, anxiety and frustration. There is also
some suggestion that responses to projective tests may be stimulus specific and therefore of
questionable generalizability. Projective tests are also susceptible to falsified responding
although perhaps less so than the self report inventories. They also tend to be inadequately
standardized in the areas of administration and scoring. Analysis of test responses still
appears to rely heavily on the clinical expertise of the test administrator. It may therefore be
impossible to compare across test application and across test administrators.
In conclusion, as the value of projective tests lies in the hands of the test administrator,
projective tests may serve a more useful purpose as a qualitative aid in interviewing than as
Self report inventories used in research into driver aggression include; Minnesota Multi-
phasic Personality Inventory
(MMPI) (Brown and Berdie,
1960, Conger et al,
Maudsley Personality Inventory (Quenault, 1968a, b), Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament
Scale (Mozdzierz et al, 1975), 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire (Williams et al, 1974) .
Questionnaires are often referred to as measures of hostility or aggression. However, as
noted previously, they are used implicitly as measures of aggressiveness (Edmunds and
Kendrick, 1980). Established objective scales are listed in Table 3.2. Scales developed
specifically for the purpose of evaluation of driver attitudes and traits are listed in table 3.3.
Many of these scales were developed using sub-scales of previously established scales and
using items which the researchers felt related to aggression.
A number of approaches have been utilized in formulating, assembling, selecting and
grouping items for questionnaires. These include content validation, empirical criterion
keying, factor analysis and personality theory. These approaches are not however exclusive
of each other, but can theoretically be combined to form a single personality questionnaire
Content validation. The inclusion of items in this formulation is based on content validity.
That is items which according to some kind of a priori (but essentially nontheoretical)
judgement appear relevant tP aggression (Edmunds and Kendrick, 1980).
TABLE 3.2 Types of objective techniques used in studies of driver aggression.
Conger et al (1957)
Conger et al (1959)
Brown and Berdie (1960)
Beamish and Malfetti (1962)
Mozdzierz et al (1975)
Minnesota Counceling Inventory
Beamish and Malfetti (1962)
Maudsley Personality Inventory
Quenault (1968a, b)
Quenault and Parker (1973)
Mozdzierz et al (1975)
Beamish and Malfetti (1962)
Eysenck Personality Inventory
Williams et a1 (1974)
Thurstone Temperament Scale
Conger et al (1957)
16 Personality Factor
Williams et a] (1974)
Quimby and Watts (1.981)
Hostility and Direction of
Williams et al (1974)
Holmes and Rahe Life Events
Selzer and Vinokur (1974)
Buss Aggression Scale
Selzer and Vinokur (1974)
Sung Self Rating Depression
Selzer and Vinokur (1974)
Dilemmas of Choice Questionnaire
Gumpper and Smith (1968)
Gibson's Spiral Maze
Shoham et al (1984)
Taylor Anxiety Scale
Conger et al (1957)
Shoham et al (1984)
Suckerman's Sensation Seeking
Shoham et al (1984)
Barrat's Impulsivity Scale
Shoham et al (1984)
Siebrecht Attitude Scale
Conger et al (1957)
Preston and Harris (1965)
Beamish and Malfetti (1962)
Allport-Vernon Study of
Conger et al (1957)
Conger et al (1959)
In general, the test designer submits a number of items for judgement by a team of qualified
judges. The items upon which the judges were able to agree are retained (Edmunds arid
Kendrick, 1980). The subject's response to each question is regarded as an index of the
actual presence or absence of the particular attitude or behaviour described in the question.
However, Anastasi points out that few tests in use at present rest their claims completely on
content validity. Edmunds and Kendrick report that such scales are of little use as a means
of measuring aggressiveness. Lanyon and Goodstein
(1971, cited in Edmunds and
Kendrick, 1980) comment that the usefulness of these techniques depends on the degree to
which: the judges were competent to judge themselves with respect to the questionnaire
items, the subjects would respond truthfully, and the clarity or ambiguity of the test items.
Empirical criterion keying. This technique involves the development of a scoring key based
on some kind of external criterion. The selected test items should be capable of
distinguishing between criterion groups. Anastasi
(1982) provides the example of the
Woodworth Data Sheet in which no item was retained for use in this inventory if 25 percent
or more of a normal sample answered it in the unfavourable direction. It was claimed that a
personality characteristic occurring with such frequency in a normal sample could not be
indicative of abnormality. Subject responses to questions developed using criterion keying
are scored in terms of their empirically derived behaviour correlates. The responses to items
are regarded as being diagnostic of the criterion behaviour (Anastasi, 1982).
TABLE 3.3. Scales Developed for Individual Studies.
Many of the following studies have developed their
questionnaires using items which they felt might distinguish
between groups with high and low crash frequency.
SCALES DEVELOPED FOR
Shoham, Rahave, Markovski,
Chard and Baruch (1984)
Conger et al (1959)
Mayer and Treat (1977)
Schuster and Guilford (1964)
Donovan, Queisser, Salzburg
and Umlauf (1985)
Selzer and Vinokur (1974)
Selzer, Vinokur and Wilson (1977)
Sobel and Underhill (1976)
Conger et a] (1957)
McGuire Safe-Driver Scale
Driver Rules and Attitude
Preston and Harris (1965)
Self Report Driving
Panek and Wagner (1986)
Quenault, Golby and Pryer (1968)
Gumpper and Smith (1968)
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is the most widely used personality
invent9ry and an example of empirical criterion keying (Anastasi, 1982). The inventory
consists of ten scales, eight of which consist of items,which were found to differentiate
between a specified clinical group and a normal group of 700 people. Limitations of the
MMPI include inadequate reliability and the inadequate size and representativeness of the
normative sample (700 Minneapolis adults) (Anastasi, 1982). Many ability tests have
nationwide standardization samples. Anastasi argues that differences in MMPI scores could
represent nothing more than differences in interpretation of individual items, instructions,
cultural differences or may in fact reflect genuine emotional problems. Information regarding
demographic variables (age, sex, education, socioeconomic status, ethnic group) should
therefore be considered carefully when interpreting an individual's responses. Ana.<tasi
goes on to say that the MMPI is a clinical instrument, the proper interpretation of which
requires 'considerable psychological sophistication'.
Factor analysis. The desire to obtain a systematic classification of personality traits
prompted researchers to turn to factor analysis. An example of factor analysis is the
Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament Survey and the Cattell l6 Personality Factor
Questionnaire. Anastasi argues that the use of factor analysis allows division of personality
inventory items into relatively homogeneous and independent clusters. This should facilitate
the study of validity against empirical criteria. The Guilford-Zimmerman inventory is the
product of computed intercorrelations between individual items from many personality
inventories which were eventually combined into the one survey. This inventory produces
separate scores for a number of different personality traits. Each score is based on the
responses to 30 different items. The items are expressed in an affirmative form and are
generally directed at the subject. The Cattell Inventories represent an attempt at a
comprehensive description of personality. Cattell regards factor analysis as a procedure for
discovering and identifying underlying causal traits rather than as a data reduction technique
(Anastasi, 1982). Anastasi argues that factors identified through the factor analysis of Cat
tell may be influenced by social stereotypes, rather than an individua]'s trait organization.
Anastasi concludes that the traits identified by Cattell can onl\ be considered tentatively.
The 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire has shown generally low reliability. There is also
inadequate information regarding normative samples and other aspects of test construction
Personality theory. These types of inventories have ustially been developed iii the clinical
setting and formulated within the framework of different theories of personality.
More so than projective techniques, questionnaire measures of personality are open to
faking by subjects. Most items on most personality inventories have one answer which is
more socially desirable than the other (Anastasi 1982). The subject is therefore given the
oppcrtunity to fake his or her responses in either direction depending on his or Jier
motivation. For example, a person applying for a job may wish to present themselves in the
most favourable way and therefore respond to the more favour,able items (Anastasi, 1982) .
Aiiastasi reports that there is strong evidence to support the claim that responses on
personality inventories can be feigned successfully. Edwards (1975, cited in Anastasi, 1982)
has also found that there is good evidence to support the view that the subject may not even
be aware that he or she is tending to choose the socially desirable answers. This behaviour
may be the result of a desire to 'put on a good front'. The person who chooses unfavourable
items may be motivated by a desire to gain attention (Anastasi, 1982)
Techniques have been developed in order to prevent or detect the occurrence of faking. For
example the use of some socially neutral response sets, or the use of the forced choice
Several other response sets have been identified which have in the past made interpretation
of test results difficult. These include the tendency to answer YES to all questions. This
response set is conceived as a continuum, at one end the persistent YES people and at the
other end the persistent NO responders (Anastasi, 1982) . Another response set is that of
deviation (tendency to give unusual responses) . These response styles have now come to
be regarded as indicators of broad and enduring personality characteristics. Anastasi
reports that the responses to items on personality inventories are now regarded as having
"broad diagnostic significance, but in terms of their stylistic properties rather than in terms of
specific item content"
525). In conclusion Anastasi reports that in addition to the
problems outlined above, the behaviour measured by personality inventories may be more
changeable than that measured by ability tests. Diagnostic testing she goes on to say
should be used as an aid in describing and understanding the individual.
Brief mention should also be made of interviewing techniques. In the study of aggression
these have included informal interviews (Tillman and Hobbs, 1949) as well as structured
psychiatric interviews (Conger et al, 1959). Interviews provide two types of information.
They provide the opportunity for observation of behaviour (although the range of such
behaviour is limited within the interview) and the opportunity to elicit life-history information
(Anastasi, 1982). The individual's previous behaviour acts as a good indicator of what he or
she may do in the future (Anastasi, 1982). Good interviewing requires skill in the way in
which information is collected and interpreted. Poor interview techniques may lead to
erroneous conclusions if important information is not elicited from the interviewee or is not
interpreted correctly. A listing of studies discussed in this review which used interview
techniques is provided in Table 3.4. Some of these studies used structured psychiatric
interviews, employing trained psychiatric and/or psychological staff. Others used more
informal techniques, or a combination of both formal and informal interviews.
For more detailed information regarding the nature and use of psychometric tests, the reader
is directed to Anastasi (1982), and the latest editions of the Standards for the Development
of Educational and Psychological Tests and the Mental Measurements Yearbook.
TABLE 3.4. Lists studies that have utilised interview techniques.
Conger et al (1957)
Conger et al (1959)
Sobel and Underhill (1976)
Tillman and Hobbs (1949)
Extreme forms of driver aggression
In order to investigate the role of aggression in the causation of traffic crashes, this chapter
addresses a number of issues raised in the literature dealing with role of extreme aggression
and violence in road crashes. This form of aggression is considered to include any
behaviour where the intent was to cause physical and/or psychological harm to oneself
(attempted or successful suicide) other roads users (homicide, and other malicious acts) or
property. The following chapter will deal with the less extreme forms of aggression
experienced on the road.
Societal attitudes toward driving offences
Clifford and Marjoram (1978) have argued that, "while most people who break the law are
considered deviant and are socially ostracised, those convicted of motoring offences are
more often still regarded as law abiding citizens and their behaviour is tolerated and even
excused" (p. 2). Elliot and Street (1968, cited in Clifford and Marjoram, 1978) consider that
the public does not equate the man who kills through dangerous driving with a normal
criminal. The difference between traditional crime and driving violations is often stressed by
lawyers (Macmillan, 1975, cited in Clifford and Marjoram, 1978). Ross (1960, cited in
Clifford and Marjoram, 1978) has suggested that the cause of society's attitudes toward
driving offences can be found in the newness of the legislation. Legislation against offence~
does not originate in prevailing norms of the society. It is possible that the roots of this
attitude may be found in strongly held beliefs regarding personal rights and liberties
(Whitlock, 1971). However, independent of societal opinion, many driving of fences do result
from 'willfulness and malicious' intent on the part of the driver (Clifford and Marjoram, 1978).
The relationship between crime and traffic violations
The concept of a link between motor vehicle crashes and crime has a long history in the
road safety literature. It has been hypothesized on a number of occasions (Clifford and
Marjoram, 1978, Porterfield,
1971) that violence and aggression as a
general characteristic of a society is a factor in the rates of death by motor vehicle crash. In
societies where there is a high level of violent crime, there will occur a high rate of death by
motor vehicle crash (Clifford and Marjoram, 1978). Whitlock (1971) proposes that death by
suicide, homicide, violent crime and other forms of accidental death can be regarded as a
manifestation of the quality and quantity of aggression in a given society. Whitlock adds that
measures of the misuse of alcohol can also be regarded as indicators of the extent of
aggression in society. Porterfield (1960) postulated that, "a significant number of drivers of
'death dealing cars as well as their victims have attitudes similar to those who become
involved in suicide and homicide" (p. 897). While an Australian study (Williams, Henderson
and Mills, 1974) found no difference in the criminal records of serious traffic offenders and a
group of non-traffic offenders, other researchers consider there may be a relationship. In a
1967 European study bad drivers were seen as having criminal' tendencies (Achtnich,
1967). Porterfield (1960) argues that if drivers do not have a high regard for their own lives
or the lives of other people, they will most likely have a higher crash rate as well.
Due to international difficulties in defining the concept of violent crime, Clifford and Marjoram
in a study of Australian data chose murder offences as the measure of violent crime in their
study, as this offence is generally well standardized between countries. They found that it
was not possible to say conclusively without further research that a correlation exists
between the murder rate and the rates of death by motor vehicle crashes, although their
data were to a small extent suggestive of that. It should be noted that road deaths are
sudden events and unlike murder are generally caused by a person or persons unknown to
the victim (Cliifford and Marjoram, 1978).
The relationship between violent crime and motor vehicle crashes has been investigated at
the local. level and in society at large. Michalowski (1975) reported on 119 fatal crashes in
Columbus, Ohio in which the driver was considered to be responsible for the death of
another person (who in no way contributed to his or her own death). These incidents are
classified as vehicular homicide or manslaughter by negligence. Crashes in which alcohol
was implicated were not used. It should be noted that level of risk and exposure were not
controlled for. Briefly, his findings were that vehicular homicides occur more frequently in
areas of low socieconomic status and a large black population. These areas accounted for
58.6 percent of all vehicular homicides and contained 76.6 percent of the black population
(37.5 percent of the total population). Areas of higher socioeconomic status accounted for
17.7 percent of the vehicular homicides but contained 34 percent of the total population and
5.6 percent of the black population. Areas in which there was a high rate of murder, rape,
robbery and aggravated assault also tended to have high rates of traffic violence. A
correlation of r = .73 was obtained between vehicular homicides and these other forms of
violence. The party held responsible for vehicular homicides was significantly more likely to
be male (83.1 percent), black (31.1 per hundred thousand - as opposed to 22.6 for whites),
young (54.3 percent were under 35), unmarried (52 percent) and of lower socioeconomic
status (65 percent were unskilled labour or unemployed) than the population at risk. These
characteristics were found to be similar to those involved in other violent crimes. However,
Michalowski reported that black vehicular homicide offenders while over-represented in this
area, constitute a considerably smaller proportion (23.8 percent) of the vehicular homicide
offenders than other offenders of violent crime (53 percent). It has been claimed (DeSilva,
1949, cited in Michalowski, 1975) that black people have less access to cars than the white
population and have lower annual mileage. Michalowski commented that if this is the case,
the fact that blacks are not over-represented among vehicular homicide perpetrators may be
a result of differential opportunity. However, controlling for crash risk and exposure would
most likely inflate their involvement rate in vehicular homicides.
Michalowski also observed that the victims of vehicular homicides tend to have similar
characteristics to the perpetrators although those held responsible for the crash had prior
conviction records for criminal of fences significantly more often. These included both
criminal offences and traff ic violations. Alcohol also made a significant contribution to these
crashes with 45.7 percent of offenders revealing some usage at the time of the crash and
27.9 percent being legally intoxicated. The comparisons made in this study between rates of
violent crime and rates of death by vehicular homicide (which would include only deaths
caused by negligent drivers) may be more appropriate than a comparison of rates of violent
crime and rates of motor vehicle crash deaths (which may include deaths not caused by
negligence on the part of the driver). Michalowski's data suggest that there may be a
relationship between rates of violent crime and rates of vehicular homicide. However, due to
a number of methodological problems, these data must be viewed with caution.
Other writers have found correlations between the number of deaths by motor vehicle crash
and homicide (Haight, 1965, cited in Hamalainen, 1973, Porterfield, 1960, Whitlock, 1971).
Whitlock (1971) found that measures of violent death and crime (rape, robbery, murder)
were correlated positively (and in most cases significantly) with road deaths in 27 world
states (including Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Republic of
Ireland, New Zealand and other western European countries). In Australia, in the years
1960 to 1964, Whitlock reported significant correlations were found between road deaths
and injuries/100 million vehicle-miles and combined suicide and homicide deaths/100,000
population. Significant correlations were also found between road deaths and injuries/100
million vehicle-miles and homicides alone. However, when injuries were excluded, no
significant correlations were found between road deaths and homicides or suicides and
homicides combined. A negative (non-significant) correlation was obtained between road
deaths and injuries and rates of rape and robbery per 100,000 population.
The results of most of these studies suggest that a relationship may exist between rates of
death or injury by motor vehicle accident and violent crime. However, given the
methodological problems of some studies and the difficulties experienced when making valid
international comparisons these results should be regarded with caution. If such a
relationship does exist then the basis of the aggressive driving problem must be found in the
social norms and values of the given society.
Before going on to consider the more general occurrence of aggression ii, driving,
consideration will now be given to the separate but closely related topics of attempted or
actual suicide, culpable driving, and other malicious acts by drivers on the road.
Suicidal intentions are thought to be common in association with depressive mental illness
(Henderson, 1971). It has been suggested in the literature that some motor vehicle crashes
are actually suicides or attempted suicides. There is a relatively large literature concerning
the extent of suicide by motor vehicle.
Motor vehicle crashes as suicide
Fatalities which are the result of motor vehicle crashes are very rarely certified as suicide by
medical examiners (Schmidt, Shaffer, Zlotowitz and Fisher,
1977). Indeed, death by
automobile offers almost the perfect opportunity for individuals wishing to commit suicide or
even murder with little prospect of detection (Macdonald, 1964). The method of suicide
is~nown to follow the social customs of the period (Henderson, 1971). Macdonald (1964)
after interviewing 40 psychiatric patients known to have attempted suicide or suicide and
murder using a motor vehicle reports that the choice of the motor vehicle as the suicide
weapon tends to be governed by its availability. Selzer and Payne (1962) suggest that,
given the high status of the automobile in western society, suicide by automobile may
provide the depressed and frustrated individual with the chance to go out in what he or she
may consider to be "a burst of glory" (p. 239).
The motivation of people wanting to conceal evidence of murder is self-evident and the
desire to conceal real attempts at suicide
(as opposed to attempts designed to seek
attention) must also be obvious. 'The victim may wish to protect his or her family and/or
allow them to collect the insurance benef its without problem (Macdonald, 1964, Valentine,
Williams and Young, 1977). Valentine et al (1977) also suggest that motor vehicle suicide
may allow the suicidal individual to continue to deny that he or she is making a conscious
Crash rates and suicide
It has been estimated by a forensic pathologist (cited in Schmidt et al, 1977) that at least 10
to 15 percent and possibly as high as 30 percent of all single-vehicle crashes are suicides.
Hamburger (1969, cited in Noyes, 1985) reported that 15 percent of the people interviewed
by him had considered attempting suicide using a motor vehicle. However, in spite of these
comments the actual number would appear to be somewhat smaller than the 10 to 15
percent proposed above. The principal finding of Schmidt et al.’s 1977 study was that 1.7
percent (3 of 182 cases) of the total of the fatal crashes they considered were suicide. Of
these 182 fatal crashes, 111 involved a single vehicle. The suicides represented 2.7 percent
of the single vehicle crashes. This is much less than the 10 to 15 percent estimated by the
forensic pathologist in Schmidt et al (1977). The deaths Schmidt et al determined were
suicides had been certified as accidental by the medical examiner’s office. Of the non-fatal
crashes investigated by Schmidt et al, only 1 of 96 cases was finally considered to have
been attempted suicide. The man involved at first denied that the crash had been attempted
suicide, but later admitted to it. In addition, a study by the California Highway Patrol (1967,
cited in Noyes, 1985) identified only 1.6 percent of fatal single vehicle crashes as possible
Bollen (1983) using regression analysis investigated the possibility that a substantial number
of fatal motor vehicle crashes may have a suicide component. The daily patterns of motor
vehicle crash and suicides for the United States in 1972 to 1976 were investigated. He found
that motor vehicle fatalities tended to peak on Saturdays, in the summer months and on
holidays. Suicides were found to be highest on Mondays and on non-holidays. A small
negative correlation was found between motor vehicle fatalities and suicides. Motor vehicle
fatalities and suicides were found to trough and peak on opposite days. The greatest
similarity between motor vehicle crashes and suicides was that the motor vehicle fatality rate
and the suicide rate were both high on New Year’s Day and in summer and spring but were
generally low in winter.
The study conducted by Schmidt et al (1977) consisted of an investigation of a total of 182
fatal crashes (111 single vehicle and 71 multiple vehicle) each resulting in one or more
fatalities in Baltimore County in the U.S.. Ninety-six non-fatal crashes were also investigated.
This sample was matched with the drivers from the fatally injured sample on the following
factors; day of week and approximate time of crash, level of alcohol intoxication, and
proportion of single vehicle collisions. All were drawn from the same geographic area. The
presence of other drugs was also tested for but were not found to be present. Cooperation of
relatives and friends was obtained in order to carry out a psychological autopsy of the
victims. These involved questionnaires and structured interviews. Psychological autopsies
generally involve an evaluation of the personality and psychological components of the
deceased driver. Such ‘autopsies’ also typically include social history, and health factors as
well as judgements regarding the drivers’ depressive-suicidal, sociopathic, homicide,
impulsive, paranoid and overtly psychotic tendencies (Valentine, Williams and Young, 1977).
One problem with this type of study is that it requires relatives and friends to make
judgements after the event about the individual’s state of mind. Given the fatal nature of the
crashes considered, relatives may be more inclined to accept the possibility of mental
disturbance than they would before the crash or if it had not occurred.
A number of studies (Crancer and Quiring, 1970, Hamalainen, 1973, Macdonald, 1964,
Selzer and Payne, 1962) have investigated the personality characteristics and driving
records of individuals hospitalised for suicidal gestures. In general, these studies have found
that their subjects had a greater crash rate than the general population. This appears to be a
fairly robust finding. Only one study (Kennedy et al, 1971, cited in Noyes, 1985) appears to
have found no significant difference in the accident rate (including traffic crashes) of people
who have attempted suicide and those who have not. Crancer and Quiring (1970) in a study
of 915 people hospitalised for suicidal gestures had a statistically higher crash rate that the
general population. They also had more violations for drunken driving, reckless driving,
driving while suspended and negligent driving. This finding is also reflected in those obtained
by Schmidt et al
(1977). Eelkema, Brosseau, Koshnick and McGee (1970) found no
significant difference in the number of suicide attempts between drivers who had
experienced single vehicle crashes and drivers involved in other types of motor vehicle
crashes. However, a significant difference was found in the number of suicide attempts
between patients with single vehicle crashes and those who had not experienced a crash.
Characteristics of suicide attempters
A number of researchers have introduced psychoanalytic theory into discussion of the
causes of some motor vehicle crashes. Jackson (1957, cited in Valentine et al, 1977)
suggests that suicide has its foundations in Freud’s conception that the suicidal person
becomes self destructive as a means to ridding him or herself of intolerable guilt. Various
other researchers have postulated that many motor vehicle crashes may be a result of either
conscious or unconscious self destructive forces and suicidal tendencies (Adams, 1970,
Hamalainen, 1973, Selzer and Payne, 1962). Pokorny (1975, cited in Valentine et al, 1977)
stated that “self destructive trends are expressed through increased risk taking behaviour,
faulty vehicle maintenance, driving while intoxicated, driving while under emotional stress
and so forth”
25). Selzer and Payne
(1962) argued that support for the role of
unconscious motives was provided by the observation that the drivers in their study
generally viewed their crashes as fortuitous.
In contrast, others have been more sceptical about linking suicidal tendencies with such
factors. For example Tabachnick (1973, cited in Selzer et al, 1977) found that significant
personality differences are to be found between known suicide attempters and survivors of
motor vehicle crashes. This result was also reflected in the data of Shaffer et al (1972, cited
in Selzer et al, 1977). They found that, while both successful male suicides and male fatal
crash victim groups were considerably more deviant than the general population, there were
a number of reliable differences indicating more deviancy in the suicide sample than the
crash sample. These results therefore lend little support to the idea that a significant
proportion of these crashes were attempts at (unconscious) self destruction.
Macdonald (1964) considered only individuals known to have attempted suicide or murder
using a motor vehicle. He observed that 25 percent of his patients had character disorders
such as hysterical, passive aggressive, and sociopathic personality disorders. Only a small
number of patients were psychotic or schizophrenic, but all were psychiatric patients. Half of
Macdonald’s patients had made their attempt on impulse following fights or arguments.
Schmidt et al (1977) found after the event that the victims of both the fatal and non-fatal
crashes were rated by their friends and relatives as having above average levels of
psychopathology and social aggressiveness.
