I hope you and your family had a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July holiday weekend. If you took to traveling the roadways, you had a whole lot of company, and I pray you navigated your travels unharmed. According to USA Today projections, nearly 48 million Americans were expected to travel between July 1 and July 5 with more than 91% of them traveling by car. “It’s the second-largest travel volume on record, even with commuting traffic still below pre-pandemic rates,” says USA Today.
Law enforcement officials around the country braced themselves for the surge. In Dallas, local authorities vowed increased presence on freeways during the Fourth of July holiday weekend and throughout the coming months. On June 18, the Dallas Police Department issued a statement that proclaimed, in part, that “Dallas area highways have become increasingly congested and dangerous with more vehicles traveling at high speeds and more road-rage incidents being reported.”
According to TV station KRON, California Highway Patrol imposed a Maximum Enforcement Period from Friday through Monday to ferret out unsafe driving behaviors. “By getting the message out, we are hoping for voluntary compliance from motorists,” says CHP Deputy Commissioner Amanda Ray. “However, officers will be looking for anyone who is speeding or driving impaired and posing a danger on the roadways.”
Unsafe driving by motorists on America’s streets and highways is certainly not a new phenomenon. Nor is the concept of road rage. According to the AAA Foundation, the term first emerged in the 1990s. Although aggressive driving contributes to road rage, the two are not the same. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “road rage occurs when a driver experiences extreme aggression or anger intending to create or cause physical harm.”
A recent MSN report points out the problem starts with the fact that there are too many drivers in this country with not enough roadways to accommodate them, which is compounded by an increase in allowed speeds. The Insurance Information Institute reports that “increased speed limits over the last 25 years have led to almost 37,000 fatalities, with nearly 2,000 in 2017 alone.” Institute research also reveals that more than 75% of American drivers admit to aggressive driving. According to their findings, in 2019, nearly 80% of drivers admitted to significant anger, aggression or road rage within the last 30 days while driving. “The most common types of road rage are tailgating, yelling or honking at another vehicle and are a factor in more than half of all fatal crashes.”
Road rage tends to affect those who spend a lot of time on the road, primarily males and most often commuters. What seems to light the fuse is traffic congestion. It is cited as a leading factor in aggressive driving incidents. Road rage has become much worse with each passing year, says the AAA. They record a 51% increase in serious road rage incidents from 1990 to 1996.
But that was then. This is now. What does this trend foretell for today, following a pandemic that has so disrupted normal daily life, which left us with frayed emotions boiling below the surface?
According to the American Institute of Stress, “COVID Anger” is real and growing. “You can hear it in people’s voices and see it in a lack of patience,” says John Shumway in a recent blog post.
“We are dealing with extra levels and layers of stress than we’ve ever had to deal with ever before and on a very large scale,” adds James Shamlin, a licensed clinical social worker at Pittsburgh’s Cranberry Psychological Center. Dealing with COVID Anger “starts with recognizing it and recognizing where it’s really coming from. The deeper it is the stronger it is the less likely it’s coming from what’s in the moment and more so from what’s been building up over time. The more we recognize that the more I think we have the ability to give ourselves some options and handle our own emotions today.”
“With global borders closing, workplaces shuttering and jobs being cut, workers’ daily stress reached a record high, increasing from 38% in 2019 to 43% in 2020,” says a Gallup 2021 State of the Global Workplace Report. The report found American and Canadian workers had the highest regional percentage of daily stress.
As reported by the American Institute of Stress, “Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief workplace scientist, told CNBC that he was not surprised by the results of the study, as American workers have been increasingly stressed and worried about work since 2009. This level of stress is likely exacerbated for a variety of reasons, including the fact that data shows that Americans are great at working long hours and terrible at taking vacations.”
Stress can lead to anger, and, while not a primary emotion, it certainly appears to be the prevailing one. “Anger is part of everyone’s emotional compass, helping us navigate the contingencies of life,” says Dr. Hans Steiner, Professor Emeritus of Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in a recent university post on anger and aggression. “Sometimes it becomes an obstacle to our struggles, especially when it derails into aggression and even violence.”
Steiner says that “maladaptive anger and aggression” has the following characteristics: “1. It arises without any trigger, seemingly out of the blue; 2. It is disproportionate to its trigger in its frequency, intensity, duration and strength; 3. It does not subside after the offending person has apologized; 4. It occurs in a social context which does not sanction anger and aggression.”
He also points out that far more often anger can energize and motivate us to “fix what is broken.” He goes on to say that empathy, the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, is one of the great teaching tools in shaping anger and aggression. “Empathy induction is a healer of anger, fury, rage and feeling at the mercy of overpowering forces. This is true for almost all of us, whether we are children or adults.”