A new study finds that angry, competitive, and aggressive driving is becoming a worldwide phenomenon of almost epidemic proportions and appears to be a reflection of the surrounding culture, both on the road and in society.
The findings offer us a greater understanding of the underlying human psychological behaviors that come as a response to the increasingly crowded and congested road networks around the world.
Aggressive driving is viewed as competitive behavior that manifests as speeding, crowding, or lane-hopping on the road. “Road rage” is aggressive driving at its very worst, often leading to serious or fatal accidents.
In all its variations, aggressive driving is a problem that appears to be increasing. The American Automobile Association estimates that 56 percent of accidents involve aggressive driving.
The study, conducted by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU), the Beijing University of Technology and the Ministry of Transport of the People’s Republic of China, took place in China where aggressive driving has become very common.
“China is a good place to study competitive driving because it’s very common there,” said Haizhong Wang, Ph.D., an assistant professor of transportation engineering at the OSU College of Engineering.
“Roads are overcrowded, there’s less traffic control, and many drivers are younger or have little training or experience.”
China’s rising problem of aggressive driving reflects similar concerns at varying levels around the world, Wang said. The study results suggest that aggressive behavior on the road is more pronounced in men than in women and is partly a reaction to overcrowded road networks. In fact, the study implies that different social conditions might ultimately translate into better driving.
The researchers found that drivers in congested roadways shared the general belief that the chaotic traffic state was responsible for their competitive behavior and that they had no other choice than to compete for space, fight for the right-of-way, and gain advantages through speed and spacing.
In other words, the drivers believed it was completely acceptable that they should try to keep up with or get ahead of traffic; that was the example being set for them, and they drove that way because everyone else did.
The findings also suggest that an individual’s “personality traits draw on and are influenced by aspects of one’s social environment.” The researchers note that some countries and cultures may be more prone to aggressive driving due to their social environment, and that improvements in that arena would also translate into better driving behavior.
“The choice to be competitive versus cooperative always starts with culture, by the influences around us, and the way other people behave,” Wang said. “And it’s clear there’s a role for education and experience, where studies have shown the value of young drivers participating in driver education programs and receiving positive guidance from their parents and peers.”
China is unique in that many new drivers have come onto the scene just within the last two decades, and this explosion of growth is creating a very challenging driving environment. China doesn’t have generations of experience and support systems to draw upon, and this seems to be leading to a high level of accidents, injuries and fatalities.
As more countries around the world experience increasing traffic congestion, Wang said, part of the mental challenge will be for drivers to maintain a sense of personal responsibility, avoid copying the dangerous behaviors of other drivers, and exhibit tolerance, courtesy, and personal cooperation — all qualities necessary for safe driving.
The findings are published in the journal Procedia Engineering.