The link with alcohol
Selzer and Payne (1962) investigated the possibility that alcohol in combination with suicidal
tendencies may be implicated in crash occurrence. In this study of 60 men undergoing
psychiatric treatment, Selzer and Payne observed significant differences in crash rate
between two groups of suicidal and non-suicidal men. These two groups did not differ in the
number of miles driven or their socioeconomic background. The 33 suicidal men included 17
alcoholics and 16 non-alcoholics. This group as a whole accounted for significantly more
crashes (89) than their 27 non-suicidal (13 alcoholic and 14 non-alcoholic) counterparts who
accounted for 36 crashes. It is of interest that within the 33 member suicidal group by far the
majority of crashes (63) were accounted for by the alcoholic sub-group. The 16 suicidal non-
alcoholics had a total of 26 crashes. While these data were not analysed statistically, they
may indicate a substantial effect of alcohol. Selzer and Payne suggested that crashes in
which alcohol intoxication is a feature may be due not only to the impairment of driving skills
associated with intoxication but also, “because of its potential for reducing the controlling and
conforming function of the super ego, thus releasing aggressive and self destructive
impulses” 1962, p. 240). Donovan, Marlatt and Salzburg (1983) also concluded that alcohol
may serve to increase levels of covert hostility and overt aggression which may be translated
into driver related aggression.
Macdonald (1964) suggested that the extent of attempted and actual suicide by vehicular
crash may be concealed from the authorities and the public in general, because of the
difficulty in assessing the true level. However, from the available evidence the problem of
suicide appears to be relatively small in comparison with the causes of other motor vehicle
crashes. Noyes (1985) estimates that the number of crashes that are suicides is probably
less than five percent. However, given the evidence of Selzer et al (1977) and other
evidence presented the figure may be as low as two to three percent.
Preventing the few motor vehicle suicides that do occur may prove extremely difficult.
Macdonald (1964) points out that the potential victims are generally unlikely to come forward
for help until it is too late. Macdonald suggested that the authorities (police and doctors)
should be made aware of the presence of such a problem in order to initiate early psychiatric
evaluation. He recommended that crashes should not be simply dismissed as being due to
alcohol, fatigue or speed. The presence of skidmarks or the use of seatbelts may be used to
disguise possible suicide attempts. Macdonald reports one case in which a young woman
when attempting suicide had worn her seat belt in order to dispel any suspicion that she had
committed suicide. Many road safety investigators, however, would be reluctant to agree
with such speculations concerning suicide as they appear to be based on very little
Crimes of violence on the road
The literature on extreme forms of aggression (such as homicide or other outward directed
aggressive acts) in driving is relatively small in comparison with the literature on suicide by
motor vehicle. Michalowski
(1975) argues that negligent driving, while not necessarily
demonstrating intent does reveal a willingness to risk violent outcomes. The comment that
many driving offences are not without wilful and malicious intent was illustrated most
forcefully recently with reports of shootings on Los Angeles freeways by apparently irate
motorists (Perrett, 1987). Motorists have reported being shot at for cutting in front of another
vehicle, and for similar supposedly bad mannered and/or dangerous acts. Perrett reported
that the police have indicated a general increase in levels of discourtesy, as drivers take out
their frustrations on the other vehicle or the other driver. This type of behaviour represents a
deliberate intent on the part of the perpetrator to cause damage to persons or property if not
to commit murder. Macdonald (1964) reported on psychiatric patients who admitted in three
cases to attempted murder and in seven to both attempted murder and suicide. Fortunately
these events represent the extreme end of the spectrum in terms of motor vehicle crashes
and appear to be relatively uncommon in occurrence.
Parry’s (1968) study is notable for the extreme nature of the aggressiveness reported by
some of the subjects in the study. Parry’s general hypothesis was that drivers displaying
aggressive driving behaviour are liable to have more crashes while drivers in a state of
anxiety are also more liable and that a combination of anxiety and aggression may lead to
an increase in the rate of crashes. A selection of 382 drivers (279 males and 103 females
ranging in age from 17 to 70) were sampled and a questionnaire developed for the purpose
was administered. Responses to questionnaire items were scored as being more or less
aggressive and more or less anxious. The questionnaire was also followed up by a sentence
completion task and an interview. This involved only 55 of the drivers from both extremes of
the scores for aggression/anxiety. The 30 high extreme drivers initially chosen for interview
(27 were finally used) were found to account for 24.2 percent of all the recorded (self
reported) crashes. The 30 low extreme drivers initially selected (23 were finally interviewed)
accounted for 1.7 percent of all the recorded crashes.
Parry provided examples only of comments made by subjects found to be high in aggression
and anxiety. These highly aggressive sounding subjects were remarkable for their antisocial
attitudes towards other drivers. Driving actions such as giving chase to other vehicles when
annoyed, deliberately edging another vehicle off the road, accelerating when another vehicle
was trying to pass, driving into other vehicles in a temper, intimidating other drivers on the
road (in one instance the driver admitted to intimidating learners in order to assist their
learning to drive) appeared to be commonplace. However, Parry’s study illustrates the
problems with many questionnaire techniques in that they cannot measure aggressive
behaviour or necessarily even tendencies to be aggressive. They can only measure the
feelings or attitudes of hostility or aggression which may or may not be predictive of the way
the individual will act in a real driving situation. There is also no guarantee that subjects are
not faking responses, although Parry’s subjects were not slow in justifying their behaviour.
Parry relied upon subject estimates of crash rates. In addition, he did not appear to set a
time limit on the number of years to be included in the estimate. Parry concluded that high
aggression increased crash liability. The most aggressive drivers, those showing the most
overt aggressive characteristics were typically although not exclusively male and in the 17 to
35 age bracket. The younger age groups (17 to 34 years of age) were also most liable to
crashes. Aggression was found to have a greater influence than anxiety on crash rate. Given
that Parry chose drivers from the extreme ends of his aggression and anxiety scales, it is
perhaps not surprising that the anti-social attitudes and (reported) behaviours expressed by
his highly aggressive drivers were obtained.
Parry used three sampling methods to obtain drivers; random sampling of drivers in the
area, selecting every 10th vehicle on a major road in the area and using a sample of drivers
who voluntarily returned the questionnaire that had been posted to them. No significant
differences were found in the responses of drivers obtained through the three sampling
methods used. On the basis of this, Parry concluded that the attitudes and characteristics of
his sample of low and highly aggressive drivers could be considered representative of the
driving population. However, there is insufficient evidence that this is the case. Although
Parry asked subjects to state miles driven, years driving, and frequency of driving, he did not
appear to control for these factors when drawing conclusions. Given that few other studies
have reported such extremes of attitudes and reported behaviours as the high
aggression/anxiety sample described by Parry, it is unlikely that such people are typical of
the majority of road users and are, in fact, quite rare.
Less extreme forms of driver aggression
A large number of studies have investigated the effects of different driver characteristics
(social, psychological or psychophysiological) on the occurrence of motor vehicle crashes
and traffic violations. A significant percentage of these studies have evaluated the role of
aggressive personality traits in driving crashes through the use of psychometric testing. Thus
in contrast with chapter 2, this section concentrates less on the motives for aggressive
behaviour displayed by ‘normal’ members of the driving population. The emphasis is placed
instead on the way in which aggressive personality traits may influence rates of crash
involvement of drivers.
A major influence in the study of personality factors in road traffic crashes is the concept of
‘accident proneness’ (as it is always referred to in the literature) (Farmer and Chambers,
1939, Greenwood and Woods, 1919, cited in McKenna, 1983). Early investigations into
personal factors and accidents originate at least in part from this work (Tsuang, Boor and
Fleming, 1985). In view of the impact the concept has had on the investigation of personality
factors of drivers, the concept of accident proneness will be discussed. This will be followed
by a review of the role of personality factors in crashes and the general psychological and
social characteristics of drivers most at risk of being involved in crashes.
The concept of accident proneness
Historically, the concept of accident proneness originated in the work of Greenwood and
Woods (1919). They investigated accidents among workers in a munitions factory in Britain
during the First World War. These early investigators examined and compared the
distribution of accidents with alternate hypothetical distributions which were based on
different assumptions about the causes of accidents. If the chance of having an accident is
the same for each individual, then the distribution produced would be a Poisson distribution.
However, if the accident probability was unequal for different individuals, then another
distribution such as the negative binomial could be expected (McKenna, 1983). Accidents
were found to be unevenly distributed with a relatively- small proportion of the workers
having most of the accidents. They went on to hypothesise that personality differences could
account for this distorted distribution. However, such a conclusion was not justified on the
basis of the evidence presented (Henderson, 1971). For instance, no personality tests had
The term accident proneness appears to have been coined by Farmer and Chambers (1939,
cited in Henderson, 1971). They used the term to refer only to personal factors. Farmer and
Chambers also found an uneven distribution of accidents. With the use of psychological
testing they claimed that they had established the existence of accident proneness.
Henderson reports, however, that these tests were of doubtful validity. Only one proved to
be significantly related to accidents. This was not a test of personality. Even so, the study
has been reported as evidence for the existence of personality differences between crash
repeaters and non-crash involved drivers.
A consistent definition of the concept of accident proneness has not been employed by the
many researchers in the area (McKenna, 1983, Shaw and Sichel, 1971). Thus, it is not
surprising that several approaches to accident proneness have developed. The first treats
accident proneness as a single personality trait or type, while another considers it as a
multiple series of characteristics
(McKenna, 1983). Other researchers have described
accident proneness very broadly as ‘a tendency to have accidents’ (Shaw and Sichel, 1971).
This tendency is regarded as a global characteristic, generalising across different
environments. If a person is to be considered accident prone “he must be susceptible to
accidents ‘under all circumstances’ or at all times’” (Shaw and Sichel, 1971, p. 13). Wong
and Hobbs (1919, cite in McKenna, 1983) concluded that “accident tendency was a lifelong
characteristic and that it appears to invade all aspects of life”. Finally, several authors have
postulated that accident proneness refers to innate, unchanging characteristics of the
individual (Hale and Hale, 1972, cited in McKenna, 1983). However, this latter view must be
considered an extremely controversial position as there is effectively no evidence to support
Shaw and Sichel
(1971) contend that whatever the definition ascribed to accident
proneness, the basic underlying principle which all interpretations hold in common is that,
“even when exposed to the same conditions some people are inherently more likely to have
accidents than others...people differ in their innate propensity for accidents” (p. 14).
In general the concept of accident proneness has fallen from favour. The concept has been
criticised on statistical grounds (McKenna, 1982, 1983). McKenna (1983) reports that the
negative binomial fit may be derived from assumptions which do not involve differential risk
of having an accident. Some individuals in any given group would be expected to have more
accidents purely by chance (Joseph and Schwartz, 1975, cited in Noyes, 1985). The
interpretation of negative binomial fit as evidence for accident proneness requires the
absolute control of non-personal factors such as exposure to accident risk and biases in
accident reporting. Such a distribution could also be obtained if some people are more
exposed to risk than others (McKenna, 1983).
Another approach to accident proneness has been to investigate the consistency of accident
involvement (McKenna, 1983). An accident prone person who is involved in an accident in
one period of time would be predicted to be involved in an accident in another period of time
(Hakkinen, 1958). Correlation coefficients between the two periods have been used as a test
of accident proneness. Sichel (1971, cited in McKenna, 1983) points to the difficulty in
interpreting correlation coefficients from a bivariate negative binomial distribution. Different
distributions may produce identical numerical correlations; however, these correlations may
have very different characteristics. The composition of the crash repeater group is also
known to change from one time period to the next (Burg, 1970). In addition, variation in
exposure to risk between individuals could be sufficient to produce significant correlations.
Mintz and Blum (1949, cited in McKenna, 1983) point out that even if distributions are based
on chance it is possible to ascertain that a few people are responsible for a large number of
accidents. It is expected by chance that some individuals will have several accidents, some
will have no accidents and some will have only a few accidents.
These criticisms and others have led to accident proneness falling generally into disfavour. It
is obvious that a great deal of conceptual confusion surrounds the concept of accident
proneness. McKenna cites a number of authors who reject the concept of accident
proneness as a unitary personality characteristic (Haddon, Suchman and Klein, 1964, cited
in McKenna, 1983), while not rejecting the view that a range of different psychological
factors can influence crash involvement. It is clear that Haddon et al considered accident
proneness to be quite distinct from the concept that a number of different psychological
factors contribute to crash occurrence (McKenna, 1983). The circularity of definitions of
accident proneness have also been criticised (Cameron, 1975, cited in McKenna, 1983)
when it has been used both to explain patterns of accident involvement and then as a causal
explanation of the same pattern it has just been used to describe. Most importantly, the
concept has failed to provide a means by which to predict individual accident involvement.
Differential accident involvement
More recently attempts have been made to replace accident proneness with an upgraded
concept. McKenna (1982, 1983) proposes that a new term ‘differential accident involvement’
be used to replace accident proneness, the advantage of using such a term being the
absence of the historical confusion surrounding the definition of accident proneness. This
confusion has resulted in researchers accepting and/or rejecting different concepts all of
which have been labelled accident proneness (McKenna, 1983). In the view of McKenna,
differential accident involvement represents an alternate approach to the study of individual
differences in accident causation. The concept of accident proneness represents a particular
position. He also argues that the new concept would be based on psychological testing
rather than on statistical modelling and would therefore avoid the disputes surrounding the
meaning of particular distributions.
The central issue of the differential accident involvement approach would be to consider
whether or not it is possible to identify or predict accident-involved individuals using
psychological tests McKenna, 1983). He also argues that no, assumptions regarding the
stability of accident involvement or the shape of the distribution need to be made. While
differential accident involvement is based on psychological testing, McKenna points out that
the concept of accident proneness relies on statistical modelling and is arrived at through a
process of exclusion. “An attempt is made to control all factors relating to risk exposure,
accident reporting etc. If a result then occurs it is attributed to something else
something else is called accident proneness. Accident proneness is thus defined not by what
it is, but by what it is not” (McKenna, 1982, p. 70). McKenna also argues that accident
proneness implies that accident involvement is necessarily a stable phenomenon. Contrary
to this statement, some authors have also postulated that accident proneness may exist for
shorter periods of time (McGuire, 1976). To sum up, differential accident involvement, while
representing an attempt to free the area of accident research from the semantic confusion
surrounding the concept of accident proneness does not appear effectively to provide a new
direction for research. Within the concept of accident proneness, researchers have already
allowed for factors such as short term accident liability and have investigated the role of
personality factors using personality tests. The approach of differential accident involvement
therefore, may not provide new directions in the prediction of the personal factors relating to
Personal factors relating to crashes
Studies comparing driver characteristics (in particular aggressive characteristics) of so called
crash repeaters and crash free drivers have obtained equivocal results. The explanation for
such inconsistent results most probably lies in differing and/or (more likely) inadequate
methodology. This point has been reiterated by a number of other authors (Conger, Gaskill,
Glad, Hassel, Rainey and Sawrey, 1959, Haddon, Suchman and Klein, 1964, cited in
Henderson, l971). Some of the methodological problems with studies of personality of crash
Variation in exposure. Failure to control for variations in crash exposure (for example,
Porterfield, 1960). This includes not only controlling for the distance travelled by the drivers
under investigation, but also controlling for homogeneity of the risks the drivers are exposed
too. Mileage is known to increase crash rate. This measure should be a fundamental control
implemented in studies of this kind.
Control groups. Absence of an adequate control group (for example, Brown and Berdie,
1960). While most studies appear to have matched their control groups with the crash
repeater group on the basis of a number of socio-demographic factors, they have failed to
mention the extent to which the drivers are exposed to the risk of collisions and in the case
of studies involving traffic violations, the extent to which drivers are liable to be
Sample size. Small numbers of subjects (for example, Malfetti and Fine, 1962).
Stability of personality traits. Haddon et al (1964, cited in Henderson, 1971) also add failure
to discriminate between characteristics that are stable over time and those which change.
The concept of the personality traits implies a certain amount of stability over time (Williams,
Henderson and Mills, 1974). It is difficult to see how traits which are not stable over time can
be identified with any accuracy. In addition, determining whether changes in performance on
personality tests are the result of changes within the individual or to situation specific factors
(such as changes in test administration) may be extremely difficult to assess.
Validation of results. With the exception of a few studies, most have not attempted to cross
validate findings with different populations.
Objective measurement. Lack of objectivity in the measurement of driver characteristics. For
example, the use of inadequately standardised tests. In addition the use of self report
methods presents participants with the opportunity to falsify information about their crash
involvement and attitudes in general. A few studies have attempted to prevent such
occurrences by verifying subject reports with the authorities and personal contacts of the
subjects (Selzer et al, 1977, Tillman and Hobbs, 1949). People are known to underestimate
their level of crash involvement.
Tillman and Hobbs (1949) and Quenault (1968a) report that crash repeaters in their studies
tended to underestimate the extent of their crash involvement.
Williams, Henderson and Mills (1974) found that a significant number of traffic offenders, in
comparison with a control group, reported a major emotional disturbance in their lives in a
short period before their crash or offence. This may have been reported by offenders in
explanation of their offence (Williams et al il974). Whether these events happened or were
fabricated cannot always be determined nor can their personal significance.
Studies that have used projective techniques have often not provided adequate descriptions
of the tests themselves or the methods by which they were administered. A small number of
studies (Conger et al, 1959, Malfetti and Fine, 1962 and others), are notable for the detail in
which they have obtained their information and the information provided in the actual paper.
Reliability of crash criteria. Lack of reliability in the crash criteria employed (see Burg, 1970).
The number of crashes assigned to each subject will depend on the definition employed.
Crashes have been categorized in a number of different ways. This can depend upon the
availability of crash data from road traffic authorities and the police. Some studies for
example have used only crashes involving fatalities. Other studies have also only included
crashes for which the driver has been held responsible (e.g., Michalowski, 1975).
In general, research has concentrated on analysing crash data and characteristics of victims.
A smaller number of studies have investigated the data for traffic infringements and
violations. Most researchers acknowledge the limitations of using crash records as an
indicator of driving performance. Some authors (e.g., Selzer et al, 1977) have limited their
studies to crashes that have involved fatalities in an attempt to ensure the presence of
Understandably, obtaining accurate violation and infringement rates is more difficult than
obtaining crash information, as such events are not always detected or reported. While
minor crashes may not always be reported, the more severe crashes should be reported
more consistently, especially if the police are involved. When traffic violation records have
been used, the well kept records of bus and freight companies have sometimes been used.
In analysing violation data, we should also be wary of possible bias in official crash records,
not only in terms of which records, have been recorded, but also the possibility of
discrimination in the prosecution of drivers. For example, Klein (1972) quotes a study by
Huessenstamm (1971) in which fifteen adolescents with good driving records received a
33 citations within
17 days of affixing bumper stickers of the Black Panther
movement on their vehicles.
Personal characteristics of crash involved drivers
The literature to be reviewed below on the involvement of personality factors in traffic
crashes and violations can generally be categorized into two main groups according to
whether the study deals with individual personality factors (using personality test results
and/or psychiatric evaluation) or social/demographic characteristics. Studies of the
personality characteristics of drivers have dealt with aggression directly as a personality
variable. Studies of social and demographic characteristics have investigated the
relationships between crash repeaters and possible social deviancy.
An extensive number of studies have been published dating back to the earliest studies on
‘accident proneness’. These studies have differed widely in the methods used and in the
quality of the work. The reader should take note of the criticisms of these types of studies
made above. In addition, a number of literature reviews have been published (McGuire,
197G, Valentine, Williams and Young, 19/'7, Tsuang et al, 1985, Noyes, 1085).
Early studies. One of the earliest and most cited studies is that of Tillman and Hobbs (1949),
who appear to have coined the phrase that, “a man drives as he lives” (p. 329). This
comment encompasses the view that certain personal characteristics of drivers make them
more or less likely to be involved in crashes. Most of the information in the Tillman and
Hobbs study was obtained by Tillman who spent approximately three months with 20 high
crash and 20 low crash drivers of a taxi firm, travelling in their cars and talking to them and
attempting to check their stories with associates and friends. The investigator would have
been aware whether each driver was of the low or high crash type. Additional evidence was
obtained from the police, juvenile court, and other social agencies, although it appears that
most of these data were of the self report type. However, the authors noted that only three
cases of lying were detected. Tillman and Hobbs concluded that in the taxi driver group,
individuals with high crash rates were characterised by aggressiveness and inability to
tolerate authority. In terms of their driving habits, the high crash group became easily
distracted when driving, and annoyed at other drivers. Eleven of the twenty reported a
history of aggressiveness as children. The family background of the driver was suspected as
the origin of these traits.
In another frequently cited study, Conger, Gaskill, Glad, Hassel, Rainey, Sawrey and Turrell
(1959) conducted a detailed evaluation of 10 high and 10 low (road) crash involved airmen.
This was part of a four year investigation. A previous paper (Conger, Gaskill, Glad, Rainey,
Sawrey and Turrell, 1957) reported the results of cross validation studies. However, this
study also suffered from small sample sizes. The 1957 study consisted of an initial sample of
110 drivers (15 no crash, 35 moderate crash, 15 high crash and 35 unclassified subjects).
The cross validation sample consisted of 154 drivers (25 no crash, 25 moderate crash, 15
high crash and 89 unclassified subjects). The high crash group were defined as those who
had had two or more crashes for which they had been held responsible in the previous four
years. The low crash group consisted of subjects who had incurred no crashes (officially
recorded, or in their own estimation) in the previous four and a half years.
Of a number of tests administered (for example, MMPI, Thurstone Temperament scale) only
three scales of the Allport-Vernon Scale of Values discriminated between high and low crash
groups in both the initial and cross validation samples. These were those dealing with
aesthetic, theoretical and religious issues. However, religious values was the only scale
significant to the 0.05 level. The no crash subjects were more oriented toward religious
values than they were toward aesthetic or theoretical values compared with the high crash
subjects. Mayer and Treat (1977) however, using questions on pro-religious values adapted
from the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey study of values failed to find a significant difference between
crash involved and crash free drivers although the crash involved group did score lower or
The 10 high and 10 low crash airmen in the Conger et al (1959) study were selected from
and representative of a pool of 264 subjects. A number of psychometric tests, a psychiatric
examination, and psychological reports were employed to assess the subjects. The data
from these measures were rated by independent judges on number of different dimensions
or variables predicted to be related to crash frequency. An important methodological
precaution was taken in that examiners were not made aware of the crash status of
It was found that in comparison with non-crash involved subjects, crash repeaters were
significantly less able to control hostility, more indifferent to the rights of others, preoccupied
with fantasy satisfaction, fearful of loss of love and support and less able to tolerate tension.
At least two of these dimensions are directly related to aggression. Little tendency was
observed for crash involved and crash free subjects to belong to any particular clinical
character type (for example, paranoid, schizoid, obsessive etc.).
Conger et al.’s (1957) conclusions are at variance with the findings of McGuire (1956, cited
in McGuire, 1976) who found that scores on the MMPI significantly differentiated his high
and low crash groups. McGuire’s sample size was somewhat larger than the 30 (15 no crash
and 15 high crash) used by Conger et al (1957). It consisted of groups of 67 high crash men
and 100 low crash men. The populations employed by the two studies were apparently
similar one being taken from a naval base and the other from an airbase. Brown and Berdie
(1960) also obtained a significant difference using the MMPI. The MMPI was administered to
male drivers when they were freshmen in college. Six years later their official driving records
were checked and compared to their earlier scores on the MMPI. There were three groups of
drivers. One hundred high crash drivers (five or more violations and three or more crashes)
100 low crash drivers (no violations and no crashes) and a middle group containing drivers
with crashes and violations between the above two. Questionnaire responses from 80
percent of these drivers indicated that differences in mileage between the crash groups were
Only two scales of the MMPT were found to distinguish the two groups and only a small
significant correlation was obtained. Brown and Berdie speculate that this may be because
the groups had contained drivers with a number of different personality types. For example
one driver may be extremely hostile his driving behaviour motivated by the desire to show up
other drivers. Another driver may always be in a hurry. The end result will be that elevated
scores on one scale of the MMPI may be cancelled out by depressed scores on the same
scale by other drivers with a different personality profile (Brown and Berdie 1960).
Other studies. A number of studies have obtained results similar to those of Tillman and
Hobbs and Conger et al. Their findings will be reviewed briefly below keeping in mind that a
number of these studies have methodological problems of the type described earlier in this
(1972, cited in McGuire
1976) administered a variety of tests and
questionnaires to a larger group of people applying for driver’s licences in Mississippi . After
two years, each person’s driving record was investigated by means of an interview. The
group was then divided into validation and cross validation groups of approximately l,363
people. Subjects completed the McGuire Safe Driver Scale and the items were correlated
with crash frequency.
McGuire indicated that crash frequency correlated with aggressiveness, prestige seeking,
and an orientation towards competitiveness. Selzer, Rogers and Kern (1968) studied 96
drivers involved in crashes involving fatalities
(some of which involved the driver) and
compared them with a control group selected from the general driving population. Using chi
square analysis significantly more of the crash involved drivers exhibited paranoid thinking
suicidal or depressive tendencies. While there was no significant difference with regard to
the occurrence of violent behaviour between the two groups, the violence of the control
group was reported to be less severe. Those in the fatal crash group who exhibited any of
the above behaviours had significantly more crashes than their control counterparts.
Australian studies. An Australian study (Williams, Henderson and Mills, 1974) investigated
100 motorists convicted of serious traffic offences in Hobart. Subjects were matched on age,
sex , suburb and driver’s licence type with control subjects. A variety of psychological tests
were administered; a questionnaire regarding biographical background intelligence test
(Standard Progressive Factor Questionnaire), Hostility and Direction of Hostility
Questionnaire, the General Health Questionnaire, and the Eysenck Personality Inventory.
