Psychological factors can drive people to anger behind the wheel; experts advise respect on the road.
By Samantha L. Alonso
Almost 80 percent of Americans have engaged in at least one aggressive driving behavior incident, according to a study by AAA.
The 2014 study, “Prevalence of Self-Reported Aggressive Driving Behavior: United States,” found drivers ages 19 to 24 are more likely to try and block a vehicle from changing lanes or bump or ram another vehicle out of rage.
To avoid road rage, a campus police officer says young adults should keep a cool head.
“Students need to be respectful. It takes a lot of the negative out of driving,” Alamo Colleges Officer D. Reyes said. “If another driver did something to upset you, just blow it off and look the other way. Definitely don’t engage in their action because they may have a gun, they may have a knife.”
Alexandra De La Garza, radio-television-broadcasting, media convergence and production freshman, shared her encounter with an aggressive driver.
She was driving home near Mount Sacred Heart School around 10 p.m. the summer of 2013. De La Garza said she was going the speed limit, and a truck began tailgating her.
“He just kept honking and he just pulls up right on the side of me, and I yelled, ‘Hey what is your problem? I’m going the speed limit — what else do you want?’”
“And then all I saw was a gun, and he shot it, but it didn’t go off and I had to run the red light,” she said.
De La Garza said she heard the click of the gun go off, but it did not fire.
De La Garza said she remembers it like it was yesterday.
“It just happened so briefly,” she said. “I don’t know if he was drunk or just belligerent, but he was in a truck — a black Silverado truck. … I was just scared. I didn’t know what to do.”
She said the truck driver pursued her, but she lost him and called her grandmother, who urged her to call police.
But De La Garza did not get a license plate number, and she never filed a police report.
“It was that life or death moment — like a fight or flight kind of moment,” she said.
Comedyguys.com, a website that offers Texas defensive driving courses online, posted “How to Avoid Road Rage” Jan. 17.
It offered pointers on how to avoid a dangerous situation, including:
• Do not tailgate.
• Let people merge or pass if they want.
• Don’t make inappropriate hand or facial gestures.
• Use the car horn sparingly.
• Avoid eye contact.
• Give angry drivers plenty of room.
Johnny Ramirez, a local maintenance technician and 2008 Burbank High School graduate, described his run-ins with road rage.
“I’m just driving and they cut me off for no reason — I mean, I get pretty pissed off when that happens,” Ramirez said in an interview April 8.
That’s not uncommon, especially among young men, says Richard W. Bauer, a certified anger resolution therapist in San Antonio.
“Anger is becoming much more prevalent in society,” Bauer said.
“Men are going to struggle more as far as anger, and one of the reasons is because of the way the brain is constructed in men,” Bauer said. “There is a part of the brain called the amygdala, that’s the emotional response center and that tends to be larger in men, men have a greater capacity to experience emotion, the problem they have is the ability to communicate those emotions.”
Researchers agree with Bauer’s theory on gender and AAA’s findings on young adults.
Road rage is more common among young males, according to a July 2010 article in Psychiatry (Edgemont), a peer-reviewed journal for practicing clinicians.
Psychological factors that contribute to road rage can include displacing anger, attributing blame to others and unrewarding and stressful employment situations, according to the article, “Road Rage: What’s Driving It?”
“I’ll usually honk at them and, if they do something back, I’ll pull up next to them and tell them to watch where they are going,” Ramirez said.
Bauer explains the reasoning behind moments of rage behind the wheel.
“There is a reaction time going from the prefrontal cortex, which is the rational part of the brain, where the amygdala hijacks and it’s less than a quarter of a second, and that’s where you see people have that snap anger,” Bauer said. “When that amygdala hijacks in that moment and it takes over, it will respond with the equivalent of a 3 year old, and if we’re in a car, it gets more dangerous.”