Road Ragers Are Wusses

Turns out they aren't renegades; they're hyper-virtuous

Last month, Donald Griffith, 42, was charged with pulling out a gun and firing repeatedly at 20-year-old Jamil Ransome after the two men were involved in a fender-bender on Devereaux Street in Wissinoming; Ransome later died. Incidents of road rage are now so common that we barely take notice of disgruntled drivers who shoot and stomp each other to death. The funny thing is, while we may think of these raging road warriors as loose-cannon renegades, the modern-day-maverick equivalents of Jesse James and Billy the Kid, those who study the dynamics of road rage say that on the contrary, ragers act out of an oversized sense of what’s right.

“A lot of us have ‘shoulds’ in our head,” Jerry Deffenbacher, a Colorado State University professor of psychology who studies anger management and road rage, recently told the Wall Street Journal. Ragers hold a certain view of the world—how fast traffic should go, how close you should be to the car in front of you, when you should use your turn signal—and what sets them off are those who violate their personal rules of civilized behavior. Since the rest of us aren’t privy to those rules, it’s impossible for us to predict what actions on our part might set a rager off, which explains why so many of the raged-upon insist, “I wasn’t doing anything!”

According to Eric Dahlen, who runs the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab at the University of Southern Mississippi, one strategy that can be helpful in lessening road rage is for the wrathful to reorder their thinking—to imagine that the driver in front of them is elderly or lost instead of a @#$%^ idiot. If, God help you, you regularly ride with a rager, you might try suggesting that possibility. Alternately, you could say in a soothing tone, “You know, darling, I really admire the outstandingly unyielding code of morally required conduct you’ve constructed and work so hard to impose on the rest of the world.” That ought to be enough to distract him—or her—at least.