While no significant effects were obtained using the Eysenck Personality Inventory, the
Cattell 16 Personality Factor questionnaire revealed the following: the traffic offender group
were found to be more impulsive, to have a lower social conscience, and were more likely to
have minor psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
European studies. The small number of European studies available (Achtnich, 1967, Alonso-
Fernandez, 1966, Burkner, 1975, Burner, 1973, Schenk and Rausche, 1979) appear to have
found similar results to those obtained in the United States. As English translations of these
studies were not available, only a brief description will be provided. Husmann (1967, cited in
Signori and Bowman, 1974) reported that the Szondi test was able to differentiate between
habitually good and bad drivers. Achtnich (1967) using the same test studied 35 habitually
bad drivers and a control group. Achtnich reported that poor drivers exhibited masochistic
tendencies, latent repressed aggression, demand for power, inadequacy, demonstrative
needs, an immature sexual image, and weak egos. A German study (Burkner, 1975)
investigated the validity of the Rosenzweig Picture-Frustration test as a measure of the
aggressiveness of convicted drivers. The results disclosed that convicted drivers were
inclined to direct their aggression towards the environment, whereas the control subjects
tended to constrain their aggression. Burner (1973) proposed that the automobile be viewed
as an extension of self, and characterised crash involved drivers as belonging to one of
three categories: drivers who did not feel subjective risk and drove at speed, drivers who
wished to dominate, and aggressive drivers. Burner suggested that the cause of these
characteristics may be related to either situational or personality variables.
Control of aggression. A number of studies have suggested that inability to control feelings
of hostility and anger or to tolerate tension may contribute to a higher rate of crash
involvement, rather than the strength of aggressive feelings per se (Conger et al, 1959,
Hertz, 1970, Signori and Bowman, 1974). In the study by Conger et al, while the ability to
tolerate tension (measured in psychiatric interview) in crash drivers was significantly lower
than in crash free drivers, the quantity of underlying hostility measure failed to reach
significance. Schuman, Pelz, Ehrlich and Selzer (1967) indicated that the young male drivers
they studied appeared to use the automobile to express impulses. Mayer and Treat (1977)
found that their group of crash involved subjects (18 to 19 year old students) scored
significantly higher on measures of impulsivity. They also found a significant; relationship
between attitudes towards driving to reduce tension or as the author puts it to ‘blow off
steam’ and crash record. Klein (1974, cited in Mayer and Treat, 1977) suggested that poorer
drivers have less control over risk taking impulses while driving and were therefore “more
likely to allow driving to serve as an emotional release” (Mayer and Treat, 1977, p. l). These
findings are consistent with the frustration-aggression hypothesis (Berkowitz, 1962) which
would predict that certain individuals at least would use driving as a means to reduce
tension. Social learning theory would indicate that if the individual has not learned adequate
means of coping with tension, driving may become an outlet for these feelings. Tillman
(1960, cited in Donovan et al, l9683) reported that members of a group therapy session who
had been involved in crashes often reported a feeling of rage while driving their cars,
particularly when they had felt a loss of their sense of identity. Coinciding with the comments
of Burner (1973) the vehicle was seen as an extension of themselves. The medium of driving
in which they have a sense of mastery and power becomes a means of channelling feelings
Negative findings. On the other hand, a positive relationship between personality variables
and crash rate has not always been found. A number of studies have not identified
differences between crash involved drivers and their crash free counterparts. A British study
by Quenault (1968a, 1968b) using the Maudsley Personality Inventory found no significant
differences between two groups of 50 subjects, one convicted of careless driving, the other
chosen at random from the same population. Selzer and Vinokur (1974) concluded that life
changes and current levels of personal stress appear to be statistically more important that
any demographic, personality, and social maladjustment variables. Preston and Harris
(1965) administered the Rosenzweig Picture-Frustration test and the Siebrecht Attitude
Scale to 50 drivers hospitalized due to motor vehicle crashes. The Siebrecht Attitude scale
had been used previously and found to be a valid measure of driver attitudes when tested in
driver education programmes. It had not been used to measure differences between crash
free and crash involved drivers. The crash involved drivers were paired with 50 other drivers
on the basis of sex, age, race and education. The two groups were also comparable in terms
of most other socioeconomic factors. None of these control subjects had had a crash in the
previous five years. The crash group had a higher traffic violation rate than the control group.
However, performance on the written tests did not reveal any differences between the two
groups. Neither group was better informed on the road laws which coincides with the
findings of Malfetti and Fine (1962) who observed that their sample of exceptionally safe
drivers did not necessarily have a detailed knowledge of the road traffic regulations. Malfetti
and Fine (1962) concluded that it was not the amount of knowledge that was important but
the way that knowledge was used. Quimby and Watts (1981) using the Cattell 16 Personality
Factor questionnaire found only one personality factor (which measures the degree to which
the person reflects established values) to be correlated with crash history.
Safe professional drivers. Malfetti and Fine’s 1962 study is worthy of note as it appears to be
the only study to investigate in depth the characteristics of known safe professional drivers.
This study’s most serious flaw is the small subject sample used (N = 6). However in spite of
this problem the study provides detailed information
(if only descriptive) on the
characteristics of drivers making up the safe group. The six subjects were obtained through
the National Safety Council Safe Driver Awards. Initially a questionnaire was developed to
obtain biographical and driving record information from 5,244 of the award winners. The
accuracy of information was checked as closely as possible from company records. Malfetti
and Fine developed a profile of the average award winner from these data. The safe driver
reflected a picture of social stability and conformity. The driver is about 59 years of age
married and has two children. He has been a professional driver for approximately 30 years
and has generally worked for the same employer (sometimes two) during this time. The safe
driver has never had a traffic violation, and has had only one preventable and one non
preventable crash as a professional driver.
Drivers were then ranked to discover which of them had the safest driving record. The top
six drivers then underwent a series of psychological and medical tests. The psychological
tests included, the Rorschach, the Thematic Apperception Test, and the Sentence
Completion test. The Semantic Differential test and the Gallup-Thorndike intelligence tests
were also employed. Drivers were found to be of average intelligence.
Psychologically, Malfetti and Fine considered the six drivers to be generally non-aggressive
with a high level of impulse control. They appeared to require a high degree of security in
terms of social and work environments and planned conservatively and cautiously. While
driving, they did not appear to be disturbed by bad manners or poor driving. The drivers
seemed more concerned to deflect possible threats, rather than to retaliate. In terms of
driving, they appeared ‘somewhat compulsive’ about safe driving, cautious and concerned
both for other drivers and the placement of the vehicle on the road. While these data are
only descriptive, it provides an interesting contrast to that obtained by studies investigating
the characteristics of crash repeaters.
Non-aggressive characteristics of crash involved drivers. Several studies have addressed
the question of whether road users frequently involved in crashes are necessarily
responsible for their occurrence. Tillman and Hobbs (1949) argued that those with the
highest crash rates had a greater proportion of blameless crashes than did low crash drivers.
They commented that the habits of some high crash drivers left them unprotected in the
event of the unexpected.
The comments of Tillman and Hobbs are of interest with respect to a series of studies by
Quenault in the 1960s (1967a, 1967b, 1968a, 1968b). Quenault investigated the actual
driving behaviour of drivers who had been convicted of careless driving in the previous three
year period. One group of seven professional drivers (1967b) and two groups of 50 drivers
convicted of careless driving (1967a, 1968a, 1968b) were investigated. These latter groups
of 50 drivers were paired with drivers from the same geographic area who had not been
convicted of careless driving. No significant differences were found between the groups on
the following factors; age, occupation, number of years driving, driving experience, type of
vehicle driven, sex, marital status, and number of times the driving test was taken before
passing. Significant differences were observed on the average annual mileage (careless
driving group travelling twice as far) and the number of crashes encountered by the two
(careless drivers had three times as many crashes and six times as many
convictions). The source of the difference in mileage was attributed to the fact that more of
the convicted drivers used their cars for both business and pleasure than for pleasure alone.
Subjects drove around a twelve mile route in normal traffic conditions under the observation
of two observers neither of whom knew whether the driver belonged to the careless driving
group or the control group.
Quenault (1968a, 1968b) divided her sample into four groups according to their observable
driving behaviour. One of these groups (the dissociated active group) appeared similar to the
aggressive driver described in many other studies. The dissociated active drivers, in
descriptive terms, were more likely to be unpredictable, impatient and edgy. This group did
not appear to be completely aware of some aspects of relevant information when driving.
They took risks actively and consciously and caused near crashes. The other group (the
dissociated passive group) appeared to be totally unaware of what was happening around
them. They did not take active risks, nor did they appear to change their behaviour in the
face of changing situations. Due to this, dissociated passive drivers sometimes found
themselves in situations with which they could not cope, causing near crashes or crashes.
Chi square analysis was used to investigate any differences between the careless driving
group and the control group. The careless drivers were significantly more likely to engage in
risky behaviour. They were less likely to use their rear vision mirrors, more likely to overtake
than be overtaken, use unnecessary manoeuvres and have near crashes. Twenty percent
and 32 percent respectively of the careless drivers were found to belong to the dissociated
active or dissociated passive driver groups respectively. In comparison, only seven percent
and 20 percent respectively of the control group were classified as dissociated active and
dissociated passive driver groups. This data suggest two groups, of drivers one reckless
(whose behaviour may be aggressive and impulsive in appearance) the other passive
(whose behaviour does not imply aggressiveness). It would appear that the careless drivers
may be liable to have crashes either by taking too many risks (in which case these drivers
may cause crashes) or by showing rigid behaviour patterns (instead of directly causing
crashes, perhaps crashes happen to them).
Parry (1968) and Shoham, Rahav, Markovski, Chard and Baruch (1984) have suggested the
existence of a driver group whose behaviour reflects strong feelings of anxiety who may be
liable to road traffic crashes. This driver is not aggressive in the way that has been
discussed in this literature review, he or she does not engage in risky driving and is not
impulsive or sensation seeking. However, the possibility of the existence of two such
(impulsive and anxious) remains unexplored for the most part. The
presence of such a group in the crash repeater group would act as a confounding variable in
studies, investigating aggressive traits amongst crash repeaters.
Social characteristic of crash involved drivers
Certain demographic features are associated with increased risk of being involved in a
crash. These include; age less than 25, education of less than 12 years, being a semi skilled
or unskilled worker, single marital status
(Hyman, 1968, cited in Donovan, Marlatt and
Salzburg, 1983). Quimby and Watts (1981) also observed that drivers of high performance
vehicles and high insurance categories who tended to be in a higher socio-economic group
were less involved in crashes than drivers of low performance vehicles. Williams et al (1974)
found that in spite of controlling for similarity in educational standing and home suburb, non-
violation subjects in their study had a higher socio-economic status. Also significant in the
Williams et al study was that more of the offender group reported being taught by a driving
instructor than a family member.
Using chi square analysis, Tillman and Hobbs (1949) found significant differences between
high and low crash groups on a number of social and biographical factors. Crash involved
individuals were more likely to report conflict between parents and that one or both of the
parents was overly strict. Difference in employment record was not significant, although
reports of being fired differed significantly
(with crash involved drivers reporting greater
frequency of being fired). The crash involved drivers appeared to have many acquaintances
but few friends, and generally attempted to be the centre of attention whenever possible.
This is in contrast with the findings of Conger et al (1959), who did not observe significant
differences in friendship patterns between the two crash groups. The high crash drivers in
the Tillman and Hobbs study reported sexual promiscuity significantly more often than their
low crash counterparts. They also showed few feelings of guilt and did not indicate a strong
sense of responsibility towards their families. At school, high crash drivers reported truancy
and discipline problems. Of drivers who had served in the armed forces, the high crash
drivers were more frequently found to be absent without leave than the low crash group.
One problem with the Tillman and Hobbs study is that they failed to use a double blind
procedure. Information regarding the crash record of individuals and their psychological and
social characteristics was collected by the same person who may have had predetermined
impressions of high crash drivers. In addition, other interpretations which constitute value
judgements were also used in the personality profiles of the subjects. For example, terms
such as “filthy language” or “personal dress tended to be eccentric” when describing the high
crash group represent the researchers’ own values. While these descriptions of the drivers
are called personality profiles, it must be remembered that they are not free of the social
norms and values of the experimenter. A ‘culture free’ personality profile may be very difficult
to obtain. This should also be taken into account when examining the data from studies
which have developed their own questionnaires.
As Tillman and Hobbs’ (1949) taxi drivers could not be described as a representative sample
of the driving population, information was also obtained on 96 male, high crash drivers
chosen from the general driving population and compared with 100 control subjects of the
same age and sex with a low crash record from the same population. The names of both
groups were checked against the records of a number of social agencies; the Juvenile court,
the Adult court (for offences not relating to traffic violations), the Family Service bureau, two
children’s aid societies, public health and venereal disease clinics and the local credit
bureau. The data have been reported here in Table 5.1. Information regarding the number of
agencies with which each driver had contact was also obtained. In the high crash group, two
were known to all sources, three to four sources, nine to three sources, sixteen to two
sources and 32 to one source. None of the crash free drivers was known to more than one
Table 5.1. Percentage contact of crash involved and crash free drivers with social
agencies. Drivers chosen from the general driving population of London, Ontario. (N =
96, crash group, N = 100), crash free group). Adapted from Tillman and Hobbs, 1949).
Credit Bureau Public Health
and VD Clinic
at least one
The fact that Tillman and Hobbs’ crash-involved drivers were known to so many social
agencies implies a fair degree of disruption in the families of those drivers as well as a
degree of social deviancy. This coincides with the findings of a number of other researchers.
McGuire (1972, cited in McGuire, 1976) observed that in his group of 2,727 drivers the crash
involved drivers were more likely to have a family history of disruption and conflict.
McGuire (1956, cited in McGuire, 1976) compared two groups of 67 male drivers. One group
had admitted to at least one crash in the previous two years for which they had also incurred
a moving violation. The other group had reported that they had not incurred any traffic
violations of any kind since beginning driving. The two groups were matched on mileage in
the previous two years, driving experience, age and marital status. Subjects were
administered the MMPI, the Bell adjustment scale and the Kuder Preference record.
McGuire concluded that the crash involved drivers were less mature, less intellectual in their
tastes and interests, had lower levels of aspiration, were not socially well adjusted and
expressed poor attitudes to the law and driving.
The Mayer and Treat (1977) study investigated 30 crash free (control) and 30 crash involved
(three or more crashes in the last three years) 18 and 19 year olds. The two groups were
matched for age, sex and most importantly annual mileage. A series of short questionnaires
was designed for the purpose. The crash group on Mayer and Treat’s measures of social
maladjustment scored significantly higher on juvenile delinquency, negative 1 attitudes,
antisocial tendencies, and external locus of control (assigning responsibility for events to
sources outside of themselves). Mayer and Treat regarded the measure of citizenship
(voting frequency, church attendance etc.) to be marginally significant (p < 0.10). The
measure of pro-religious values adapted from the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Scale was not
significant. The conclusions reported above are not in keeping with the comments of Parry
(1968) who observed that many drivers admitted undergoing a change when they sat behind
the wheel of a car. Generally good citizens were seen to become selfish, aggressive and
dangerous when behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. However, the above findings indicate
that the individual's general lifestyle reflects upon driving behaviour and subsequent crash
Measures of intelligence. A number of studies have investigated the intelligence of crash
repeaters in an attempt to form an overview of the types of individuals who have repeated
crashes. The findings of these studies will be reported very briefly for this reason. The
studies discussed in this review have not found any significant differences between levels of
intelligence (as measured by intelligence tests) in crash free and crash repeater subjects.
This has been the case, even though a number of different tests have been employed.
These include; Conger et al (1959) who assessed intelligence using two tests (the Wechsler-
Bellevue adult test and the Shipley-Hartford vocabulary scale). Similar results were obtained
by other researchers. For example; Quenault (1968a, b) using the Shipley Abstraction test
and Williams et al (1974) using Standard Progressive Matrices.
High risk of crash driver groups
The previous section investigated the general personality and biographical characteristics of
known crash repeaters. It would appear that certain personality characteristics are common
to the crash repeating group. This group of drivers as a whole represents a high risk (of
crash) group. However, it is possible to subdivide this group into more distinct and
homogeneous groups. These include; people who drive while intoxicated, young drivers and
the mentally ill. It should be noted that these three categories are not distinct but reveal
substantial overlap and can be considered sub-groups of the one high risk group of drivers.
In addition, some high risk drivers do not fit into any of the three categories to be outlined. A
review of each of these categories follows.
Characteristics of drivers who drink and drive
Although drinking would appear to increase the risk of being involved in a crash, it is not a
guarantee that a crash will take place (Gusfield, 1985). Gusfield argues that by “singling out
‘alcohol involvement’ as the cause of crashes, we leave unstated and untested the
hypothesis that without the presence of alcohol the crash would not have occurred and that
alcohol is the only element in the causal process that is capable of being changed” (p. 71).
While the fundamental conclusion of the overwhelming majority of research is not being
challenged (that for every group or set of conditions increased alcohol use increases the risk
of crashes) (Gusfield, 1985), a number of studies have investigated the contention that it is
not alcohol alone which necessarily causes crashes, but alcohol in combination with other
factors such as personality and social background. This may be especially important given
that alcohol may influence aggressive behaviour.
Zylman (1975) in a literature review on the influence of alcohol in traffic crashes argues that
only 30 percent rather than 50 percent of all crashes involve alcohol and that relatively few
alcoholics are high risk drivers. He argues that it is not alcohol alone that leads to crashes
but a combination of personality characteristics
(alienation, hostility, aggression, and/or
transient traumatic experiences) and alcohol. Zylman (1974, cited in Zylman, 1975) suggests
that in 70 percent of crash cases, personality, situational, or environmental factors are more
important than alcohol, even though they may have been drinking. It should be noted at this
point that while these conclusions and those to follow may have some intuitive appeal, they
are not based on sound conclusive evidence. Further detailed research is required before
any of these conclusions can be accepted.
Social-demographic characteristics of drinking drivers. Bradstock, Marks, Forman, Gentry,
Hogelin, Binkin and Trowbridge (1987) report on the socio-demographic characteristics of
drinking drivers based on Behavioral Risk Factor Surveys (BRF) at the U.S. national level.
While BRF Surveys have been reported to be under-estimates of actual rates (Malin et al,
cited in Bradstock et al, 1987), Bradstock et al report that the BRF Surveys are not critically
biased in other ways. BRF Surveys are population based, random telephone surveys. A total
of 22,236 interviews were completed. Drink driving was reported by 6.1 percent of the adults
in the U.S., made up of 9.2 percent (a significant proportion) of males and only 3.3 percent of
women. Fell (1982, cited in Gusfield, 1985) also reports that 85-90 percent of all people
arrested for drunk driving are men. A significant decrease in reported drink driving was found
with age. Eighteen to 24 year olds had the highest levels of drink driving, while the lowest
levels occurred amongst those over 64. No differences were observed between the drink
driving habits of people with no high school and people with higher than high school
education. Men who reported that they tended not to use seatbelts had drink driving rates of
11.3 percent compared with 6.1 percent of men who said that they almost always used seat
belts. Although this difference was significant for men, there was only a trend in this direction
for women. Smokers who consumed more than one packet of cigarettes per day were twice
as likely to report drinking and driving than their non-smoking counterparts. People who
admitted to consuming five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the previous month
(binge drinkers) reported higher proportions of drink driving than those who did not. Chronic
alcohol users (an average of two or more drinks per day) reported higher rates of drink
driving than those who were not chronic drinkers. Significantly more men than women
reported that stress in interpersonal relationships made them more likely to drink and drive.
In addition, individuals who reported that they were more likely to drink and smoke than
exercise in response to stress were significantly more likely to drink and drive. It would
appear that many of the drivers in this study who reported drinking and driving, also engage
in other risk related activities. The levels of risk accepted and the risk assessment of these
individuals may help explain why they engage in drinking and driving activities.
Personality of drinking drivers. In an interesting study, Donovan and Marlatt
attempted to identify through the use of cluster analysis personality sub-types of drivers who
drive while under the influence of alcohol. The results will be reported in some detail as the
study provides an example of how various personal factors including aggression, can
interact to influence a behaviour known to be significantly implicated in road crashes. The
subjects were 172 men recruited from an alcohol related education programme. Subjects
were of lower middle class status (determined on the basis of academic and occupational
status) and either married (40.9 percent), divorced (29.8 percent) or separated/divorced
(28.1 percent). Only 24.2 percent of the subjects admitted to having a drinking problem.
However, 99.3 percent of the drivers consumed five to six drinks per occasion at least once
in a while. Forty two percent of the subjects drank 45 or more drinks per month. More than
half of the subjects could have been classified as heavy drinkers (five or more drinks on
more than one occasion a week). The subjects reported an average of fifteen drinking
occasions per month, with about ten of these occasions involving five or more drinks.
Cluster analysis was used to analyse the scores of driving related attitudes, personality and
hostility measures in order to define possible sub-types within this population. Five distinct
groups were identified. The group of drivers with significantly fewer crashes and violations
(Cluster 2) was also found to consume significantly less drinks per occasion than any of the
other groups. In addition this group were considered to be the most well adjusted
emotionally, and to have the lowest levels of depression and driving related aggression or
sensation seeking. They were also significantly less likely to take driving risks. On the other
hand, the group of drivers found to have significantly more crashes and convictions (Cluster
4) than Cluster 2 individuals, in addition to drinking significantly more, were also found to be
significantly younger. They also revealed greater levels of driving related aggression,
competitive speed, sensation seeking, hostility and irritability. However, they displayed only
moderate levels of depression and emotional instability. Another group (Cluster 3) while not
revealing particularly hostile or poor driving attitudes, were characterised by the highest
levels of depression and resentment. They also had low levels of assertiveness and
emotional adjustment. These individuals were found to have significantly fewer crashes and
convictions than Cluster 4 individuals. However, in comparison with Cluster 2 individuals,
drivers within Cluster 3 had significantly more crashes and violations.
In terms of drink driving, Donovan (1980, cited in Donovan, Marlatt and Salzburg, 1983)
reports that the driving-risk index of the drink driving group is about nine times greater than
that of the average driving population. However, it would appear that some individuals may
get into more trouble than others while driving. Those drivers who have a high level of
hostility and who will drink heavily on a particular occasion typify the highest level of overall
driving risk within Donovan and Marlatt’s conceptualisation. Also at high risk are individuals
characterised by depression, resentment and low levels of perceived personal control,
emotional adjustment and assertiveness. Selzer, Payne and Westervelt (1967, cited in
Donovan et al,
1983) commented that the high risk driving behaviours exhibited by
individuals in the above categories while under the influence of alcohol may represent a
method by which to express underlying psychopathology in the absence of more adaptive
coping methods. It would appear that individuals who drink and drive do not represent a
homogeneous group. Selzer, Vinokur and Wilson (1977) note that this may be a reason for
the lack of success of most treatment programmes.
Mozdzierz, Macchitelli, Planek and Lottman (1975) reported significant differences between
alcoholics with high and low crash and violation records on scales of the Guilford-
Zimmerman Temperament survey and on the MMPI. Their results also indicate that it is
possible that two groups of drivers may be present in the driving population. One is a high
risk group characterised by impulsivity, recklessness and irresponsibility. The low crash-
violation group of alcoholics were submissive, and more cautious, with greater concern for
responsibility. Mozdzierz et al concluded that the high crash group may contribute more than
other alcoholics to the crash statistics because of temperament and personality
characteristics. Donovan, Quiesser, Salzburg and Umlauf (1985) compared a group of non-
alcohol involved high crash drivers with a group of alcohol-involved high crash drivers. No
significant differences were observed between these two groups on the personality
measures employed. Both of these groups differed significantly from a group of drivers
chosen from the general population. However, a number of demographic differences were
observed. The alcohol-involved group were significantly older, less well educated and of
lower social position than the high risk group. The high risk group also perceived that they
had less personal responsibility for crashes and had higher amounts of driving related
aggression. These two groups may represent sub groups within the same population of high
Donovan et al
(1985) consider that alcohol, personality and attitudinal factors may
independently contribute to increased crash risk. The interaction of any of these factors
within the same person may act to increase their influence. Donovan, Marlatt and Salzburg
(1983) present a cognitive-behavioural model of high-risk driving (Figure 1) which attempts
to integrate the factors cited above (drinking behaviour, personality traits, acute emotional
stress, driving related attitudes and the availability of appropriate coping skills) and high-risk
driving. However, while this model is interesting, it is not yet based on firm evidence. Further
research is required in order to validate or invalidate the model. They argue that,
“the individual who appears to be at maximal risk for accident involvement is a
young man characterised by a high level of underlying hostility and an
aggressive disposition who drinks heavily and frequently, and who is deficient
in those social skills involved in the appropriate expression of anger and the
management of stress, frustration or depression.” (p. 415).
When faced with acute emotional distress, such an individual does not have the skills
required to cope with the situation. The stress arising from this situation will be perceived as
a loss of personal control. To these individuals, alcohol and the automobile may represent
methods of coping with these feelings. The model suggests that drinking and driving serve
as a means of regaining or increasing feelings of personal power and control.
Deficient coping skills (Inability to manage Anger, Stress or Depression)
Hostile-aggressive trait disposition
High quantity-frequency alcohol use
Interpersonal or Intrapersonal Stress
Unsatisfactory resolution of stressful situation
Resultant Increase in Frustration and Tension
Decrease in Self-Efficacy and Personal Control
Drinking with the expectationDriving with the expectation
of tension reduction andof tension reduction and
increased personal controlincreased personal control
Increase in Actual Level of
Covert and Overt Hostility-Aggression
High-Risk Driving with Increased Probability
of Accidents and Violations
Figure 1. Hypothetical cognitive-behavioural model of the influence of social skill
deficits, heavy alcohol use and hostile-aggressive personality on high-risk driving.
From Donovan, Marlatt and Salzburg (1983)
Characteristics of young drivers
The problem of young drivers is essentially a problem limited to young males (Henderson,
1972). Very little research has examined the characteristics of young female drivers,
possibly because they have not proved to be a high risk group.
Pelz and Schuman (1971) have found that young male drivers are more likely to be involved
in motor vehicle crashes between the ages of 16 and 24. Coppin, Ferdun and Kirkham,
(1965, cited in Cummings, 1975) found that for young women drivers, crash rate was
significantly related to driving experience (the number of months the licence had been held).
However, for similarly defined groups of young men, it was age that was found to be
significantly related to crash rate. They concluded that intrinsic components of age (such as
level of maturity) are important factors in crash rate of young male drivers. Pelz and
Schuman (1971) also observed a similar difference in the crash characteristics of young
male and female drivers. Waller (1970, cited in Cummings, 1975) found that young male
drivers with traffic violations and/or crash records were typical of their age group of males.
However, young female drivers involved in crashes or with violations were not typical of
crash free female drivers.
The role of alcohol
Cameron (1982) indicates that a large proportion of alcohol and non-alcohol involved
crashes involve drivers under the age of twenty-five. This is the case even when differential
exposure to traffic crashes has been controlled for. In a recent review, Mayhew, Donelson,
Bierness and Simpson (1986) concluded that young drivers who drive after drinking had a
greater risk of crash involvement than older drinking drivers, although the young drivers were
less likely to drink and drive. Mayhew et al make the suggestion that the higher crash risk of
young drivers may be due to inexperience with drinking and/or driving. However, they also
consider feasible the possibility that personal and social characteristics may contribute to
Cameron (1982) also noted, despite limited data being available, that behavioural correlates
of drinking and driving problems indicate some association between feelings of rebellion,
hostility and alienation and an increase in the number of traffic violations and crashes.
Jessor (1983, cited in Tonkin, 1987) suggests engaging in risky behaviours in general serves
to help “take control of one’s life, express opposition to adult authority. . deal with anxiety,
216) in addition to being pleasurable to the young person.
Earlier work on the role of personality and social factors in crash causation (Schuman, Pelz,
Ehrlich and Selzer, 1967) revealed that a strong relationship did exist between exposure
(number of miles driven in the previous year) and crash experience. However, motivational
factors were also found to be important. Schuman et al found that 40 percent of 16 to 20
year old drivers they studied reported driving to blow off steam after arguments. However,
reports of this behaviour became less frequent with increasing age. Feelings of anger and
frustration were also reported by young drivers in response to obstacles (for example,
repeated red lights) when driving. However, these feelings also declined with age.
Schuman et al (1967) also reported that the time between ages 16 and 22 was a period of
frustration and anxiety in which the motor vehicle was perceived as an outlet for the
expression of these feelings.
Drivers with high crash rates in the Schuman et al study were also more likely to own their
own vehicle, be employed rather than attend school or college, have only a high school
education and be of lower socio-economic status. Poor school adjustment, low academic
achievement, and number of cigarettes smoked were among the better predictors of crash
frequency (Harrington, 1972). However, the degree to which crashes could be predicted on
the basis of biographical information was very low. The conclusions drawn by these studies
are consistent with those made by others (Beamish and Malfetti, 1962, Pelz and Schuman,
Symbolic status of motor vehicles
Klein (1972) hypothesises that for adolescents, the car symbolises power, autonomy and
status. Young men learn that ‘real men’ are tough, ingenious and prepared to take risks.
However, their freedom is severely restricted by parents, schools and the law. The motor
vehicle may be the only area in which the young driver can be in control (Klein, 1972). It has
been suggested that the idea of obtaining a driver’s licence is a marker of transition into the
adult world (Klein, 1972, Tonkin, 1987). Carlson and Klein (1970) hypothesised that the
familial socialization of young male drivers may be of significant influence in forming driving
behaviour over institutional socialization. The son learns specific driving behaviours from
watching his father drive. They also learn what Carlson and Klein have called the familial
‘lifestyle’ which includes attitudes to authority, conformity, aggression, self perception,
relationship to the social environment, the concept of status, perceptions regarding the
status of automobiles. The values adopted by a given family do not necessarily correspond
to those of society in general. Institutional socialization includes schools, police, and court
system through which society’s values are taught and enforced. These institutions attempt to
encourage behaviour seen as socially desirable - in this instance good driving behaviour. In
support of this hypothesis, fathers of sons with higher conviction rates were also found to
have significantly more convictions.
Other groups at risk: The mentally ill
It has been already established that the rates of suicide by motor vehicle crash are most
likely relatively small (less than 5 percent) in comparison with other factors. However, as a
group the mentally ill would appear to represent a high risk sub group of the driving
population. It is difficult to ascertain with certainty the relative rates of crashes amongst the
mentally ill and many of the studies in the area have not met some of the evaluation criteria.
As with a number of the studies on personality and crashes, studies investigating the crash
rate of the mentally ill have failed to implement basic methodological controls such as
controlling for distance travelled, or variations in risk. Gibbens (1968) in a book on medical
aspects of fitness to drive comments that, except for special circumstances, there is little
evidence that a psychotic illness increases crash risks. He also comments that mental
illness of all types tends to reduce the individual’s interest and activity. Such patients would
be less likely to drive and would therefore be less exposed to crash risk. These thoughts are
echoed by Henderson (1971) who states that at any one time the numbers of mentally ill
people driving motor vehicles is likely to be relatively small. However, as Henderson (1971)
points out, this observation does not rule out the argument that mental illness may be related
to crashes. Indeed, there is some evidence available to support this position.
Noyes (1985) states that within the sub-group of mentally ill patients the risk of crashes is
higher than in the general driving population. Waller (1965, cited in Noyes, 1985) found that
the crash rate of mentally ill people known to the California Department of Motor Vehicles
had twice as many crashes than the age adjusted sample without known illness. Crancer
and Quiring (1970) found that 915 drivers hospitalised for suicidal gestures in the years
1963, 1964, 1965 had a significantly higher crash and violation rate than a comparison group
of drivers from the general population. The group also had significantly more violations for
drunken driving, reckless driving, driving while suspended, and negligence.
Eelkema, Brosseau, Koshnick and McGee (1970) found that discharged mental hospital
patients as a group had a higher crash and violation rate per hundred driver years than a
comparison group from the normal driving population. Psychotic and psychoneurotic
patients had a greater crash ratio, although after they had been discharged from hospital,
their crash rate was found to be lower than that of the matched comparison group. Buttiglieri
and Guenette (1967, cited in Noyes, 1985) also observed that the rate of crashes tended to
decrease after release from hospital. As Eelkema et al (1970) did not control for distance
travelled, it is unclear whether the decrease in crashes was due to a decrease in the
distance driven by mentally ill patients after hospitalisation or some other factor. Patients
with personality disorders had the highest crash rates and showed little improvement after
release from hospital. However, these results were also confounded as the number of miles
driven was not controlled. Single vehicle crashes were almost solely found amongst the
Type of mental illness
A number of studies have found that not all categories of psychiatric patients are over-
involved in crashes. Increased crash rates were found amongst neurosis sufferers (Crancer
and Quiring, 1969, cited in Noyes, 1985) and people with personality disorders (Eelkema et
1970). Schizophrenics, on the other hand, did not differ significantly from the general
population (Crancer and Quiring, 1969, cited in Noyes, 1985). A number of studies have
also observed that alcohol problems are also implicated with substantial number of mentally
(Crancer and Quiring, 1970, Eelkema et al, 1970). Alcohol abuse amongst
psychiatric patients may make a considerable contribution to crash rate and therefore tends
to confound attempts to assess crash rates. A Finnish study has indicated that after
controlling for drug abuse, patients with psychiatric histories may have a similar crash rate to
the rest of the population (Maki and Linnoila, 1976).
Predicting aggressive drivers
The potential value of research into the personality and social characteristics of problem
drivers lies in establishing effective means of predicting crash liability. It is currently possible
to identify certain groups in the community who are at greater risk of being involved in motor
vehicle crashes than the general community. It can also be said that, there may be some
consistency in the personality traits of multiple crash drivers. However, there appears to be
no personality test which has been found to predict individual crash liability satisfactorily,
before the event.
A number of the studies discussed in the previous section utilized psychiatric interviews in
attempting to distinguish between crash free and crash involved drivers. This technique
represents an after-the-event method of detecting personal factors affecting motor vehicle
crashes. Hertz (1970) argues that the structured goal directed psychiatric interview may
prove a useful diagnostic tool for the detection of personal factors influencing crash
frequency. However, such techniques are extremely difficult to standardise adequately as
the training and personal qualities of the interviewer are also crucial. An interview may lead
to incorrect conclusions if important information is not extracted or if that information is not
adequately or properly interpreted (Anastasi, 1982). Interview techniques must therefore be
considered extremely limited in terms of individual crash prediction, and would be difficult to
apply on a widespread basis.
While a number of studies have produced positive results in identifying the personality
characteristics of crash involved drivers, the methodological problems of these studies
prevent any firm conclusions being drawn. These problems have included small sample
sizes and inadequate control for variations in risk and exposure. Research in the area of
aggression has included few cross validation studies. The study by Conger et al (1957,
1959) is one of the few to discuss the results of cross validation studies. As a consequence,
the literature does not reflect a systematic development, with researchers in general
applying either different established personality tests or developing their own tests. These
tests have either been developed on the basis of previous research, using factors the
researchers considered may influence driving behaviour, or using sub-scales from already
established tests. As most of these studies do not appear to have been cross validated, it is
not possible to judge which measures could be successful in discriminating aggressive
drivers. Of the established tests a number of scales on the MMPI were found to discriminate
between high and low crash drivers in a number of different studies. The MMPI would
appear to have been one of the most successfully employed tests, although it failed to
survive in cross validation by Conger et al (1957). The 16 personality factor questionnaire
was found to significantly discriminate between high and low crash drivers on at least one
scale in two different studies (Quimby and Watts, 1981, Williams, Henderson and Mills,
1974). McGuire (1976) reported success in cross validation with his Safe Driver Scale. Of
the other personality tests employed in the studies discussed, they would appear to be
balanced between positive and negative results.
These tests are indirect measures and as a consequence establishing their validity is
difficult. As these characteristics have been identified as personality traits, they imply a
certain amount of stability over time (Williams, Henderson and Mills, 1974). However, much
of the behavioural variance has been found to be accounted for by the situation rather than
the personality traits. An important question in view of this result would be to ask what is the
personality test actually measuring.
This area of research has been characterised by inadequately designed and conducted
studies. The validity of much of the research must therefore be questioned. Many authors
have levelled similar criticisms at studies of personality characteristics of drivers (Conger et
al, 1959, Valentine et al, 1977, Williams et al, 1974). A few of these studies (Conger et al,
1959, Tillman and Hobbs,
1949) have been criticised as they were based on
statistically extreme samples. The findings may therefore not generalise to the larger
population. While the term accident proneness with all its conceptual difficulties, has for the
most part been put aside, the research presented above continues to embody the notion that
some individuals, by virtue of their personal characteristics, are more likely to be involved in
crashes than others. These personal characteristics may be permanent and/or temporary,
due to emotional stress and/or familial upbringing, alcohol and social values.
Henderson (1971, cited in Valentine et al, 1977) maintains that the study of the pathological
characteristics of crash involved drivers is not productive as these traits appear to change
with time, age and situation and do not aid in effective crash prevention. The idea that more
aggressive people who display their aggressiveness in the way that they drive will have
more crashes than non-aggressive people has intuitive appeal. However, these studies do
not appear to add significantly to our collective knowledge about the causes of crashes.
It would appear from the literature that, while considerable research has been conducted into
the role of aggression in driving, few firm conclusions can be drawn. The problems
experienced in the research of driver aggression can be attributed, in part, to the complexity
and vagueness of some of the concepts involved. Both the dependent and the independent
variables are difficult to define (Lucas, 1970). Crash and violation frequency are often
difficult to establish accurately due to incomplete official crash records. In addition the
criteria applied to distinguish crash repeating drivers and drivers with low crash frequency
has varied considerably between studies making comparison difficult. The relevant personal
and social characteristics of drivers in relation to the occurrence of driver aggression have
appeared to be difficult to identify. In addition, measurement of these factors is necessarily
indirect. The instruments used in attempts to measure the underlying factors related to
driver aggression are notorious for their lack of validity and reliability. None of the measures
employed have been shown to be able to predict crash involvement on an individual basis.
Drivers at high risk of crash involvement exhibit a broad range of personal and social
characteristics. It is possible to divide this overall group into more distinct sub-groups.
These categories are not mutually exclusive but reveal substantial overlap. They include
people who drive under the influence of alcohol, young drivers (particularly young male
drivers) and possibly the mentally ill. Some drivers do not fall into any of the above
categories of high risk drivers identified. Drinking drivers and young drivers are known to
have crash and violation rates above that of the normal driving population. The evidence,
although not conclusive, suggests that the high crash rates of these drivers are significantly
related to hostility and aggression. In particular the suggestion has been made that some of
these individuals are less able to control aggressive impulses or tolerate tension.
The crash rate of young drivers tends to decrease with increasing age. A number of studies
have suggested that this results not only from increasing experience but also from increasing
maturity. It is postulated that these young drivers feel less need to engage in dangerous and
risky driving as they grow older. Alcohol plays a significant role in motor vehicle crashes and
is to some extent a confounding variable in studies on aggression in driving making the
differentiation of the effects of personality and alcohol difficult. This point has also been
noted by other reviewers (Valentine et al, 1977). There is now evidence that alcohol may
influence the occurrence of aggressive behaviour. The mentally ill would also appear to a
group at risk in the driving community. A proportion of this problem may relate to attempted
suicides by motor vehicle crashes. However, probably less than five percent (most likely 2
to 3 percent) of crashes can be attributed to attempted suicides (Noyes, 1985). It also
appears likely that the mentally ill are less likely to drive than other groups in the community
and therefore the proportion of these drivers involved in crashes is somewhat reduced as a
The general high risk group of drivers has also been described as having high levels of
hostility and aggression. Of these high risk drivers, a very small number may be ?sufficiently
disturbed or deviant to attempt suicide, murder, or malicious damage on the road, although
no clear statistics have been produced to verify this statement. Evidence that the rates of
road crashes are related to the crime statistics of the country is inconclusive. While there is
a volume of research which concludes that aggression plays a significant role in increased
crash and violation rates, as with drinking drivers and young drivers, firm conclusions are not
warranted. Many of the studies in this area have been beset by methodological problems
inadequate control for variations in exposure and hazard level
small sample sizes
use of inadequately standardised tests
failure to validate findings with different populations
No single personality trait has been identified which satisfactorily distinguishes the high
crash driver from the low or crash free driver. Personal factors which have been identified
as associated with motor vehicle crashes include generally high levels of aggression and
hostility, competitiveness, less concern for others, poor driving attitudes, driving for
emotional release, impulsiveness and risk taking. A background of social disruption and
deviancy appears to be more common amongst high crash and/or violation drivers who have
exhibited aggressive attitudes or responses.
While people who exhibit such behaviour patterns are undesirable as drivers, members of
the ‘normal’ driving population are also seen to exhibit aggressive (looking) behaviour. It has
been postulated that the motives of drivers do not only consist of a desire to get from A to B
in the safest possible way. Drivers may engage in risky driving practices in order to fulfil
these other motives. These motives include those suggested above in relation to crash
repeating drivers (thrill seeking, desire for speed, having fun, discharging tension) but may
also include others such as attempting to enter a busy traffic stream, keeping up with the
traffic stream, getting somewhere more quickly, frustration or bad temper.
Involvement of crash repeaters
The attention focussed on the role of aggression in driving and the personality
characteristics of repeated crash and conviction-involved drivers appears unwarranted given
the likely contribution of these factors in crash causation. Aggressive or
assumption of intent) risk taking behaviour would appear to have a high profile in terms of
observable on-the-road behaviour. Subjective experience would indicate that dangerous
driving is quite frequent. The authorities regularly complain in the media about the poor
attitudes of drivers in general (see for example The Age, Saturday, 10 October, 1987) and
the role they may play in crash causation. Even if it were agreed that aggressive personality
traits (hostility toward authorities and other drivers) are a causal link in repeated crashes
and/or violations, the effect of removing these individuals from the driving population would
appear to be comparatively small. That crash repeaters constitute a small proportion of the
driving population has been known for many years. Forbes (1939, cited in McGuire, 1976)
found that a small percentage of the population may have a high proportion of the crashes in
one time period. However, in the next period of time, that same percentage of crash
repeating drivers will be largely composed of different individuals.
Hampson (1984) cites a 1975 study by Sabey and Staughton who report that of the human
factors identified as being involved in road traffic crashes only 0.6 percent can be attributed
to frustrated or aggressive behaviour. The less strong definition we proposed which
encompassed driving acts aggressive in appearance, such as reckless driving or
irresponsibility, accounted for only 1.6 percent of the human factors identified as contributing
to motor vehicle crashes.
Burg (1970) in a six year study of the crash and violation rates of 7841 drivers found that the
majority of drivers involved in crashes had never been involved in crashes before. It should
be noted that only California Department of Motor Vehicles records were used. These
records are known to be an underestimate of the true number of crashes (Burg, 1970). The
Robertson and Baker (U.S.) study (1975) found that only six percent of drivers involved in
fatal crashes had more than eight convictions in all the years prior to the crash. Burg (1970)
found that the removal of all drivers with one or more crashes over a three year period would
19.8 percent of drivers and
29.6 percent of the crashes occurring in the
subsequent three year period. Eliminating drivers with two or more crashes over a three
year period would dispose of only 3.9 percent of drivers and 8.0 percent of crashes. The
elimination of drivers with three or more crashes (0.8 percent of drivers) would prevent only
2.0 percent of crashes. Burg concludes that traffic safety efforts would be more usefully
directed at the so called ‘normal driver’. As indicated above, it would appear that the
composition of the crash repeater group is not constant from year to year. Henderson
(1971) determined from Burg’s data that “if a three year, triple crash involvement crash
history is used as a predictor of crash involvement for the next three years, the prediction
would be correct in less than 50 percent of cases” (p. 46). A study by Peck, Coppin and
McBride (1967, cited in Robertson and Baker, 1975) found that the crash population from
year to year is largely a changing one.
“Of those drivers who were crash involved in 1961
and 1962, 86.8 percent were crash free in 1963. Conversely, the previously crash free
drivers accounted for the vast majority of the crashes in 1963” (p. 121).
Foundations of aggressive driving
Any initiatives to attempt to cope with aggression in driving must necessarily depend on the
theoretical approach adopted. While few researchers would dispute that a biological base to
aggressive behaviour exists in humans as well as in other animals, such an approach would
appear to offer little hope to road safety authorities attempting to combat aggressive driving.
There can be little doubt that there is a substantial learning component (at least in the ways
and situations in which aggression is expressed) to aggressive behaviour.
A number of researchers have attempted to relate aggressive driving behaviour to theories
of aggression. Whitlock
(1971) speculated that aggressive behaviour exhibited by
apparently normal adults may be accounted for in the terms of violation of perceived
territorial rights and the Lorenzian view that humans have a drive for aggression. Where
once, aggression was used in defence of the home, as the numbers of car owners increase,
aggression may come to occur “in furtherance of the driver’s sense of property rights”
(Whitlock, 1971, p. 133). In particular, Witlock suggests that, to the young male driver, who
in general owns little real estate, the motor vehicle becomes a “symbol of power and
prestige, a part of one’s territory to be defended by aggressive displays whenever its
integrity is threatened or breached”
Whitlock suggests that the territorial
explanation for aggressive driving may relate more to members of the ‘normal’ driving
population than the deviant driver who may be unable or unwilling to control his or her
aggression. Another possible explanation offered by Whitlock (1971) is that the automobile
essentially isolates the driver from other road users. In a sense then, many of society’s
restrictions are diminished. In addition, the design of the automobile offers “a certain amount
of immunity from retaliatory action” (Whitlock, 1971, p. 128). Drivers may therefore feel less
restrained about revealing aggressive dispositions.
Other researchers (Naatanen and Summala, 1976) have suggested that the frustration-
aggression hypothesis may account for the occurrence of aggressive behaviour in some
instances. For example, a number of researchers have suggested that the need for impulse
expression (for example, Selzer and Payne, 1962), or the inability to control hostility (for
example, Conger et al, 1959) may cause drivers to use their motor vehicles to reduce such
tension. The frustration-aggression hypothesis would propose that individuals need to
discharge feelings of frustration. An individual who has not been taught appropriate ways of
coping with frustration or distress may indulge in dangerous and aggressive driving in a futile
attempt to take control. Given the often frustrating nature of driving, it may not be surprising
that some drivers are aggressive in response to the difficult traffic situations they face every
Most of the speculation relating to the basic causes of aggression in driving supports the
notion that social norms and values play an important role. In view of this, the next section
will be devoted to a discussion of the role of society in crash causation. It may be that social
values influence attitudes toward aggressive driving and behaviour. Learning may also
influence the situations and the means by which feelings of frustration and aggression are
expressed. However, all of these comments must remain speculative in the absence of
conclusive evidence. The bases of aggression in driving are highly complex and most likely
occur as a result of a combination of biological and social factors. At present, the comments
relating aggression in driving to highly complex theories of behaviour must be judged to be
preliminary and highly speculative. Detailed research is required before any conclusions
could be drawn.
The role of society
It was earlier argued that society for the most part regards people who break the law as
deviants. However, this does not appear to extend to people convicted of motor vehicle of
fences (Clifford and Marjoram, 1978). It was postulated that the legislation against traffic
offences does not originate in prevailing norms of the society. Henderson (1971) has argued
that countermeasures initiated to prevent dangerous driving habits must be sanctioned by
society if they are to be effective. Preventive measures may have decreased effectiveness if
people in general do not regard traffic offences as criminal behaviour. Hampson (1984)
comments that it seem likely that society as a whole determines the level of safety margins.
He goes on to argue that society encourages risk taking and competitiveness. Henderson
(1972) remarks that the high crash rate of young male drivers is related to the essential
structure of society and the high social values placed on speed and mobility. Any advances
in alleviating this problem requires reaching some understanding of society as a whole.
Henderson (1972) and Klein (1976) both comment that the influence of the mass media on
driving behaviour and its role in counteracting educational efforts had never been properly
researched. The motor vehicle has been claimed to have symbolic meaning, for instance, it
represents freedom and privacy (Slater, 1970, cited in Klein, 1976). The advertising of motor
vehicles with few exceptions appears to reflect social values other than those of driving as a
means of transport. Advertisements emphasise status, speed, excitement and freedom to
name just a few. Henderson (1972) provides an example from a motoring magazine;
“And the next move goes something like this: the guy in the front slaps on the
brakes going into a tight left hander. But there’s no need to brake the..., flick
back to third, the tacho flips to 4700 and the tail slides out. Hold it with
fingertip correction on the wheel, a little more pressure on the throttle. The
clock says 60, and you're around, through and gone - and Fred’s behind you
still on the brakes...” (p. 17).
Henderson (1971) above argued that society must come to see drunken driving as socially
deviant as ‘urinating in George Street’. This must also be the case if attempts are to be
made to decrease the frequency of aggressive, competitive driving behaviour. In Klein’s
(1971) view, the individual’s behaviour and experiences may have powerful effects on his or
her driving behaviour. If as a society we emphasise values such as competitiveness and
aggressiveness, individual initiative, autonomy, challenge, excitement and risk taking, then
all facets of behaviour including driving will reflect these values.
Eron and Huesmann (1984) argue that they have found a direct positive relationship
between aggression and traditional masculine attitudes (which involve aggressiveness).
They argue that social learning plays an important role in reinforcing aggressive behaviour
patterns. As aggressive behaviours learned early in the child’s life, this would take place
primarily in the home. They go on to argue that if children (regardless of sex) learn prosocial
ways of solving problems, they will be much less likely to adopt aggressive tactics. Given
that (as the frustration-aggression hypothesis would propose) individuals need to discharge
feelings of frustration, an individual without the requisite skills to come to terms with
frustrating or upsetting events, may find alternative outlets for these feelings (such as risky
driving) in order to cope.
The findings of Eron and Huesmann are closely related to Carlson and Klein’s (1970)
conclusion that driving behaviour is learned primarily through the home and not through
external institutions. Carlson and Klein argue that driver education
(a major form of
institutional socialisation) will “only be effective in so far as it is able to modify inadequate
familial socialisation” (p. 24). In their judgement, education in general has not resolved this
The above comments on the role society plays in the development of aggressive driving
behaviour must remain, as with the earlier comments on the foundations of aggressive
behaviour, in the realm of theory. Further detailed research is required to examine the
relative role of biological and social factors in the foundations of aggression in driving. Until
that time these comments must remain speculative.
One of the first possible approaches to coping with aggression in driving may be to screen
drivers suspected of having problems (including mental illness and drivers under emotional
stress). Noyes (1985) argues that physicians would be able to aid in the prevention of motor
vehicle crashes if they were aware of the psychiatric factors related to impaired driving
ability. Nathan and Turner (1974, cited in Noyes, 1985) screened 100 drunk drivers, fifteen
of whom required immediate psychiatric intervention. Noyes argues that patients commonly
consult physicians in times of stress. The physician needs therefore to be aware that
personal crises may result in an increase in physical danger. Gibbens (1968) suggests that
physicians be alert for drivers suffering from mental breakdown and for signs of mental
deterioration in elderly patients if they have any unexplained crashes. Gibbens also argues
that drivers of heavy goods vehicles arid public service vehicles should not be permitted to
drive if they have suffered a psychotic breakdown, or have personality disorders. However,
these drivers may be detected only after they have already experienced a crash. A relatively
small literature proposes that mentally ill drivers should be discouraged if not prevented from
Modifying driver behaviour
Not surprisingly, attempts to modify driver attitudes and behaviour have concentrated on
enforcement and education. Naatanen and Summala (1976) present a strong argument for
the role of motivational factors in driving. A large motivational component of safe driving
behaviour would imply that modification of human behaviour may be productive in
decreasing crash rates (Henderson, 1971). However, attempts to alter driver behaviour have
been largely unsuccessful
1971). The motivational components of driver
behaviour are highly complex. It would almost certainly not be fruitful to suggest (as did
Brown and Berdie, 1960) that crashes could be reduced simply by calling to the attention of
the individual that he or she has a pattern of characteristics associated with high crashes.
Attempts to influence driver motivation include enforcement programs and driver education
programs (in the form of mass media campaigns and high school programs).
Enforcement in learning theory terminology may be viewed as a negative reinforcer, a
stimulus that a person would attempt to avoid (Shinar, 1978). The laboratory and road
environments are quite different. Avoidance training may be effective in the laboratory,
however, on the road may be less so (Shinar, 1978). According to Shinar the reason for this
is primarily because feedback and negative reinforcement in the laboratory can be fairly
immediate. However, on the road, due to limitations in funding, the monitoring of driver
behaviour by the authorities is not systematic. As a result, much dangerous driving may go
unnoticed and therefore unpunished.
Brown and Copeman (1973) argue that greater attention should be given to the design of
sanctions as a method of conveying societal values. “Ideally sanctions would delineate the
bounds of acceptable behaviour” (Brown and Copeman, 1973, p. 243). They also argue that
the strength of sanctions should correspond to the driver’s perception of the relative
seriousness of the offence. The concept of enforcement implies that individual drivers are
able to change their behaviour in the direction desired by society. Henderson (1971) also
argues that to be effective, countermeasures such as enforcement must be sanctioned by
society. However, there is evidence that the driver groups at whom many of these
enforcement programs are directed will not change their behaviour regardless of the strength
of the threat of punishment (Henderson, 1971). Henderson argues that ‘deviant’ drivers form
a sub group the members of which perceive advantages in their driving behaviour. These
drivers therefore do not wish to change their behaviour. Robertson and Baker (1975) present
evidence that a percentage of drivers who have their licences suspended, revoked or
refused may continue to drive. Five percent of 1447 drivers involved in fatal crashes in
Maryland in 1970 and 1971 were found to be driving without a valid licence. In addition, of
294 people who had at some time been denied a licence, 23 percent were found to have
received at least one conviction for a motoring offence during the time their licence had been
suspended. Ross (1976, cited in Shinar, 1978) has indicated that no changes in the rate of
fatal crashes involving drunken driving were observed after a law leading to automatic
imprisonment and loss of driver’s licence was introduced.
A large literature exists in relation to driver education, however, only a relatively small
selection would appear to be directed at influencing driver attitudes and consequentially
modifying potential aggressive tendencies.
In view of the work of Naatanen and Summala (1976), Hampson (1984) suggested that
driver education might be able to emphasise the fallibility of drivers, rather than its present
role of training to increase driver skill. “Public education by mass media might direct attention
toward informing drivers of the errors they are likely to commit, and teach them to adjust
their safety margins accordingly”. Henderson (1971) remarks that society retains a basic
faith in the power of education to influence human behaviour. The area of driver education
can be divided roughly into three sections; driver education courses for learner adults or high
school students, driver education for those identified as problem drivers, and mass media
Driver education courses
A large amount of research has been conducted on the value of driver education and
improvement courses, in particular high school driver programs. However, the majority of
this research. has been methodologically poor (Shinar, 1978). Conley and Smiley (1976)
found that the type of driver education (high school, commercial, no formal education) the
individual had undertaken failed to significantly differentiate crash and/or violation involved
drivers and drivers without crashes or violations. Similar results were also obtained by
Coppin, Ferdun and Peck (1965, cited in Shinar, 1978) and Asher and Dodson (1971).
Harrington’s (1972) results relating to driver education differed from these only on the basis
of conviction rate (which decreased) and crash rate (which decreased for females only).
The influence of driver improvement programs on the attitudes held by drivers was
investigated by Edwards and Ellis (1976). They administered the Siebrecht Attitude Scale to
drivers who participated in the Texas driver improvement training program and compared
driving performance (as measured by the number of crashes and violations in the period of
twelve months before and after the program). Only male drivers between the ages of 17 and
24 showed any improvement in attitudes after they had been through the driving program.
This group also had a significant decrease in the number of violations incurred after the
training program. However, no difference was observed in their crash rate.
Peck and Harano (1973, cited in Peck, 1976) concluded that warning letters, group meetings
and individual counselling sessions had the effect of reducing the frequency of traffic
violations amongst negligent drivers for approximately six months. After this time, the effects
were found to dissipate. McGuire and Kersh (1969, cited in Henderson, 1972) found that the
most improvement in crash rate occurred when crash repeating drivers were given
interviews with trained driver analysts who used a non-punitive approach.
Fear arousal has also been used in attempts to influence driver behaviour. Legarde, Lubman
and Hartnett (1971) and Beach (1966, cited in Lucas, 1970) studied the effects of fear
arousal on mood and attitude. LeGarde et al. (1971) after showing a highway safety scare
film found an increase in aggression, depression and anxiety after the film had been viewed
as measured by the Nowlis Mood Adjective Checklist. While female subjects were more
affected than male subjects, they returned to pre-film mood levels more quickly than male
subjects. Beach (1966, cited in Lucas, 1970) hypothesised that high-threat messages will fail
to cause an observable attitudinal or behavioural change because drivers are motivated to
avoid the message and its recommendations. Beach showed a film with either low-threat
(policeman performing routine duties) or high-threat (shots of dead and dying bodies near
wrecked vehicles, complete with sound track) insertions. Attitudes were measured before
and after the films were viewed. No significant differences in attitude were obtained between
either group after they had viewed either the low-threat insertion or the high-threat insertion.
However, when both groups were considered as a whole, certain attitude changes were
observed particularly those mentioned negatively in the films.
Publicity campaigns which have attempted to alter or influence driver attitudes have met
failure in reducing crash rates
1971, cited in Naatanen and Summala, 1976).
Naatanen and Summala (1976) suggest that the reason for this failure is that a causal
relationship between driver attitudes and crashes has yet to be firmly established. Grieg
(1970, cited in Naatanen and Summala, 1976) suggests for example, that a poor attitude
toward the police may be a result of having been convicted for an offence. Poor driving
attitudes and subsequent behaviour tend to satisfy the driver’s ‘extra motives’ in addition to
reflecting a lack of subjective risk on the part of the driver. Finally, the views about correct
driving behaviour espoused by traffic safety experts may not be the same as those in the
general community or sections of the community. In addition, as the driver already feels safe
on the road, cooperating with traffic safety campaigns brings little personal gain (Naatanen
and Summala, 1976). The behaviour promoted by such campaigns also require the
expending of effort for little perceived gain (Naatanen and Summala, 1976) and which in the
majority of cases offer no immediate pay offs for engaging in the behaviour.
Dissuading drivers from drinking
Given that alcohol has been implicated in aggressive driving, reduction in drinking behaviour
may produce some benefit. In recent years, increasing attention has been given by
authorities to the possibility of using informal social controls in order to prevent drinkers from
driving (Pandiani and McGrath, 1986). The Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving (1983,
cited in Pandiani and McGrath, 1986) underscored the importance of informal interpersonal
social controls. Pandiani and McGrath suggest that public education campaigns in
interpersonal techniques should be designed to encourage bystanders to attempt to
convince drinkers not to drive. Pandiani and McGrath found that bystanders were already
more likely to attempt to dissuade women and drinkers between the ages of 46 and 61 from
driving. The degree of intoxication and mood also influenced the likelihood of intervention.
Drivers who had reported feeling anxiety or fear at the time indicated attempts had been
made to dissuade them from driving. Much smaller numbers of those who had felt sad,
happy, angry or had reported no predominant mood had indicated that someone had
attempted to convince them not to drive. Henderson (1971) argues in relation to public
education concerning drunks and drink driving that research has failed to consider social and
cultural undertones in drinking and driving customs.
Directions for future research
As the problems of aggression in driving have been judged to be closely related to the basic
value structure of society, any attempts to decrease the level of such behaviour may require
a broader understanding of a range of societal values. Donelson (1985) has argued that
research-based knowledge and understanding of the sociocultural factors that play an
important role in the causation of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes could provide a
“basis for developing a technology of social change”
89). An approach has been
developed by the Injury Research Foundation of Canada, which encompasses the concept
of community based initiatives to drinking and driving. This may also be the case for areas
relating to aggression in driving. Other writers (Donovan et al, 1983, Henderson, 1971,
Wilde, 1973) have also argued that the sociocultural context requires further investigation in
order to understand the personal processes at work in crash causation. However, as Klein
(1971) comments, while at the individual level, many people may prefer to emphasise co-
operation rather than aggressive competition, given the present state of education and the
mass media, such changes will take a long time to be adopted by society as a whole. In view
of this, more research is also required to identify the reasons for the general lack of
effectiveness of driver education and publicity campaigns.
A discussion of risk taking was undertaken in this review because the argument has been
made that aggression and risk taking are closely related. It was recognised that risk taking
may not be indicative of intent to cause hazardous driving conditions, even though it may
have the appearance of aggressive behaviour. Given the difficulty of determining intent the
basis of this risky driving was investigated. Two different conceptualizations of the basis of
risk assessment by drivers were discussed. Both would indicate different origins for
aggressive behaviour. If drivers drive at the level of ‘crash’ risk they desire, the basic
motivation of the driver to be aggressive requires assessment. On the other hand, drivers
may not be aware that their driving puts themselves and other road users at risk. In this case
the study of risk taking and risk assessment by drivers may be a more productive line of
research than attempting to identify aggressive personality traits. Further research in this
area is required in order to determine the mechanisms of risk assessment. Given that
aggressive driving and risk taking may be indistinguishable on many occasions, further
investigation into the assessment of risk by different driver groups may reveal evidence of
importance in combating aggressive driving behaviour.
Further understanding of the context in which aggressive driving takes place is required.
However, the study of the personality and social characteristics of crash involved drivers
may not be productive as these traits have been found to change with time, age and
situation and cannot yet be used to predict accurately the crash history of individual drivers.
Even in the long term this area may not be fruitful in terms of countermeasures, especially
given the difficulties surrounding the gathering of adequate data. Henderson (1971) argued
that action is required to collect and store at the national level, the driving history (including
total crash involvement) of all licence holders. However, more knowledge is required about
what personal and social factors influence ‘normal’ driving behaviour.
Any further research investigating the possibility of a causal link between aggression and
road traffic crashes using personality tests would need to include stricter methodological
controls than those previously applied. In addition, validation of the results of previous
studies that have obtained significant effects using personality and attitude tests is
necessary. Adequate standardization of the personality tests employed is also required.
Given the apparently small number of drivers involved in multiple crashes and the difficulty
involved in investigating empirically the role of personality characteristics, social norms and
values on aggressive behaviour, it may be more productive (in terms of countermeasures) to
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Anger breeds contempt
Growing reports of violence and retributions on the nation's roads, following well-publicised
American trends over the last few years, are cause for concern. Some commentators
suggest that this 'road rage' phenomenon threatens social cohesion and requires prompt
amelioration. Otherwise, Australia's roads may become battlefields for antisocial behaviour.
Aggressive and violent behaviours have occurred on our roads for many years, but lately the
incidence appears to be rising. This is probably because stress from growing traffic
congestion causes anger, frustration and fear. The private anonymity of vehicles seems to
promote antisocial responses. A clash between an ageing car fleet and more powerful new
cars may also contribute.
While psychologists may term such aggression 'need for dominance' or 'territorial defence'
stemming from overcrowding, these terms do not help us solve the problem. Australians
have been long used to wide open spaces and do not readily accept crowded roads and
Road rage exists in many forms, from mild to very extreme. It includes verbal abuse; rude
gestures and horn use; tailgating and selfish lane changing; and extends to dangerous
manoeuvres, arguments, deliberate collisions, fights and even murder in a few
Besides the psychological trauma and possible injury, indirect effects are speeding, ignoring
road signs, poor lane discipline and lack of courtesy. Road rage may also be costly in terms
of higher fuel consumption, tyre and brake wear and the repair of collision damage.
A Scottish study found that one quarter of drivers had given chase to others who had
offended them in some way, while eight per cent had actually had a fight with other
motorists. The British Automobile Association reports that nine per cent of drivers were
victims of either verbal or physical attack last year. American surveys suggest that young
male drivers dominate road rage.
The Australian Associated Motor Insurers [AAMI] crash index shows aggressive driving as
the cause of an increasing rate of rear-end collisions and incidents due to failure to give way.
This is despite a general fall in the road toll, improved driver training and better roads. While
such events may not directly represent road rage, they do suggest related factors.
Pedestrians and cyclists are not excluded from road rage. Harassment can be directed at
them by aggressive motorists or their passengers. Some pedestrians and cyclists may not
obey road rules, causing annoyance or even danger to motorists; while motorists may forget
that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers have equal rights to road space use. Nonetheless,
there is no nationwide set of rules to address road rage, or for road safety in general (see
box) despite some effort in that direction.
National road safety law
Local, State and Federal Governments together handle road safety programs. However,
they are yet to agree on uniform road laws for all parts of Australia. Among current proposals
are a 50 km/h speed limit on suburban streets, left turns against red traffic lights, bicycles on
footpaths, bus priority and school zone speed limits of 25 km/h. Note that not all States use
speed cameras for law enforcement. The Australian Transport Council considers these and
other road safety issues.
Since 1991, the National Road Transport Commission has developed uniform and consistent
rules for vehicles designed to replace the basic traffic Regulations in all States and
Territories. However, the rules await adoption. They do not cover more serious offences
such as drink driving, fines and demerit points, driver licensing and registration, or bus seat
belts. Changing to the new rules would involve a once-only cost of new signs, line markings,
and education to total $75 million.
Road safety is a social health issue that accordingly deserves wide discussion in the
community. It requires clear guidelines and driver training. Victorian magistrates want the
specific power to suspend licences for road rage behaviour and to require offending drivers
to attend anger control and defensive driving courses. In the long term, technology may
provide some controls in the form of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). Intelligent transport
systems include electronic toll-charging devices, highway message signs and on-board
vehicle navigation systems able to assess road and traffic conditions. Red light cameras and
speed radar and laser detectors are common examples. More advanced intelligent transport
systems may involve vehicle speed controls and convoy flow regulation that ensure proper
separation between all vehicles. Intelligent transport systems aim to utilise electronic
technology and communications in vehicles and along roads to improve safety and traffic
flows. Experts claim that intelligent transport systems could reduce traffic congestion by
twenty per cent and accidents by eight per cent by the year 2011, although at a high cost.
Over the next decade though, we may expect improvements such as systems for handling
navigation, vehicle monitoring, emergency signalling, congestion avoidance and adaptive
cruise controls. Such physical restrictions may well help curb road rage in the long term but
they are still years away in full practice. They also have ‘fail-safe’ implications in the case of
In the short-term, though, road rage victims need some defensive and survival techniques.
Police and road safety education programs advise victims of aggressive drivers to avoid eye
contact and keep their distance, and drive to the nearest police station if necessary.
Motorists should keep doors and windows locked and never carry weapons. Drivers could
use or pretend to use a mobile telephone to request police or other assistance.
In the case of very bad drivers, one suggestion is that people should be encouraged to
report bad road behaviour. While one or two reports may not amount to much, if a report
database shows certain motorists being reported by a large number of others, something is
obviously wrong. A national telephone service could provide this database. The new New
South Wales road rage hotline on 133 112 is a step in this direction, but requires expansion
and wider use.
AGGRESSIVE AND INTIMIDATORY DRIVING
SOURCE: STAYSAFE Committee
Aggressive and intimidatory driving. Paper
presented by Mr Ian J. Faulks, Director of the
STAYSAFE Committee, at the Motor Vehicles
15 May 1997. Sydney,
NSW: Legal and Accounting Management
There has been growing concern expressed in the community, in Parliament and in the
media about aggressive, intimidatory, menacing and abusive driving, or so-called ‘road
rage’, on our roads. Recent incidents, particularly those of a violent nature, have been
highlighted in the media, and there have been arguments put forward that these violent
incidents are a new phenomenon which is growing alarmingly. As a result, there has been
community concern regarding the possible threat to public and individual safety.
The Premier, the Hon. Bob Carr MP, proposed that the STAYSAFE Committee should
review the nature and circumstances of the ‘road rage’ phenomenon, and the STAYSAFE
Committee received a formal reference from the Minister for Roads, the Hon. Carl Scully
MP, requesting an inquiry into aggressive, intimidatory, menacing and abusive driving.
The STAYSAFE Committee has decided to:
to identify and define the concept of 'road rage';
to determine the extent to which it represents, in turn, a community-wide issue, a road
safety problem, and a traffic management issue;
to examine the prevalence of these types of behaviours on our roads and whether there
is a changing trend;
to examine the psychological contributors or “stressors” which manifest in violent on-road
to examine the adequacy of existing laws to address the issue and make
recommendations for any reforms which may be appropriate; and
to examine the Government’s “Sharing the Road” initiatives and identify the degree to
which they can assist to promote courteous driving and riding amongst the majority of
The STAYSAFE Committee is thus seeking to provide an overview of the traffic
management, policing and legal issues surrounding aggressive, intimidatory, menacing and
abusive driving. In particular, the Committee will examine whether the legal sanctions now
in place are sufficient to deal with 'road rage' behaviours, and to examine whether the
penalties available upon conviction of violent or intimidatory offences on the road are
As the STAYSAFE Committee has not yet concluded its inquiries, this paper outlines some
of the issues under examination, and summarises some of the research in the area of
Aggressive and intimidatory driving
The STAYSAFE Committee is aware of an enormous number of complaints and stories of
aggressive or intimidatory or menacing or abusive driving incidents in which people have
been involved, or which they have observed. As indicated by the New South Wales
Parliamentary Secretary for Roads, Mr Grant McBride MP, recently:
"... I guess we can all relate to that issue [of road rage] because we have all
been guilty of it or a victim of it—including me."
But what is the this experience of 'road rage'? Some typical hypothetical cases illustrate the
range and diversity of experiences:
CASE 1: A man is driving his car on a bright clear day with only scattered traffic on a two-
lane undivided highway. He chooses to drive at 15-20 km/h over the posted maximum
speed limit, and catches up to and overtakes other vehicles repeatedly at high speed.
CASE 2: A woman is driving in the left lane of a multilane divided highway in moderate
traffic. She approaches another vehicle ahead of her, and will need to overtake if she
wishes to maintain her current speed. Approaching behind her, in the right lane, is another
faster vehicle. If the woman remains in the left lane and slows her vehicle’s speed slightly,
the faster vehicle will overtake both her and the vehicle ahead in a single manoeuvre. The
woman pulls out to overtake the slower vehicle ahead just before the faster vehicle behind
her has drawn abreast to her vehicle. The driver of the faster vehicle flashes the vehicle’s
headlights and brakes to a distance of less than 6-7 metres behind the woman’s vehicle.
After passing the slower vehicle, the woman indicates and moves into the left lane and the
faster vehicle then overtakes her in turn and continues on.
CASE 3: A woman is driving in wet weather and at dusk in the middle lane of a three-lane
divided major arterial route in metropolitan Sydney. The peak hour period is ending, but the
traffic flow remains heavy and continuous. Passing through an intersection at the top of a
hill, she notes a gap in the traffic in the right lane, and quickly indicates and moves into the
right lane. As she does so, the driver of a following vehicle in the right lane flashes the
vehicle’s headlights and sounds the horn. The woman then begins to brake her vehicle as
she proceeds down the hill, indicating and slowing down to enter a turning bay to effect a
right turn at the next intersection. The driver of the following vehicle in the right lane again
flashes the vehicle’s headlights and sounds the horn. The driver of the following vehicle
later contacts police and passes on the woman’s vehicle registration number, complaining
that the woman ‘cut in’ and then tried to ‘baulk the driver’ by braking suddenly.
CASE 4: In peak hour traffic moving at a crawl, or a very slow speed, the driver of a vehicle
in the centre lane turns on the left indicator and edges the vehicle across the painted lane
markings, seeking to enter the left, kerbside lane. A driver in the kerbside lane accelerates
his vehicle to block the manoeuvre.
CASE 5: A vehicle is driven in the right lane of a multilane divided highway in moderate
traffic at the posted maximum speed limit of 100 km/h. This vehicle is not overtaking several
vehicles in the left lane, but is maintaining a relatively constant position. Approaching behind
this vehicle is a stream of faster traffic. The driver of the vehicle in the right lane does not
indicate and move into the left lane, nor does he speed up to complete any overtaking
manoeuvre in a short time. The lead driver of the faster traffic stream flashes the vehicle’s
headlights and begins to tailgate, maintaining a distance of less than 6-7 metres behind the
slower vehicle. The driver of the slower vehicle makes a rude gesture, and brakes suddenly
and sharply, causing all vehicles in the traffic stream to brake suddenly to avoid a collision.
The driver of the slower vehicle then matches speed with a vehicle in the left lane, and
maintains this relative position for several kilometres, contributing to a build up of a banked
stream of traffic in both the right and left lanes.
CASE 7: Approaching a T-intersection onto a priority road, a driver pauses only momentarily
at a Give Way sign and begins pulls out into the traffic stream. The driver of a vehicle on the
priority road is forced to take evasive action to avoid a crash, braking and sounding the horn,
before accelerating past the emerging vehicle, making a rude gesture in passing. At the
next signalised intersection, which is subject to a red stop light, a male passenger in the
vehicle which entered onto the priority road gets out, shouts abuse and strikes at the other
driver, then damages the windscreen wiper arms and dents in the drivers side door.
CASE 8: After the situation described in Case 4, one of the drivers then follows the other,
closely (tailgating) and without pause or deviation. The driver follows all of the way to the
other driver's home, even though this is a considerable divergence from the original intended
journey. The drivers do not speak or gesture at each other, and the following driver merely
drives slowly past the other's home without stopping, but stares steadily at the other driver
as the vehicle proceeds past the home.
It is unclear, in all of the examples detailed, if aggressive driving actually occurred. That is,
how do we separate the robust 'hurly-burly' of everyday driving interactions, including
instances of inappropriate and mistaken driving behaviour, such as poor gap selection,
inappropriate speed and acts of discourtesy or rudeness, from instances of aggression?
Even when it can be held that there was clearly aggressive behaviour, it can sometimes be
rather difficult to agree upon who, in fact, was the aggressor and who was the victim. Which
drivers in these hypothetical cases were aggressive? In some of the examples, were both
drivers aggressive? In Case 7, where the passenger was aggressive, should the driver
conveying him be held to be responsible for his passenger’s actions? Further, it seems that
contradictory, but equally plausible, stories can be obtained from each of the participants in
the types of driving encounters described in these hypothetical cases.
When the New South Wales government moved to establish a 'Sharing the Roads' forum
recently, with the objectives of promoting increased consultation and better understanding
between road users groups such as the truck industry, bus drivers, motorists, motorcyclists,
bicyclists and, pedestrians, one of the actions undertaken was to attempt to survey
community concerns about the interaction of these different user groups. A telephone
survey was designed, using the model of a 'hotline' which people could call and register their
opinions. Very rapidly, the telephone hotline was dubbed the 'road rage hotline' and
hundreds of instances of aggressive driving and more serious crime were being reported.
Most complaints were from car drivers about other car drivers, and reported tailgating,
obstructive driving, prolonged use of the horn, and use of obscene gestures.
Road safety and aggressive driving
The impact of antisocial behaviour on road trauma is not known and statistics of such
behaviour are not maintained in any form. Notwithstanding this, such behaviour certainly has
the potential to impact on road trauma through its effect of further complicating the already
complex task of negotiating the road system. Similarly, if the antisocial behaviour were to
take the form of a deliberate act of causing a collision between road users, then the
incidence of road trauma would be affected.
The general response of road safety workers to community concerns with aggressive and
intimidatory driving has been to downplay the significance of such conduct as a road safety
issue. They say:
“Show me the road trauma that is associated with such conduct ... how many
people have been killed or injured?”
The STAYSAFE Committee notes that it is possible to construct an argument that the
community’s concerns with dangerous, aggressive and otherwise inappropriate road
behaviour have arisen in direct association with the community’s increasing intolerance of
road trauma as a intractable aspect of a motorised society. Community intolerance to road
deaths and injury can thus be seen as a consequence, in part, of the successful
interventions by successive Governments in educating the community about the risks and
consequences of inappropriate and illegal road use, and in introducing and promoting new
traffic enforcement technologies and police operational deployment strategies to deter road
users from inappropriate and illegal conduct.
Studies of aggressive driving
Despite the plethora of media reports on ‘road rage’, there are few studies of aggressive and
intimidatory driving. Only a few research studies met the demand for scientific rigour.
Among these is the study of Grey, Triggs and Haworth (1989), who examined the role of
personality, social characteristics, risk and motivation in driver aggression, and the work of
Carthy, Packham, Rhodes-Defty, Salter, and Silcock (1993), who examined perceptions and
attitudes towards risk and safety on the roads.
Recently, however, several other studies and reviews have emerged. For example, in the
United States of America, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has released preliminary
results of a survey of changes in the reporting of aggressive driving, claiming that aggressive
driving has progressively increased during the 1990s. The study analysed 10,037 police
reports and newspaper stories over the period 1990-1996 that concerned traffic incidents
that led to violence. The preliminary analysis indicated that reports of violent traffic incidents
have increased nearly 7% per year since 1990. However, these preliminary results should
be regarded with caution.
Several studies have been completed in Australia and New Zealand, including an
exploratory study by New Zealand police (Wright, Gaulton & Miller, 1997), a study by
Murdoch University researchers for the Royal Automobile Club in Western Australia (Crime
Research Centre, 1997), and a report by Elliott & Shanahan Research for the Victorian
government (as yet unpublished).
Wright, Gaulton & Miller (1997)
Wright, Gaulton & Miller (1997) found that driving is inherently a frustrating task. Frustration,
they argued, is built into road systems, with:
differing speed laws for trucks and cars on narrow two-lane, two-way roads
laws on merging that are not clear to the average motorist
the simultaneous presence of drivers of different skills, knowledge and abilities, including
the learner driver, the elderly and the tourist from overseas
the need to acknowledge that even a careful driver will sometimes fail to signal, or
inadvertently obstruct another vehicle’s progress.
Skilled drivers are often intolerant of drivers who do not perform at what they see as an
equivalent and appropriate level of competence.
Sixteen cases of serious road aggression were examined in Wright et al.’s study—it is
acknowledged that the conclusions are only indicative of the factors involved, and more
detailed study is required. In all cases, the origin of the incident was an instance of poor,
careless or risky driving (e.g., pulling into the traffic stream or onto the roadway without
looking, following closely or tailgating, or competition between drivers during merging).
Perpetrators of aggressive behaviour were likely to be male, with the victims also likely to be
male. The forms of assault reported were punches and use of a weapon, usually an item
that was easily to hand such as a tyre lever, rocks on the roadside, etc.. This indicated that
the intention to assault was usually not premeditated. The study suggests that those drivers
who vent their frustration in acts of aggression are likely to demonstrate that same lack of
personal restraint in other areas of their life. Almost all acts of violence between drivers end
in court with offenders facing assault or more serious charges.
The study rejected the popular notion that getting behind the wheel of a car taps some
primal urge to make an otherwise meek and mild person into an aggressive ‘road rager’. In
fact, throughout the study the term ‘road rage’ was dropped in favour of expressions such as
frustration or aggression. The popularity of the catchy label ‘road rage’ appears to be giving
the phenomenon a credence it does not deserve. If one citizen attacks another the crime of
assault has occurred; it should not be dignified by any lesser description of their criminal
Crime Research Centre (1997)
A major investigation commissioned by the Royal Automobile Club of W.A. (Crime Research
Centre, 1997) sought to define the extent of aggressive driving in Western Australia. The
key findings of this study were reported as:
‘Road rage’ is not an especially new phenomenon
It can be explained by the same processes that explain other forms of violence, such as:
the perpetrator’s perceptions of injustice;
acceptability of violence to the perpetrator;
belief systems/view of the world as aggressive and competitive.
In addition to these 'normal' processes, a proportion of violent incidents on the road are
facilitated by certain features of urban road systems, driving behaviour and traffic
pressures. These may be amenable to preventative strategies.
Driving is inherently stressful and stress may be increasing due to longer and more
frequent journeys and the increasing volume of traffic.
For many in the 'at risk' group who are concerned with the presentation of their
masculinity, driving becomes another arena of competition, struggle and apparent
hierarchies of power. The road then becomes a particularly suitable 'screen' on which
masculine power games are projected and played out.
Driving brings with it various implicit and explicit formal and informal rules about how to
behave (drive). The same set of rules are not always shared by everyone and
perpetrators are often responding to what they see as an insult or a violation of 'rules'
that the other driver evidently does not share. Staying within their own narrow frames of
reference, perpetrators choose to escalate the difference into an occasion to
It would be wrong however to conclude that 'road rage' is an ever-present phenomenon
that is spread generally in the driving population. Perpetrators of road violence, on the
whole, fall into fairly predictable categories. They tend to share the same characteristics
as perpetrators of other forms of violence. In contrast to the stereotype of the 'road rager'
as the adult, tormented to the point of madness by years of urban gridlock, the
perpetrator of road violence emerges more often as a young and inexperienced driver.
Young men who accept violence as a problem-solving technique, and who have
previously used violence are much more likely to be perpetrators. The media tendency to
see 'road rage' as an 'everyman' phenomenon may be designed to make better copy by
exciting listener, viewer and reader interest. However, this emphasis detracts from
seeing this phenomenon correctly, and from the necessary confrontation of the belief
systems that underpin aggression and violence. This media focus may serve to trivialise
a serious form of violence.
Driver related violence and aggression in Western Australia is triggered by a range of
behaviours, particularly cutting in, tailgating, holding up traffic (particularly when turning
right), road crashes, sudden lane changes and competition for parking space.
Responding to the behaviour of other drivers, through hand gestures or verbally, can
also spark retaliatory violence.
Women drivers are under-represented as victims of road violence in comparison with
both population figures and with other forms of stranger violence. However, women
seem especially vulnerable to abuse for being cautious and safety conscious - in short,
for obeying traffic laws. Men are more likely to follow 'rules' which privilege speed and
mobility and interpret the cautious behaviour of others as impeding their progress.
Road crashes (even minor bumps) seem to trigger serious assaults more frequently than
other incidents. Assaults with implements such as iron bars, baseball bats and cricket
bats have occurred on a number of occasions. Nevertheless, the number of reported
road violence incidents in Western Australia is a small fraction of the number of reported
Driving related violence has been linked to commuter stress in some of the literature and
occurs most often in city areas, but a sizeable proportion also takes place on weekends
in the car parks of suburban shopping malls. Competition over parking spaces and minor
crashes can result in assaults and verbal abuse.
Road violence reported to police increased slightly between 1991 and 1995, both as a
proportion of the population and as a proportion of traffic volume in the Perth
metropolitan area. However, road violence as a proportion of all street assaults by
strangers has remained relatively stable.
Most victims and offenders of violent road incidents were male and non-Aboriginal, with
a median age between 27 and 28 years. The risks of being a victim peaked amongst
those persons aged between
19 years. For this age-group, the risk of
victimisation for males was four times greater than that for females.
Compared with other forms of street violence by strangers, victims and offenders
involved in road violence were more likely to be older, non Aboriginal and male.
Furthermore, they were less to likely to receive injuries, particularly serious injuries, from
The Western Australian Police Service 'cleared' or 'solved' about half of all reported
incidents of road violence. The police were more likely to proceed with charges in more
serious cases, involving injuries to the victim.
Violent road incidents were more likely to occur in the afternoon than during the morning.
The time period of highest frequency was between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., which is also when
traffic flow peaks in the Perth metropolitan area. Furthermore, traffic flow and road
violence both peaked on Fridays.
Most incidents occurred in the Perth metropolitan area and one in fourteen occurred in
the Perth Central Business District.
Intersections, particularly those with traffic lights, appear to be 'hot-spots' for road
violence. The unnecessary emergence of a driver from another car represents a danger
signal for road violence.
The prevention of driving related violence depends to some extent on the effective
prosecution of offenders, the correct dissemination of information and an educational
strategy to make expected behaviour more explicit.
The relatively small number of violent incidents reported to police may represent a 'tip of
the iceberg' view or, alternatively, may be an indicator that the vast bulk of drivers show
tolerance and self control on most vehicle trips. It is clear that the types of driving
behaviour that initially provoked incidents of road violence occur frequently and easily on
the road. a large measure of tolerance for the mistakes of other drivers is a necessary
ingredient for road safety.
As in other areas of crime prevention 'early intervention' is useful: anger and stress
management techniques, personal safety techniques and driver tolerance should be
incorporated into training.
Elliott & Shanahan Research (unpublished)
STAYSAFE examined Barry Elliott, of Elliott & Shanahan Research, about his recent (but as
yet unpublished) work on road rage. He commented:
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING (STAYSAFE): I would like to turn to Mr Elliott with
reference to ‘road rage’. As you are aware, the Committee has been asked to look at
the issue of aggressive and intimidatory driving. We understand that you in fact also
have specifically looked at the issue of ‘road rage’ and therefore I wonder would you
care to summarise your conclusions in that regard.
Mr ELLIOTT: My conclusion is based upon examining what is happening around the
world and in Australia. To start with, ‘road rage’ has been around for a long time and in
fact Lord Byron wrote in a letter that one day he confronted somebody on the road, an
impudent fellow, that he felt he should lash—now, he did not actually do it.
What has happened of course is ‘road rage’ has been something that has become very
much in the media. If I presented a chronology of the media events in Victoria you
would be staggered. Every day for something like 8-10 weeks ‘road rage’ was in the
I was interested to see in New South Wales recently ‘road rage’ was used in reference
to the M2 freeway and how the residents feel about the M2 freeway. We had the
Victorians police pull out the number of ‘road rage’ incidents and over a four year
period they had 70 incidents which lead to police prosecutions.
Mr GIBSON (CHAIRMAN): What is your definition of ‘road rage’, before we go any
further? The police base that on actual prosecutions or charges. ‘Road rage’ has a far
wider range than just to base it on that.
Mr ELLIOTT: My report suggests that we do what most sensible authorities consider,
and that is that ‘road rage’ is related to assault. If we talk about ‘road rage’ being
anger and frustration, then we have an entirely different set of things to look at. I think
the existing laws on assault allow the police to deal with the matters of ‘road rage’ as
they arise and as I was about to say, in Victoria, for instance, there were something
like 70 over four years, and yet there are 70 assaults per day in Victoria, assaults per
se, as distinct from assaults that occur in our road system, and so that when you put it
in perspective, ‘road rage’ has been blown out of all perspective at this point in time.
My report shares some of the advice which I think your Committee was given, for
instance, by the NRMA that we should not use the term. Where assaults occur on the
Mr GIBSON (CHAIRMAN): That is assault, not road rage.
Mr ELLIOTT: It is what ‘road rage’ is, and what most authorities around the world
would regard as ‘road rage’, and existing laws are sufficient to deal with the issue.
Incidence of aggressive and menacing driving
As noted earlier, aggressive behaviour on the road is not new. In the preceding passage of
transcript evidence, Mr Barry Elliott of Elliott and Shanahan Research commented on an
aggressive incident reported by Lord Byron. The STAYSAFE Committee also notes a much
older, and more celebrated
‘road rage’ incident, as related in the Greek tragedy of
Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Oedipus was the son of Laius, King of Thebes, and Jocasta.
King Laius was warned by an oracle that he would die at the hands of his newly born son,
and that the boy would commit incest with Jocasta. In an attempt to avoid the prophecy,
Laius caused Oedipus to be abandoned on Mount Cithaeron to die of exposure. However,
the infant Oedipus was rescued by a shepherd of King Polybus of Corinth, and raised at
Corinth as the king’s son. As a grown man and pretender to the throne of Corinth he was
told by the Delphic oracle of the prophecy that he must inevitably kill his father and marry his
mother. Aghast and desperate to avoid his fate, Oedipus decided never to return to Corinth.
But travelling on the road he encountered King Laius of Thebes at a crossroads. Naturally,
neither Oedipus nor Laius recognised each other. A dispute over right of way ensued and
escalated, and in the subsequent quarrel and fight Oedipus killed King Laius, thus satisfying
the first part of the prophecy. He later, after solving the riddle of the Sphinx: ‘What goes on
four feet, then two feet, and three, But the more feet it goes on the weaker it be?’, saved
Thebes from the ravages of that monster. In reward, the city accorded Oedipus the Theban
throne and marriage to Jocasta, thus fulfilling the prophecy and ultimately and inevitably
leading to tragedy: a plague struck Thebes, Oedipus and Jocasta discovered their incest,
Jocasta suicided, and Oedipus, after blinding himself, entered into exile at Colonus, near
Athens. Clearly, more than two millennia ago, the notion of aggressive disputation as to
rights of travel on a roadway was plausible to a public audience!
The STAYSAFE Committee accepts that it likely that most incidents of aggressive and
menacing driving are unreported. The Crime Research Centre (1997) report into road rage
“... the number of violent incidents reported to police is known to be a small
fraction of those occurring. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics
National Crime and Safety Survey showed that one third of physical assaults
were reported to police in 1993.” (p.1)
But an important issue is that the media debate over ‘road rage’ includes assaults and
personal violence and property damage, but also those behaviours which are directed at
thwarting another driver but which do not fall within the ambit of overt criminal acts against a
person or property.
The Crime Research Centre (1997) report continued:
“There are reasons why other approaches to the measurement of ‘road rage’
would lead to far higher estimates of its prevalence. Higher estimates would
arise from: the use of a survey methodology rather than police records; a
broader definition of violence to include property danger; or a much more
inclusive approach to consider road incidents that include aggressive or
dangerous driving episodes such as tailgating, light flashing, obscene
gestures, horn-honking, etc.” (pp.1-2)
Offences relating to aggressive and intimidatory driving
The STAYSAFE Committee has sought information concerning the nature and types of
offences associated with aggressive driving. It seems that instances of aggressive,
intimidatory, menacing and abusive behaviour by motor vehicle drivers can be categorised
so as to distinguish between low level behaviour
(e.g., gestures, flashing headlights,
sounding of a vehicle's horn, verbal abuse, etc.), from the more extreme behaviour involving
actual physical violence and the use of weapons, including the motor vehicle as a weapon?
In general, there is a hierarchy of escalating seriousness for driving offences and the
hierarchy is based on both the degree of seriousness of the wrongful driving and also the
degree of seriousness of any injuries involved. Perhaps towards the least serious end of the
scale is the traffic offence of negligent driving, leading to the most serious criminal offence
against the person of murder, where a person deliberately kills another person through the
use of a motor vehicle. There is also a hierarchy of offences relating to acts of personal
violence, and that hierarchy is based both on the seriousness of the injury intended by the
perpetrator and the seriousness of the injury that results. It could be said that common
assault—which does not necessarily feature any injury at all, it can just be the creation of
fear in the victim—is at the bottom of the scale, again leading to the most serious criminal
offence against the person of murder.
It can be argued that caution should be exercised before introducing new hierarchies or new
aggravating features, because the law is already reasonably complex. On the other hand, if
a gap is identified it may call for action. Furthermore, it could be said that the creation of a
specific offence or hierarchy of offences may call attention to the unacceptableness of
particular forms of conduct.
The predominant view seems to be that the incidents commonly referred to as ‘road rage’
are simply examples of improper or antisocial behaviour. It seems to be current practice to
categorise human behaviours into separate areas, then explain away that type of behaviour
to certain external influences. To the lay person this could be seen as an effort to shift
responsibility for these behaviours away from the individual to external causes. Efforts to
generalise incidents of antisocial behaviour tend to legitimise such behaviours as though
they were an accepted concept.
But the behaviour of persons is judged by community standards as either acceptable or
unacceptable, regardless of whether it is associated with motor vehicles or whether it occurs
on public streets. The behaviours associated with aggressive driving are already deemed, as
general behaviours, to be unacceptable to the community and can be addressed by existing
For example, if a person were to physically attack another person following the incident, the
persons in dispute, whether or not the incident is related to road use, would be subject to the
existing provisions relating to assault under the Crimes Act. Similarly, provisions of the
Summary Offences Act could apply to gesticulating and verbal abuse; the excessive use of a
motor vehicle’s horn could be dealt with under the Motor Traffic Regulations; and the
provisions of the Traffic Act could apply to menacing driving. The provisions of the Crimes
Act could apply to acts of physical violence and the treat of physical violence.
It is pertinent to look at the causal factors which lead to these aggressive driving incidents
occurring. Most frequently, it involves a vehicle or driver:
sounding his/her horn in anger at some perceived transgression,
following the vehicle in front too closely,
cutting into a line of traffic and narrowly avoiding a collision.
The sounding of a vehicles horn is lawful if intended as a warning of danger. Unfortunately,
many road users regard another road users use of the horn as a major abuse or criticism of
themselves of their driving prowess. Those persons may then regard it as necessary to
effect some form of redress on the person who had ‘defamed’ them. It is very difficult at
Court to obtain a conviction for the offence of ‘unnecessarily sound horn’. a standard
defence is almost always proffered that the horn was sounded to warn another road user of
danger and the information is subsequently dismissed.
There may be justification for the introduction of a tailgating offence of ‘follow too closely’ in
order to discourage the practice of tailgating which is practised by many road users today.
The difficulty would of course be in preparing legislation which would be practical and which
could be successfully prosecuted at Court.
There is sufficient legislation currently in place to deal with lane discipline matters, although
the STAYSAFE Committee notes that a review of the fixed penalties for infringement notices
could be appropriate.
Other, more serious instances are sometimes reported to police which involve drivers who
involved in broken relationships/custody/property disputes,
using vehicles as a weapon,
escalating an on-going dispute.
These instances are often reported under the provisions of the Traffic Act s.4 and s.4AA.
Both Sections carry a penalty, for a first offence, of 15 penalty units and/or 9 months
imprisonment, and for a second or subsequent offences 20 penalty units and/or 12 months
imprisonment, where no person is killed or injured. The penalties prescribed for these
offences have not been increased, in real terms, for more than seventeen years and a
review would not be inappropriate.
The STAYSAFE Committee has already recommended the creation of a new offence to
cover serious incidents of deliberate or aggravated dangerous driving. This offence would
relate to instances where there is no actual collision or where a collision does not result in
injury or death but where the offender subjects the public to high levels of danger due to the
deliberate or irresponsible actions.
The STAYSAFE Committee notes that offences under the Crimes Act s.545B (Intimidation or
annoyance by violence or otherwise) and s.562AB (Stalking, intimidation with intent to cause
fear for personal safety) might indeed be applicable to the more serious instances of
aggressive driving, but also notes that offences under s.545B are apparently notoriously
difficult to prove.
Both of these criminal offences provide significant penalties upon conviction:
up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of 20 penalty units for a conviction of
intimidation under s.545B
up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of 50 penalty units for a conviction of
stalking under s.562AB.
These offences and penalties could be seen as a deterrent to incidents of this nature but
they are as yet untried, to the STAYSAFE Committee’s, for aggressive driving incidents.
The question of effectiveness cannot therefore be properly addressed.
The STAYSAFE Committee is interested in the question of whether the current structure of
offences for violent driving behaviour allows for an appropriate graduation of severity of
offences, similar to the graduation seen in the general forms of offences against the person?
It would seem that if an offence is dealt with by way of an offence under the Traffic Act then
there is little graduation between the different offences. Convictions under s.4 and s.4AA
both carry similar penalties. As suggested previously, an offence for 'aggravated dangerous
driving' could be considered, and if created should appear in the hierarchy at a higher level
than the s.4 offence of 'drive manner dangerous'. Alternatively, if the offence were to be
dealt with under the provisions of the Crimes Act then an identical degree of graduation
between offences is available, and the fact that the incident arises as the result of a road
related matter makes no difference. Of course, in either case a degree of graduation is
provided by the presiding Justice who, upon conviction, determines what level of penalty
The STAYSAFE Committee is also interested in the question of whether the penalties under
current New South Wales traffic and criminal law allow offenders convicted of proven
instances of aggressive, intimidatory, menacing and abusive behaviour by drivers of motor
vehicles to be dealt with effectively. That is, are the penalties sufficient to reflect the
objectives of general and specific deterrence, to remove the immediate threat to the
community of violent driving behaviour, etc.?
Of course, the generally accepted purpose of sentencing is to:
punish the offender proportionate to the gravity of the offence
generally deter others likely to otherwise commit the offence
specifically deter the offender from repeating the offence, and if possible, rehabilitate
protect society from the offender during the course of rehabilitation.
The question of effectiveness of existing penalties should therefore be considered in terms
of these stated purposes.
The STAYSAFE Committee accepts that different people respond to different deterrents,
and even where an offence is punishable by penal servitude for life there are still those
persons who will act in contravention of the law. This is particularly the case in matters
where emotions overtake common sense and persons do not take into account the full
consequences of their actions. The Committee also acknowledges that the specific
deterrence and possible rehabilitation of an individual offender is a difficult matter to
address. While it may be that the imposition of punitive measures alone can act as a
sufficient specific deterrent to some persons it is not necessarily going to be effective in all
instances. Even more difficult to address is the question of rehabilitation through penalty. In
this sense, the Committee recognises that it may be relevant to consider the development of
some type of scheme to address the psychological aspects of these offences, perhaps a
mandatory counselling or assessment scheme, in an effort to prevent recidivism or even to
aid in determining why these offences occur in the first instance.
Police action in response to aggressive driving
The STAYSAFE Committee has sought the advice of police as to what action can be taken
in reported instances of aggressive driving.
If the incident were to occur in the presence of, and was witnessed by, police then existing
provisions allow for them to be dealt with in a simple manner with police taking immediate
action by way of infringement notice, summons or arrest depending on the exact
circumstances involved. If the matter is subsequently the subject of Court proceedings police
can attend and greatly assist the Court in its deliberations by providing their professional
account of the occurrence.
When these matters are not witnessed by police, and this would represent the vast majority
of instances, they become more difficult to deal with.
In those instances certain procedures need to be carried out prior to the taking of action to
ensure fairness, equity and judicious use of police powers. It is often the case with matters
such as these that the police investigations result in a situation where it is 'one word against
another', with police not knowing where the truth really lies.
As an example, suppose that an assault has occurred and is later reported to police. It is not
difficult to understand that it is improper and unsafe to presume that it is the wronged party
who reports the matter. The reality is that the winner of a fight rarely complains to police that
the incident has occurred, in all likelihood it will be the loser of the encounter who reports the
matter to police for a variety of reasons such as damaged pride or dissatisfaction with the
result of the incident. The person reporting an incident, therefore, is not necessarily telling
the truth or the whole truth of the matter. This reality does not bear any consistency with the
actual circumstances which lead to the incident itself and does not reveal:
who has committed any offence, or
who was properly acting in their own self defence, or
if it were an incident where both parties participated by consent.
This can make it very difficult for police to take appropriate action to deal effectively with the
matter. Other matters which add to the difficulties can include the lack of witness to a matter,
the independence of those persons who will provide police with a witnesses account of the
incident and the general apathy of the public who ‘don't want to get involved’.
Another difficulty arises when a minor matter is reported, say gesticulation and verbal abuse,
where the person reporting does not wish any further involvement in the matter other than to
inform police it has occurred. In cases where a person is not prepared to make a statement
and attend Court at a later time as a witness then police have no evidence to act on and are
impotent to address any wrong doing on the part of the alleged offender.
What are the procedures that are conducted by police when a motorist reports an instance of
aggressive, intimidatory, menacing or abusive behaviour by another driver? The procedure
to be followed in such instances are identical to any other matters reported to police. It
becomes necessary for the investigating officer to conduct a full investigation of the matter.
This police investigation can include:
inspection or examination of the scene/physical evidence
taking of photographs for later production at Court
identification, location and interview of witnesses
obtaining reports/statements from expert witnesses
identification, location and interview of suspect/offender
gathering and safe keeping of exhibits
determination of action to be taken
compilation of the brief of evidence
the commencement of proceedings for offences disclosed
breach report, C.A.N., charge)
prosecution of matters through the Courts
provision of victim support
completion of police records
It is worth noting that a variety of difficulties can be routinely encountered while conducting
enquiries into matters such as these. Examples of these difficulties that can arise include:
tracing interstate vehicles, particularly heavy vehicles
owner claims ignorance of the driver of a vehicle—this is particularly relevant to
vehicles owned by companies
vehicle has been sold and registration not transferred
owner has changed address and not notified the Roads and Traffic Authority
incorrect registration number supplied to police
there is no compulsion at law for the driver of a motor vehicle to supply a version of
the incident complained of—unlike the requirement for a driver involved in a collision
to provide information.
Police advise that it would involve a minimum of four days to deal with a single incident of
this nature, but that this estimate of time involved is dependant upon the complexity of the
incident and is often exceeded.
The work of the STAYSAFE Committee
The STAYSAFE Committee is currently completing its deliberations on the issue of
aggressive and intimidatory driving, and is preparing a report for the consideration of
Parliament. As the Committee has not yet completed and published its report, I trust that
you will understand that the findings and the recommendations of the report cannot be
discussed in any detail.
The STAYSAFE Committee has noted the support of both the Government and Opposition
for a review of the structure of offences and penalties for instances of aggressive driving.
Some of the specific issues being examined by the Committee include, for example, the
possible introduction of a new offence of abusive driving into the Traffic Act, the possibility of
introducing an indictable offence of menacing or aggressive driving into the Crimes Act, and
a review of the penalties currently applicable for existing offences that can be used in
prosecuting incidents of aggressive driving behaviour.
The STAYSAFE Committee is also mindful of the role of communication in raising and
directing community attitudes towards road behaviour. The very effective use of media and
public education to support mandatory seat belt wearing and to promote random breath
testing as a drink-driving countermeasure has demonstrated that the community is
responsive to road safety-related messages. The use of the media and public education to
promote courteous driving, and to stigmatise abusive and aggressive driving, may prove to
be one of the strategies to promote the sharing of the road by different road users, and may
therefore have effect in reducing road trauma and improving safe road behaviours.
The STAYSAFE Committee will, of course, welcome the advice of the legal profession
regarding aggressive driving and the law, as it welcomes advice from other sectors of the
community and from road safety and police authorities.
Carthy, T., Packham, D., Rhodes-Defty, N., Salter, D. & Silcock, D. (1993). Risk and safety
on the roads: Perceptions and attitudes. Basingstoke, Hampshire: AA Foundation for
Road Safety Research.
Crime Research Centre (1997). Road rage: Driving related violence in Western Australia.
Perth, WA: Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia.
Grey, E.M., Triggs, T.J. & Haworth, N.L. (1989). Driver aggression: The role of personality,
social characteristics, risk and motivation. Report CR 81. Canberra ACT: Federal Office
of Road Safety (FORS).
Wright, P.G., Gaulton, R.E. & Miller, I. (1997). Road rage: An exploratory study. Wellington,
New Zealand: New Zealand Police.
ROAD RAGE: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY
P.G. Wright, P.E. Gaulton & I. Miller
New Zealand Police
SOURCE: Wright, P.G., Gaulton, P.E. & Miller, I.
Road rage: An exploratory study.
Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Police.
Sixteen cases of road aggression were examined. Findings are reported with
the caution that such a small sample can only provide conclusions that are
indicative of the factors involved. A more detailed study is required.
However, this study limited as it is suggests that the popular notion that
getting behind the wheel of a car taps some primal urge to make an otherwise
meek and mild person an aggressive road rager is unlikely to hold true.
Driving is an inherently frustrating task. Frustration is built into our road
system with differing speed laws for trucks and cars on our narrow two-lane,
two-way system. The laws on merging are not clear to the average motorist.
We must share the road with the learner driver, the elderly and the tourist
from overseas. Even a careful driver will sometimes fail to signal, or
inadvertently obstruct another vehicle’s progress. Skilled drivers are often
intolerant of drivers who do not perform at what they see as their level. There
is a lack of consideration for the learner, the elderly or sometimes even the
driver who sticks to the speed limit. The study suggests that those drivers
who vent that frustration in acts of aggression are likely to demonstrate that
same lack of personal restraint on other areas of their life. Almost all acts of
violence between drivers end in court with offenders facing assault or more
serious charges. Throughout this study the term road rage has been dropped
in favour of expressions such as frustration or aggression. The popularity of
the catchy label ‘road rage’ appears to be giving the phenomenon a credence
it does not deserve. If one citizens attacks another the crime of assault has
occurred. It should not be dignified by any lesser description of their criminal
Sixteen incidents in which car drivers have exhibited aggression—verbally, or actually
coming to blows following a driving incident, have been examined. This number of incidents
is far too small a sample from which to draw any findings that can be relied upon without
further study. However, given the public interest on the topic and given the desire expressed
for police advice, these tentative results are put forward with that caution.
With such a small sample, details cannot be provided of each case because the
identification of the persons involved would be possible. Where the data can be grouped it is
What causes road rage incidents?
In all cases the origin of the incident has been a case of poor, careless or risky driving.
Incidents such as pulling our without looking, following closely or competitive merging have
been behind the incidents. Most of these driving transgressions have been ‘innocent’ in that
there was no intent to offend. In a few cases drivers could be termed pushy, but generally
carelessness or inexperience was the contributory factor.
However, it seems the recipients of the poor driving interpreted the incident as a personal
affront and reacted emotionally.
Strong emotional reaction
(n = 16)
Who gets involved?
Aggressive drivers and their victims come from all walks of life. Occupations in our small
sample ranged from real estate, skilled technical workers to the unemployed. There is a
slight bias toward the victims being inexperienced drivers, with four students being included
in the victim sample.
Does getting behind the wheel turn meek and mild
persons into road ragers?
This is probably the critical issue. If the answer is ‘No’, then the basis for road rage is
undermined. In other words, it is the same as bar rage, party rage, or the recently coined
footpath rage. Does the motor vehicle bring out some form of primal urge as has been
speculated by at least one New Zealand psychologist?
This study suggests a tentative ‘No’.
The offender group had a relatively high proportion of criminal offending in its past.
CRIMINAL OFFENDING IN PAST
The convictions held by offenders included disorderly behaviour, drink driving, disqualified
driving, fighting, theft, burglary, assault with a weapon, assault, drug and firearms offences.
The study suggests the perpetrator of road rage is not likely to be a meek and mild person
whose primal urges are evoked by being behind the wheel of a vehicle.
However, victims were often not innocent of contributing to the ultimate outcome. The
adage it takes two to tango seems to apply. Where the victim also responded
aggressively, the result was almost always an escalation to violence.
Forms of assault
Verbal abuse & threats
The weapon chosen suggests the intention to assault is not premeditated, with any item to
hand being used. Tyre levers, rocks and a golf club are examples.
The injuries sustained in these incidents include severe cuts, bruising and a depressed skull
Victims are not always blameless. In three cases, charges for retaliation by way of fighting
or assault or driving dangerously resulted.
Sex and chivalry
Perpetrators of road aggression are almost always male. Victims are similarly more likely to
be male, although women to appear.
(N = 17)*
(N = 16)
NOTE: In one case both driver and passenger were
involved in attacking another driver.
There were no instances of men doing more than verbally abusing women. The only
physical assault on a woman was by another woman. If a chivalry factor exists, it is a weak
one which permits verbal abuse, but may or may not stop short of physical violence. The
chivalry factor is not strong enough that women could take any comfort from it.
Communications between drivers
Most incidents occurred in daylight in fine weather.
The most common scenario suggest that non verbal communication between drivers is
occurring. Signals of abuse such as fists, fingers, or horns were not always reported in the
cases under study, but could well have been the stimulus that turned frustration into
aggression. Paradoxically, communication offers the same chance of defusing these
situations. We have several commonly understood signals for ‘up you’ but not one for
The open handed wave acknowledging a transgression seems worthy of trial. If it catches
on as a ‘sorry’ signal some incidents may be easily defused. Police will discuss this issue
with the New Zealand Automobile Association to see if such a signal might be accepted by
the motoring public. In the meantime the wave of acceptance of guilt appears a more
prudent course than doggedly refusing to acknowledge a driving error, which in itself may
Alcohol the aggravator?
In this study none of the assailants were affected by alcohol. Whether this is a factor of
significance is not clear. In most other areas of policing, alcohol exacerbates situations.
The reported incidents occurred primarily in daylight hours when drinking and driving is less
prevalent. Given the police attention to drinking, those drivers under the weather may not
take the risk of drawing attention to themselves.
Frustration and aggression in the road rage context seem to be a sober enterprise.
Sociological and psychological factors
Road rage is only another form of aggression. The causes of incidents are complex and
involve combined offender, victim, and environmental factors. However, frustration,
disregard for others, and perceived insults by the offender seem to be precipitating factors.
It is likely that offenders attribute negative intentions towards them by the actions of victims
and respond aggressively, even if the intention is innocent.
Offender factors include psychological features such as aggressiveness, territoriality and
self-centredness. Aggression increases with fatigue, low tolerance, general life stresses,
substance abuse and poor impulse control. Offenders may also exhibit other patterns such
as bullying, exploitiveness and irresponsibility. In many cases road rage is only another
manifestation of dysfunctional behaviour. Damage (however slight) or the threat of damage
to their vehicles is perceived as a personal insult deserving great and immediate retaliation.
FACTORS IN ‘ROAD RAGE’
Victims may wittingly or unwittingly precipitate events leading to aggression. Disregard,
inattention, poor driving and failure to communicate are potent triggers of angry responses in
others that frequently lead to aggressive interactions. Failure to follow simple driving rules is
often a factor. Examples might include tailgating, following with lights on high beam, not
signalling lane changes or turns, moving out, closing the gap to prevent a lane change, and
failing to give way. All of these are potential sources of negative interactions with other
drivers. These factors are compounded by environmental factors such as traffic density,
weather conditions, poor light, heat and humidity, high noise levels and road features.
Advice to motorists
The following seems to be good advice:
When you err in driving an inconvenience someone, as we all do from time to time, try
to signal you are ‘sorry’. An open handed wave might be useful.
Do not retaliate:
if the other driver is ahead let the gap increase;
if the other driver is tailgating you maintain a steady speed or pull over and let
him or her pass;
if you are really concerned, drive to a police station or stop by a police patrol.
Assaults by one driver on another are criminal behaviour. The maximum penalties range
from three months imprisonment for common assault, five years for assault with a weapon,
to ten years for assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. In almost all cases the
offenders are successfully prosecuted.
The consequences of road aggression need to be publicised as a deterrent.
The police will explore with the New Zealand Automobile Association and the Land
Transport Safety Authority the possibility of promoting a ‘sorry’ signal that can be used to
defuse situations in which one driver inconveniences another.
Police will work with the Land Transport Safety Authority to clarify the law where
misunderstandings appear to precipitate disagreements between drivers. The law on
merging appears a likely contender. These causes could be publicised as driving tipos and
given more complete treatment in publications such as the Road Code.
ROAD TRAUMA - AN ACT OF VIOLENCE?
Roads and Traffic Authority
SOURCE: Mooren, L. (1997). Road trauma - an
act of violence? Paper presented at the Sixth
Against Violence, Johannesburg, South Africa,
15-19 October, 1997.
The regulatory and educational programs designed to reduce road trauma in
New South Wales aim at behavioural factors which are in turn manifestations
of some underlying individual or social motivation. For example, we aim to
control or influence the tendencies of drivers to choose whether or not to drink
and drive, or to drive within the legal speed limit, or to wear a seat belt. The
assumption underlying our reliance on a general ‘deterrence strategy’ is that
people will rationally weight up the benefits and disbenefits and decide, on
balance that the penalty for disobedience is likely to be too high. We
complement this with a guilt-driven inducement in our public education
program. Although the general deterrence approach and ‘harm’ focussed
campaign strategy has been quite effective, perhaps we cannot always
assume that people will be deterred by the threat of personal penalty. A closer
look at risk taking and aggression associated with road use could provide
some clues as to whether we understand enough about reasons for
dangerous road use to assure ourselves that the best countermeasures are
used. An examination of research data combined with analysis from different
social perspectives has found that there are a number of key issues which
warrant investigation. These include:
Youth masculinity and the related social meanings attached to road use;
Psychiatric factors and mental illness including depression and intentional
aggression and the involvement of these conditions and factors in road
Studies of community violence and suicide patterns and patterns of the
incidence of aggression related road trauma:
The backgrounds of perpetrators of road aggression especially of any
past experience of bullying and harassment; and
Links between inexperienced drivers and road aggression.
These issues are threads that run through the literature and community
discussion on road violence. They provide springboards for developing
community approaches to analysing and finding new solutions to addressing
road trauma causation. The author proposes areas of related research
directed towards a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying
motives affecting road trauma.
Injury as a result of road violence happens. We know this. But searching the literature
reveals surprisingly little about it. Searching the media clips on the other hand reveals a lot
about it. Road Rage has splashed itself across many a newspaper over recent years in
Australia and in other countries as well.
The most obvious manifestations of this reported phenomena have varied in different
countries. I’ve seen reports of car-jacking in South Africa, freeway shootings in Los Angeles
and the use of cars to run down pedestrians and cyclists in Australia. While these are the
extreme reported cases of road violence, and rational people can be convinced that these
behaviours are not common occurrences, governments feel obliged to act decisively to curb
such acts to minimise harm, if not fear of such harm, in the community. New legislation with
tough penalties was recently enacted in New South Wales to send a signal that the
Government would not tolerate acts of violence on the road. Offences of Menacing Driving
with intent to injure and Predatory Driving were enacted carrying severe penalties including
gaol terms of up to 7 years.
However, when I set for myself the task of investigating road aggression and intentional road
injury I had little idea of the difficulty I would have in defining the terms. Being responsible for
the road safety program in the State of New South Wales I am determined to satisfy myself
that in concentrating on the ‘known’ major road trauma factors (speeding and drink driving,
for example) am not overlooking some important underlying motivational factors.
The focus of this paper is the question of whether aggression, intentional injury or violence
are worth investigating as underlying motivational factors in road trauma.
The focus of road safety researchers and practitioners in Australia, guided by the American
injury epidemiologist, William Haddon, has been based on road environment, vehicle and
behavioural risk management analysis and interventions. Within the behavioural sphere, the
focus has been on behaviours on the road which have found to be most prevalently
indicated in post crash analyses by police and expert accident investigators (especially
speeding and driving whilst intoxicated). These behaviours are then ‘managed’ largely
through educative and regulatory means. General deterrence is the prime means of
containing road trauma in this country.
Threatening people with sanctions is a stronger behavioural deterrent than the threat of
personal harm. This is because where the enforcement and prosecution is apparent enough
people will believe that they are far more likely to get caught and be punished than to come
to grief in a road crash. Statistically, it is more likely that one will get booked for a traffic
offence than have a crash.
Therefore. Australian road safety campaigns appeal to the community to take heed of the
road trauma problem by reminding people of the harm and tragedy of road crashes, while at
the same time threaten to punish those for performing specific unsafe behaviours on the
Road deaths and serious injury have been reduced dramatically in the past two decades
while applying this approach in Australia, and community attitudes and behaviours have
changed significantly during this time
(particularly with regard to drinking and driving).
However, there is still very widespread ‘non-compliance’ with the behavioural objectives of
Australian road safety experts. For example, 80%+ drivers in New South Wales still regularly
disobey speed limits and alcohol use is still the second biggest factor involved in serious
Still, the notion that we should broaden and deepen our analysis of road trauma motivational
factors and/or seek broader community involvement in road safety’ are notions that frighten
the purists within the Australian road safety
‘community’, especially the behavioural
They have reason to be frightened. If we let go of what we know to be effective
countermeasures in road safety, we can easily lose the gains we have made. It is vital that
we do not lose sight of the behavioural factors involved in road crashes and road injury. It is
also important to keep devoting resources to interventions which are known to work.
However, part of the vision of road safety practitioners is ‘voluntary compliance’. That is, we
look to a future world where people will choose to comply with safety related rules of the
road whether or not they fear getting caught by the police. To this end -- and in effort to
multiply actions to promote road safety
-- the commitment to broadening community
participation has been endorsed and specifically integrated into National and State road
safety strategies right across Australia since in 1991 New South Wales published its Road
Safety 2000 Strategic Plan.
If we are seeking voluntary participation and compliance to our rules by the broader
community and individuals within it we need to understand motivational factors and some of
the social context which might explain where the compliance and non-compliance
motivations come from.
People have reasons for making unsafe choices (eg to speed or to drive while intoxicated).
These reasons are not necessarily good reasons, nor bad reasons. The truth is that we
know very little about these reasons.
I believe we can make some marginal gain in road safety terms with a fuller understanding of
these underlying motives for non-compliant road behaviour. This is because, increasingly, it
is getting more difficult in Australia to believe that ignorance, or lack of awareness, is a
reason for the problem of unsafe road behaviour. The mass media advertising campaigns
conducted in the Australian States of Victoria and New South Wales have achieved
extremely high recall ratings against any advertising or marketing benchmarks. There is a
great deal of community discussion on road safety issues as reflected in the media, with
road safety related stories being reported daily.
Generally, Australians are aware of the of the road trauma risks associated with speeding
and drink driving. However, even those who are aware of the risks are still prepared to take
the risks themselves. Others are, perhaps more than prepared to take the risks. We don’t
Road trauma and violence - Data difficulties
While there is little empirical evidence to suggest that intentional injury is a significant factor
in road trauma, and some researchers have concluded that aggression is not worth
exploring as a factor, it may be a self-fulfilling gap in our analysis. The bulk of human factor
research and data collection in Australian road safety has been focused through a
behavioural psychology conceptual framework to the virtual exclusion of social analysis.
Currently, Police reports on road deaths and serious injury crashes don’t reveal many clues
as to the intentions of the perpetrators of the injury-causing behaviour. Our road injury data
base does not keep information on causality to the necessary degree for analysis of road
aggression. In fact, instances of (known) cases of assault or suicide are taken out of the
road statistics and placed in the crime data base kept by the Attorney General’s Department.
Although the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) has not deliberately left responsibility for
intentional road injury to other government departments, fragmentation of injury data makes
it difficult for an organisation - whether health, crime or roads-focused - to assess, let alone
effectively address, these injuries.
While it could be argued that a continued exclusive focus on non-intentional road injury
prevention will probably yield the best results for injury reduction, it is important that public
health and road safety authorities stop placing suicide and intentional injury in the too hard
basket. There is a growing concern about community violence and youth suicides are
reported to be reaching ‘epidemic proportions.’
But while the focus of the Sixth International Conference on Safe Communities on violence
signifies a new global commitment to finding solutions to violence related injury, new
methods of data collection and analysis are required to enable interventions to be based in
science as well as collective community will. Furthermore, these new methods require
perspectives from a broader range of disciplines than is the case for existing health and
injury epidemiological methods.
We need also to check our assumptions underlying our conceptual framework for human
factor road trauma analysis. The notion that the general deterrence approach will be
successful if only we can do enough of it enough of the time, is based on the assumption
that people would normally tend to avoid risk (of harm or penalty).
There is clear cause to question this notion when there is a whole body of thought termed
‘risk homeostasis’ which points to the likelihood of road users to extend their risks to the
maximum they are prepared to take whenever in pursuit their road travel related objectives.
Indeed some have theorists have indicated that the risk taking act is sometimes an objective
of the road user.
In short, a new research agenda must emerge to evolve a more sophisticated understanding
of underlying social and human motivational factors involved in road trauma. We need to
examine risk taking, aggression and violence dispassionately to understand the social and
human causes of road injury in order that we can devise more effective prevention
Towards a new research agenda - Method of development
A group of Australian road safety researchers (Grey, Triggs & Haworth, 1989) concluded
that looking for causal links between aggression and road crashes would not be worthwhile.
This is because they thought it would be difficult to psychometrically measure aggressive
personality traits of road users. And anyway even if we did have the technology to do so, the
study of personality and social characteristics of crash involved drivers may not be
productive as these traits have been found to change over time, age and situation.’ In other
words, if a psychologist can’t work out how to do it, it shouldn’t be done.
l don’t accept this. So, I recently set up a research project which called upon academic
leaders from a range of disciplines outside the public health aid road safety arena to react to
the problem of road aggression.
This ‘think tank’ of academics from four Australian Universities was consulted through some
initial correspondence outlining issues to be explored and were then assembled in a
workshop to spend a day brainstorming and analysing concepts aid ways to define and
examine specific phenomena. The disciplines called upon included, cultural anthropology,
social psychology, sociology, criminology, urban planning, philosophy, industrial relations,
leisure studies, and education. Discussion was facilitated by a social research scientist; and
road safety authority and police representatives attended to clarify issues when required.
Prior to the workshop the researcher posed eight questions to the think tank group and
incorporated their responses in a discussion paper. The questions were:
1. What are the conceptual issues [involved in road violence] and
what labels should we use?
2. What are the consequences of the labels we use?
3. How large Is the problem?
4. What is ‘risk’? Why do people take risks or act violently?
5. What groups are most involved?
6. How can we understand the process [of road violence leading to
injury] from a broader sociological perspective?
7. What leads to the incidence, or increase in the incidence of road
8. What methods could we use to investigate the problem?
Briefed on what could be gleaned from the literature on road aggression and road violence,
these professionals discussed their understandings and views on how to investigate the
problem further. The intended outcome was to begin to refine a theoretical framework from
which productive empirical research projects could be defined.
Taking each of the exploratory research questions in order tie following presents a direction
for learning more about some of tie motivations underlying tie high risk behavioural
manifestations associated with road trauma.
The group of ‘non-road safety’ analysts agreed that it is important to distinguish between
risk-taking behaviours and deliberately aggressive behaviours. Much of the complexity of
human behaviour and social interaction is apparent in road behaviour. Social conflict as well
as social harmony is likely to be evident in various types of road related human interactions.
Social interaction on the road reflects the assertion of individual and group
competition and degrees of agreement to social convention, as much as compliance or
otherwise to institutionalised road rules.
As a roads provider, the Roads and Traffic Authority is concerned with road user
dissatisfaction and is committed to equity of access to New South Wales roads and road
facilities. To this end, harmonious road sharing is actively promoted, given the known
potential conflicts between road users.
For this reason and for the purpose of determining underlying human crash factors it is
important to understand the motives for the display of aggression.
There are essentially three theoretical approaches to the study of aggression, biological,
external causes, and social learning. Most analysts would assume that aggressive behaviour
is influenced by some combination of all three factors.
It is useful to distinguish gradients of aggression from wilful intent to injure to various forms
of social expression, whilst applying the analysis to road behaviour. While deliberate acts of
violent assault is relatively uncommon in driving practice, drivers may more commonly
display their displeasure in various forms of aggressive gestures whilst driving. The
likelihood of these gradients of aggression are depicted in the pyramid below.
Chronic Aggression or
Expression of Anger
Impulsive, frustrated response
FIGURE 1: Gradients of aggression
The likely percentages of the population which display these practices on the road is subject
to further investigation and will be discussed later in this paper.
Consequences of labels
There is a broad spectrum of road behaviours and attitudes which could be examined whilst
trying to discover underlying social and psychological factors involved in injury crashes.
When looking [at] deliberate aggression, the labels used could lead to quite a variety of
If for example we are dealing with individuals with a history or pattern of violent behaviour
who would deliberately use a motor vehicle as a weapon, then the approach would be
similar to that which would be used for any violent criminal. If, on the other hand, we are
addressing aggressive driving as a manifestation of common stress, then health promotion
interventions may be more suitable.
It is important to define clearly the kinds of concepts which could segment the problems
before attempting to find solutions.
How large is the problem?
It is difficult at this stage to accurately quantify the level of road aggression or violence
occurring due to insufficient definitions and fragmentation of injury data sets. The Automobile
Association in the United Kingdom estimate that the likelihood of being killed in a road rage
incident could be as low as 1 in 9.5 million. They together with many other road safety
agencies are concerned that the reports in the media could greatly distort the true picture
leading to resources being invested in dealing with the problem.
However as there is a growing public concern about the problem, it is appropriate to
examine what information has been collected. A number of recent studies and information
gained from particular initiatives relating to road aggression and violence could shed some
light on the types of behaviours which are of concern to road users, and which could
perhaps explain motivations for a number of unsafe road use practices.
The Rods and Traffic Authority established a telephone hotline last year for road users to
phone in and advise their complaints about road sharing problems. Out of 1,070 calls
received, 29% complained of driver aggression or inconsiderate road use. Other callers
complained of incompetent, dangerous, careless or illegal road use practices.
TABLE 1: Motorists reporting experience as victims of road aggression (from
Autombile Association, United Kingdom)
Type of Behaviour
% of Motorists (n=526)
Aggressive tailgating (driving up very
Had lights flashed at me when other
motorist was annoyed.
Received aggressive or rude gesture
Been deliberately obstructed or
prevented from manoeuvring my
Received verbal abuse
Being physically assaulted
None of these
The British Automobile Association recently surveyed 526 drivers to study the extent to
which British motorists had experienced and perpetrated particular types of aggression when
driving. When asked whether the behaviour of motorists has changed in recent years 62%
felt that motorist behaviour had worsened in recent years.
When asked the types of behaviour they had experienced from other drivers in the past 12
months a range of aggressive behaviours were reported with 88% of all respondents
claiming to have experienced aggressive road behaviour. Tables 1 and 2 contain some of
the findings from this survey.
According to the study, only 12% of respondents reported that they had not been subjected
to aggressive road behaviour. The majority of motorists had been tailgated (62%) and had
lights flashed at them by other motorists (59%). About half (48%) had received aggressive or
rude gestures. One in five had been deliberately obstructed, and fewer had received verbal
abuse (16%). Only 1% reported having been physically assaulted by another motorist.
Men were more likely than women to have received aggressive or rude gestures (52% and
42% respectively), verbal abuse (19% and 10% respectively) and had been deliberately
obstructed (24% and 17% respectively).
The population sample was also asked whether they had themselves behaved aggressively
towards other road users. The results are shown in Table 2 below.
TABLE 2: Motorists reporting experience as perpetrators of road aggression (from
Automobile Association, United Kingdom)
Type of Behaviour
% of Motorists (n=526)
Flashed lights at them when annoyed
with other motorists
Given aggressive or rude gestures
Given verbal abuse
Aggressive tailgating (driving up very
Deliberately obstructed or prevented
from manoeuvring their vehicle
Physically assaulted another motorist
None of these
Almost half (45%) of all motorists claimed, Within the last 12 months, to have flashed their
lights at another motorist when annoyed with them. One in five (22%) have aggressive or
rude gestures, and 12% have given other motorists verbal abuse. Around in twenty admit to
having tailgated another driver (6%) and 5% report having deliberately obstructed another
car. One respondent claimed to have physically assaulted another driver in the last 12
A study was recently conducted by Mizell and Company for the AAA Foundation for Traffic
Safety in the United States with data
collected from 30 major newspapers, reports from 16
police departments and insurance companies. For the purpose of this study ‘aggressive
driving’ was defined as “an incident in which an angry or impatient motorist or passenger,
intentionally injures or kills another motorist, passenger or pedestrian in response to a traffic
dispute, altercation or grievance”
This study found that, for a period of just over 6 ½ years, over 10,000 Americans were killed
or injured as a result of aggressive driving. On average 1500 people were seriously injured
per year between 1990 and 1996, with increased numbers of people each successive year.
TABLE 3: Known incidents of aggressive driving causing injury or death (from AAA
Foundation for Traffic Safety, United States)
* January through September 1996 only, the rate of annual increases indicate
that the 1996 total could reach 1,800 incidences.
When considering violence towards oneself various authors have estimated that between
1.6%-15% of road deaths are suicides. A number of researchers have reported that suicidal
road use has been increasing since the mid 1970s. They also say that suicides could be
significantly under-reported as the conclusive determination of intentional self requires more
evidence than is often available.
Why do people take risks or act violently? Who does it?
Young male drivers (aged 17 - 24 years) are thought to be the group which is at the top of
the high risk road user population. Many researchers put this down to the exuberance of
youth, feelings of invincibility and the need for expression of prowess.
In other cases, the demands of daily life could cause road users to take risks or act violently
on the road. Road rage is said to be of the same genesis as shopping trolley rage or any
other expression of frustration in a social setting.
This data exludes snipings, thrill shooting, car jackings, objects thrown from overpasses, armed
robberies, and crashes resulting from other factors such as drinking driving or accidental hit & run.
However, Mizell, in examining cases of aggressive driving in the US found a range of
reasons for road aggression. In doing so he makes the point that the so-called ‘reasons’
should be understood as triggers to the aggressive action. That is, the motivation for the
level of aggression displayed often has little to do with the immediate traffic dispute. The
traffic dispute is best seen as the last straw with the underlying motivator being an unrelated
factor causing pent-up anger than the often trivial incident which sparks a violent road
The key threads running through the core of these reasons or triggers are similar to other
community violence motivators. These include domestic disputation, racial hatred, alienation
and sense of powerlessness.
A further cause of aggressive road use or incidence of ‘road rage’ identified by Matthew Joint
is overcrowding. He believes that human beings, like other animals are territorial and will
display aggression towards those who are seen to invade their ‘personal space’. However he
observes that the aggressive reaction to this in invasion is more likely to be practiced by a
motorist than a pedestrian. Joint thinks this may be because:
the exertion of walking provides a release of pent-up tension. whereas
driving does not allow a physical outlet for built up stress;
congestion in road traffic provides a driver
(confined to lanes) few
options for avoiding delays, whereas pedestrians can more easily
manoeuvre around other pedestrians;
the risk of more serious physical and property damage are greater in a
vehicle than in the event of accidentally bumping into another
drivers (more so than pedestrians) tend to view themselves as having
superior skills and therefore rights than other (more inferior) road users.
Ironically though, as discussed earlier, the more inexperienced the driver the more likely
he/she is to act aggressively. However, at the other end of the spectrum one could
hypothesise that familiarity could result in an overconfidence in turn resulting in risk taking.
Diagram 2 shows this graphically.
This notion has yet to be fully tested. However, studies of youth. particularly young male
drivers offer support for the connection with inexperience and higher risk of road injury.
Moreover research into driver fatigue have found some support for the notion that familiarity
FIGURE 2: Risk increases related to inexperience and over-experience
Considering cases of self-inflicted injury and suicide, there are reasons to suspect that with
the growth of youth suicide in Australia some it happens on the roads. As mentioned earlier
there have been clear cases of pedestrian and vehicle involvement in road related suicide in
Australia. In New South Wales, where there is a note or it is otherwise proven that the death
was intentional, the incident is removed from the road trauma data base ? making it difficult
to determine the magnitude of the problem. However, recent reports of youth suicide
overtaking the rates of youth road deaths could be a bit misleading.
The rate of suicide in the United States in 1990 was 12.1 per 100.000 population. It is
estimated that approximately 150/0 of road deaths in this country are suicides. Moreover,
Nelson reports that suicidal people have twice as many road accidents as non-suicidal
people. He believes that people over the age of 65 years old (past retirement) are at greater
risk than any other age group.
Nelson examined a number of American road crashes which were found to be homicides
and suicides owing to the circumstances of these cases. He concludes that ‘suicide and
murders with motor vehicles occur frequently and may appear to the untrained or unwary as
Again there could be gradients of recklessness, aggression and self-harm associated with
the stress of life pressures, including unemployment, marital problems, and loneliness
involved in road trauma risk behaviour. Further psychiatric and sociological research could
assist to fill out the picture and confirm or deny Nelson’s claims.
It may be useful to devise and test a continuum of self destructiveness and self delusion
rather than to treat homicidal/suicidal crashes and accidental crashes as absolutes, or
A broader sociological perspective
A recent study conducted in the State of Western Australia found that one in ten of the 7,000
police reports of assaults between 1991 and 1995 involved driving related violence against
strangers. However, while 30,000 crashes are reported to the Western Australian Police
each year involving 200 fatalities, only 160 incidences of road violence is reported.
This study concludes that road violence is not a particularly large problem, nor a new
problem and that it can be explained by existing social theories of violence (especially male
violence). Indeed, our ‘think tank’ also arrived at the conclusion that male violence and
harassment based on gender and/or race are evident in many reports of driver aggression.
From a sociological perspective it is likely that where there is a basis for social friction, this
friction is as likely to manifest on the road as in the home or workplace or other social
There may be considerably less physical harm resulting directly from road aggression than is
feared. Aggressive exchanges between road users could be exacerbating stress and
discomfort but rarely culminates in physical assault.
Some academics think that the release of aggression related stress could actually be
cathartic such that the threatening acts of rage on the road may prevent a more serious form
of assault (which might have otherwise occurred in the home later.) If this is the case, the
expression of aggression by drivers could be seen as a sharing of socially stimulated stress
thereby diffusing the potentially more destructive outburst.
Other researchers disagree. Goleman advises that:
“Anger builds on anger, the emotional brain heats up. By then rage,
unhampered by reason easily erupts in violence.”
Anger and aggression are thought to be exhilarating (unlike the emotion of sadness). In this
sense, it would appear to be a problem similar to the risk homeostasis referred to by Wilde.
Aggression expressed between road users could be both a reflection of social or community
breakdown and a pressure valve mechanism for the community members who are affected
by this breakdown. In the case where a motorist is alienated from others and feels
constrained by rules or other impediments which seem (to the motorist, at the time) arbitrary,
there may be a sense of unfairness. This sense of unfairness could spark personal
frustration or outrage which in turn could be expressed as aggression. In this way the
motorist can move from the feeling of powerlessness to a feeling of power where the
aggressive road act could carry a sense of conquest.
Another key theme which is emerging from the literature and discussions is that of the
human-machine hybrid which gives individual drivers the feeling of being superhuman such
that he or she is alienated from and superior to the rest of the community whilst driving a
motor vehicle. This can result in driver fantasy disguising the true mortality and vulnerability
of oneself and other human beings using the road. Gyorgy Scrinis, Melbourne University,
believes that aggressive driver behaviour may be caused by the car itself. He writes of the
modem driving experience,
“The enclosed cabin, the speed of car travel, and the demands put on driver,
make it difficult for them to develop a concern or empathy with the people or
places they flash past. The world is encountered as a series of images that
flow through the television-like windscreen...In these ways, the car profoundly
mediates and shapes the driver’s way of encountering the world.”
Social relations on the road therefore become impersonal and uncaring. Whilst there may be
no intention to injure others, there is little regard for other road users as people with an equal
right to be there. Modern road use is said to be individualistic with no real sense of being a
community of travellers.
A reckless form of aggression where there is no intent by the road user to injure another
might require both punitive and non-punitive treatments to curb this behaviour.
It has been said that those who intentionally injure themselves or others on the road would
probably commit some act of violence regardless of the setting. The Western Australian
Crime Research Centre advise that:
“Young men who accept violence as a problem-solving technique, and who
have previously used violence are in much more likely to be perpetrators [of
Youth and inexperience is cited as another key theme to pursue in the new research
agenda. Again the Western Australian study found that:
“In contrast to the
[media] stereotype of the
‘road rager’ as the adult,
tormented to the point of madness by years of urban gridlock, the perpetrator
of road violence emerges more often as a young and inexperienced driver.”
This was also highlighted in a study conducted by Brian Sweeny and Associates for
Australian Associated Motor Insurers Limited (AAMI). The AAMI research found that 18-24
year olds were more likely, than other age groups, to take risks, speed and were much more
likely to drive aggressively. The need for a display of masculinity combined with the mixed
messages young men and women receive regarding the freedom, power and protection
associated with driving a motor vehicle are cited as reasons for risk taking and aggressive
This paper aims at drawing together some themes which run across the literature and recent
research about road aggression and intentional road injury with a view to highlighting some
directions for further investigation. A broader social research methodology applied to road
safety research will enable a deeper analysis and fuller explanation of road user behaviour.
Routine crash data collection would be more informative if traffic, health and crime statistics
could be more easily linked.
There is a call for further research into some key areas indicated by this initial exploration of
underlying social factors involved in road trauma. The areas which hold most promise for
fruitful lessons are:
1. Youth, masculinity and the related social meanings attached to road use;
2. Psychiatric factors and mental illness including depression and intentional
aggression and the involvement of these conditions and factors in road
3. Studies of community violence and suicide patterns and patterns of the
incidence of aggression related road trauma;
4. The backgrounds of perpetrators of road aggression especially of any past
experience of bullying and harassment: and
5. Links between inexperienced drivers and road aggression.
With a further examination of these and perhaps other sociological aspects of road use we
can gain a fuller appreciation of road trauma behavioural risk and aggression motivators
thereby enabling us to refine our injury prevention strategies.
AAMI, (1996). Crash Index Summary, June 1995-June 1996. Melbourne, Vic.: AAMI.
Connell, D. & Joint M. (1997). Driver aggression. In AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (Ed).
Aggressive driving: Three studies. Washington DC.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Frank Small & Associates (1997). The Root Causes of High Risk Road Use. Towards a New
Research Agenda. (Unpublished paper).
Grey, E., Triggs, T., & Haworth, N. (1989). Driver aggression. The role of personality, social
characteristics, risk and motivation. Canberra, ACT: Federal Office of Road Safety. CR8l.
Johnson, K. (1997). Frustration drives road rage. National Safety Council. Traffic Safety.
Joint, M. (1997). Road rage. In AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (ed), Aggressive driving:
Three studies. Washington DC.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Keskinen, E. & Pasanen, A. (1990). Self destruction in motor vehicles accidents: the
proportion of suicides and negligent drivers in fatal motor vehicle accidents in 1974-75
and 1984-85 in Finland. Journal of Traffic Medicine, Vol 18. No 4.
Kuroda, N. & Pounder, D. (1994). Suicide on the roads, Journal of Traffic Medicine, Vol 23,
Mizell, L. Jr.
(1997). Aggressive driving. In AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Aggressive driving: Three studies. Washington DC.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Nelson, W. (1994). Intentional acts of violence in motor vehicles: Suicide and Murder.
Accident Investigation Quarterly, Issue 2.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics (1996). New South Wales criminal courts statistics 1995.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics (1996). New South Wales recorded crime statistics 1995.
American Psychiatric Association (1985). Psychiatric aspects of traffic accidents. American
Journal of Psychiatry, 142(5).
Sivak, M. (1983). Society’s aggression level as a predictor of traffic fatality rate. Journal of
Safety Research, Vol. 14.
The Crime Research Centre, University of Western Australia (1997). Road rage: Driving
related violence in Western Australia. Report for the Royal Automobile Club of Western
ROAD RAGE: A HOT ISSUE OR JUST
SOURCE: Gray, S. (1997). Road rage: A hot
issue or just lukewarm? Paper presented at the
Motor Vehicles Update seminar, 15 May 1997.
Sydney, NSW: Legal and Accounting
A small sample of newspaper articles for any period over the last two years would lead the
reader to believe that a new scourge has afflicted our society. It has been given the name
‘road rage’ and we are led to believe that it is a new phenomenon, probably imported from
the USA, and reaching epidemic proportions on our roads. It is characterised as the average
driver totally losing control over the frustrations of a clogged traffic environment and the
perceived poor driving skills and courtesy exhibited by other drivers.
While there is no doubt that examples of aggressive, intimidatory, menacing and abusive
driving do occur in the traffic environment, there is considerable doubt regarding the nature
and extent of this issue. We need to look to the available research data to establish a clear
picture of the problem before deciding on the best strategies to overcome it.
Defining the concept ‘Road rage’
The term ‘road rage’ has recently been used by the media to describe a range of behaviours
that have occurred on the roads. This range of behaviours has included relatively minor
instances such as use of the car horn and gestures, through to the more serious events
which have been more violent in nature. NRMA is not encouraging the use of the term ‘road
rage’ to describe these incidents, particularly those of the less serious kind.
Indeed, NRMA believes that the use of the term should not be encouraged. We have taken
this stance because the term does not convey the reality of the circumstances to which it has
commonly been linked. The term ‘road rage’ is commonly linked in the community and the
media to any negative or unpleasant driving experience (Crime Research Centre, 1997).
This includes incidents such as gesturing, flashing headlights, tail-gating, obscene language,
pushing into traffic queues and the like. Clearly, while such incidents contain the potential for
violence, it is very rare that they result in acts of violence.
Many of the more minor incidents such as use of the car horn, come more from driver
frustration than anything that comes close to a ‘rage’. The word ‘rage’ suggests a person out
of control and completely consumed by anger: indeed the dictionary meaning begins with the
term ‘violent anger’ (Australian Oxford Dictionary, 1993). The vast majority of incidents of
frustration in the driving environment do not result in violence and linking these two very
different behaviours under one umbrella only promotes the idea that the frustration that
many drivers feel could easily become more violent - it clearly does not. The terminology
itself can be misleading:
Part of the damage that labels such as
‘road rage’ may cause is that they blur the
boundaries between aggression and violence and allow violence in the context of driving to
be seen as spontaneous and justifiable aggression rather than as criminal behaviour. (Crime
Research Centre, 1997, p. 11)
Incidents of road related violence
Nevertheless, there are obviously examples of incidents where frustration and anger turns to
violence in relation to the roads and the traffic environment. The most recent research in this
area was conducted by the Crime Research Centre of the University of Western Australia.
The research, funded by the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia, investigated
incidents of road related violence from police offence reports over the period 1991 to 1995 in
that state. They found 797 incidents of road related violence from over 7,000 police offence
reports from that period which related to assaults by strangers in car parks or streets. This
compares to an annual number of approximately 11,000 assaults reported to police. Viewed
from this perspective only approximately 1.4% of assaults reported to police in WA over the
period 1991-1995 were, what might be termed, genuine ‘road rage’ incidents. As the report
Road violence reported to police increased slightly between 1991 and 1995, both as a
proportion of the population and as a proportion of ‘traffic volume in the Perth metropolitan
area. However road violence as a proportion of all street assaults by strangers has remained
relatively stable. (p. 3)
The researchers defined road related violence as ‘instances of physical violence and threats’
which occurred between strangers (Crime Research Centre, 1997, p. 9). The classification of
the involvement of strangers is important because it removes incidents where domestic or
other disputes spill over onto the road environment.
While the media has reported some events recently which have been labelled as ‘road rage’,
such research data suggest that this phenomenon is not widespread or prevalent. Rather,
the incidents which have occurred have merely been brought to public notice and, to some
extent, sensationalised. This is described by some researchers as amplification. This means
that activities tend to be redefined by the media to fit into a ‘new’ category they have
‘discovered’ (Crime Research Centre, 1997). For example, two drivers might have a minor
collision and stand on the road arguing about fault. Such activity, which is clearly not new,
may be redefined as ‘road rage to provide more interest as a media story.
One possible consequence of this amplification could be that through the reporting of the
incidents, similar behaviour by others could be encouraged. Fortunately this does not appear
to have occurred although a continuing focus may encourage some drivers to behave in this
way. A further consequence is an over-inflated perception in the community of the incidence
of real violence related to the road.
An area which has not received much attention, is the cause of the incidents leading to
frustration or aggression experienced by some drivers. NRMA believes that there are three
components contributing to this: personality factors, events outside the driving environment,
and the traffic environment itself.
Research indicates that personality factors are a key to understanding the problem of road
related violence. Numerous studies have shown that the kinds of individuals likely to lose
their temper and initiate violence in other locations are the same kinds of (and sometimes
literally the same) individuals who are involved-in road related violence (see for example:
Novaco, 1991; Holzapfel, 1995; Crime Research Centre, 1997). One report states:
One of the most reliable predictors of roadway violence is the past violent history of the
offender. Violence is generally linked to individual attributes of impulsivity, low tolerance of
frustration and risk taking (Crime Research Centre, 1997, p. 23).
These psychological factors are then exacerbated by the social acceptance of incivility on
Our society tolerates a degree of incivility on the roads as a relatively normal aspect of
driving in much the same way as it tolerates the occasional flare-up on the football field as
part and parcel of the game. The act of getting in the car seems to insulate the driver from
some of the normal restraints that guide social behaviour in public settings (Crime Research
Centre, 1997, p. 14).
Events outside the driving environment are also a contributing factor to road related
violence. The highly mobile and complex social setting in which we live means that there are
many stressors which can affect the way drivers behave. Pressure to be at certain places at
specific times, job-related stress and family demands mean that drivers are not always in a
calm and relaxed state when they start to drive. A minor occurrence in the driving
environment can be the trigger for a venting of the frustration from other aspects of life.
The congested nature or our traffic environment can also be a contributing factor. Increasing
traffic on our roads means that there are greater demands on the road network. There are
times when high traffic volumes means delays for drivers which may be difficult to tolerate.
Though these three factors contribute to driver behaviour, it is usually only the end result,
that is the frustrated or aggressive behaviour, which is reported. Even in the more violent
incidents reported in the press, other factors which may have played a part in the lead-up to
the event, are not explored or reported. This may be contributing to the perception by some
that these aggressive events are more prevalent now than they used to be.
In the case of the more violent or extreme incidents which may occur on the roads, NRMA
believes that it is not necessary to have additional laws which relate only to those acts which
occur in the road and traffic environment. The more serious incidents which have occurred,
have been adequately dealt with through the courts under existing law. By creating a
separate offence for incidents which occur in the road and traffic environment, the message
could be sent to the community that violent and aggressive acts on the roads are different to
other assaults. This could encourage the view that aggression and violence on the roads is
understandable and expected.
With respect to driver behaviour such as gesturing, abusiveness and so on, NRMA believes
that it would be extremely difficult to enforce any specific laws relating to these behaviours.
Therefore it may be more useful to adopt other approaches such as providing people with
information about how to share the road and avoid becoming stressed in the traffic
The role of the NRMA
NRMA has sought to address some of the concerns of its members through the publication
of a number of tips for drivers who are the victims of aggressive or intimidatory behaviour in
the road environment. (The Open Road, May/June 1996). In addition, NRMA has provided
advice and comment in the wider media which has sought to ‘play down’ interest. NRMA
has provided advice about how to avoid becoming frustrated in the traffic environment as
well as tips on what victims of aggression should do.
The term ‘road rage’ does not accurately describe the reality of road related violence where
the normal frustrations of the driving environment rarely lead to rage or violence. Road
related violence is not a new or widespread phenomenon, and the recent focus in the media
has largely been an amplification of the real situation.
Personality traits are a key to identifying perpetrators of road related violence. These
perpetrators are likely to be the same people who are involved in violence outside the road
environment. Existing laws related to assault are sufficient to control road related violence,
and in fact, to institute specific laws for ‘road rage’ may give it a legal and social prominence
it does not deserve. Far from being a hot issue, ‘road rage’ is barely lukewarm.
Crime Research Centre (1997). Road rage: Driving related violence in Western Australia.
Report prepared for The Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia. ISBN 0864225806
Holzapfel, H., (1995). Violence and the car. In: World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol, 1
No, 1; 1995 MCB University Press Limited.
Novaco, R., (1991). Aggression on roadways. In: Baenninger, R., (Ed.) Targets of Violence
and Aggression. Nth Holland: Elsevier.
THE ANATOMY OF ROAD RAGE—
AGGRESSIVE DRIVER BEHAVIOUR MAY
WELL BE CAUSED BY THE CAR ITSELF
SOURCE: Scrinis, G. (1997). The anatomy of
road rage—Aggressive driver behaviour may
well be caused by the car itself. Sydney
Morning Herald, 30 July 1997, p.15.
The ‘road-rage’ legislation recently passed by the NSW Parliament is an attempt to address
the growing problem of violence and aggression on our roads. Yet road rage can be seen
as a more extreme form of the aggressive and abusive driver behaviour that has long been a
part of car culture.
The source of this driver behaviour can ultimately be traced to the way the car so thoroughly
transforms the way in which the driver engages with the world behind the wheel. The speed
and acceleration of the car creates a certain ‘compression’ of our experiences of time and
space. What might seem like a momentary hold-up for a pedestrian, cyclist or public-
transport traveller is encountered as an unbearably long delay to the car driver: a few
seconds seem like minutes, a few minutes seem like hours. This time-space compression
radically shortens and erodes the driver’s patience and the tolerance of others. Any
interruption to the journey leads to frustration.
The car is considered a time-saving device, yet it also intensifies the desire to save time
whereby drivers feel that every second or minute must be saved wherever possible. Drivers
may take relatively dangerous risks to cut just a few minutes off a journey, risks that are out
of proportion with the benefits to be gained, at least from the perspective of the non-driver.
The car thus creates rather than alleviates the experience of ‘time scarcity’.
Competitiveness on the road is also a result of the ‘road scarcity’ that the car creates. Given
the speed and space demands of the car, the road is transformed from a commonly shared
and abundant space into a scarce commodity. Behind the wheel, other road users are no
longer encountered as fellow travellers or as sources of social interaction, but instead as
obstacles to be avoided or as rivals competing for scarce road space. The car creates
scarcity and competitiveness in the same way as does a modern market economy.
Cars also encapsulate the drivers, physically separating them from any more direct
interaction with the people and environments they travel through. The direction of car
engineering is towards ever more conditioned cabins that further seal off drivers from any
more direct or unmediated experiences of their surroundings, and create an all-
encompassing technological environment within the car. The enclosed cabin, the speed of
car travel, and the demands put on drivers, make it difficult for them to develop a concern or
empathy with the people or places they flash past. The world is encountered as a series of
images that flow through the television-like windscreen.
In these ways, the car profoundly mediates and shapes the driver’s way of encountering the
world. Drivers come to confront each other not a vulnerable, mortal, all-too-human beings,
but as human-machine hybrids. Social relations between people begin to take the form of
instrumental relations between machines.
In his 1929 novel The Life of the Automobile, Russian author Ilya Ehrenburg had already
recognised this when he wrote”
“The automobile has come to show even the slowest minds that the earth is
truly round, that the heart is just a poetic relic, that a human being contains
two standard gauges: one indicates miles, the other minutes.”
Impatient, abusive and aggressive driver behaviour are the result of a combination of these
characteristics of the driving experience: time-space compression, road scarcity, the
encapsulation and anonymity of the driver, the physical excitement of being in control of a
mechanically powerful machine, and the general chaos and imminent danger of collision on
the road. People who are otherwise calm, patient and considerate in other spheres of
everyday life can become uncharacteristically aggressive, or at least severely tested. The
most aggressive behaviour, of course, results when these characteristics intersect with
particular forms of masculinity.
The more recent emergence of road rage probably has its sources in developments both on
and off the road. On the road, there is an increasing level of car-dependence and increasing
distances being travelled as the pace of contemporary lifestyles continues to accelerate, and
these factors intensify the characteristic pressures of driving. Off the road, there is
increasing incidence of anonymous violence, growing feelings of powerlessness, an erosion
of co-operative and shared experiences and an increasingly instrumental approach to other
people and life in general.
Road rage must to some extent be seen as an inevitable part of a car-dominant culture, and
has its sources within the driving experience itself. Rather than seeing the driver as being in
complete control of their vehicle, perhaps the car itself is to some extent in control of the
driver in the sense that it has already transformed the character of the person behind the
AGGRESSIVE DRIVING/YOUNG DRIVERS:
ROAD SAFETY CAMPAIGN
Bay Street Communications
SOURCE: Bay Street Communications (1997).
Aggressive driving/Young drivers: Road safety
campaign literature review. Canberra, ACT:
NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust.
Over the last
25 years significant progress has been made in improving the safety
characteristics of the road environment and vehicles. Road safety practitioners have now
turned their attention to issues relating to driver behaviour and performance. The personal
attributes of drivers, along with their abilities and limitations have a significant effect on the
number and type of crashes that occur.
One personal attribute frequently cited as a contributing factor to road crashes is aggression.
According to the AAMI
1996 Crash Index the phenomenon known as ‘road rage’ is
increasingly evident with 18-24 year olds having a greater propensity to exhibit aggressive
‘road rage’ behaviour. It has been widely confirmed that young drivers in particular young
males are at greater risk than other drivers of being involved in a traffic crash.
The NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust has identified these two areas (namely crash rates for
young drivers and increasingly aggressive driving behaviour) as factors to be addressed in
their final road safety campaign. As such this report reviews the literature currently available
on these topics in an effort to determine the most effective way of presenting these issues in
the context of the ACT road environment.
Theories on aggression
According to Grey et al (1989) a number of approaches have been developed to investigate
aggression, none of which can be considered complete in their explanations. The various
theories of aggression differ in the types of behaviour they include and in the aspects they
emphasise in terms of biological, motivational and social factors. As Brain (1981) notes, the
concept of aggression as applied to man:
may refer to an extremely diverse assortment of written, verbal and physical
has an element of value judgement
includes reactions generally considered to be products of complex interactions
between biological, environmental and experiential factors.
Briefly, theories fall into the following areas:
Biological theorists hypothesise that humans motivation to deliberately engage in aggressive
activity is driven by innate forces of which the individual is not necessarily aware. This base
is modified by experience.
Social learning theorists argue that aggression is not due to instinct but is a learned
response through observation or imitation of socially relevant others
Bandura (1983) proposes three primary sources of aggressive behaviour patterns within
Western society family members, the social system and the mass media. According to
Bandura (1983) there is mounting evidence that television affects behaviour by teaching