Research Papers

Coping with Aggressive Driving: Driver Accounts of How They Manage Themselves and Others to Reduce Conflict on the Road

Filename FINAL-PAPER-38.docx
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Date added June 10, 2012
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Category 2012 CMRSC XXII Banff
Tags Session 2B
Author/Auteur Alexia Lennon, Barry Watson


Dealing with the aggression of other drivers on the road is an important skill given that driving is a common activity for adults in highly motorised countries. Even though incidents of extreme aggression on the road (such as assault) are reportedly rare, milder forms, some of them dangerous (such as tailgating or deliberately following too closely) are apparently common, and may be increasing. At the very least, this is likely to render the driving environment more stressful, and at worst elevates the risk of crashing by increasing both the level of risky driving behaviours and the likelihood of responses that escalate the situation. Thus the need for drivers to manage incidents of conflict is likely to become increasingly important. However, little research examines how drivers manage their own or others' aggressive driving behaviour.

Recently greater attention has been paid to driver cognitions, especially the attributions that drivers make about other drivers, that then might influence their own driving responses, particularly aggressive or risky ones. The study reported below was the first in a larger exploration of aggressive driving that focussed on driver cognitions, emotions and underlying motivations for aggressive behaviours on the road. Qualitative, in-depth interviews of drivers (n = 30, aged 18-49 years) were subjected to thematic analysis to investigate driver experiences with aggressive driving. Two main themes were identified from these accounts: driver management of self; and driver attempts to influence or manage other drivers. This paper describes the subthemes falling under the management of self main theme. These subthemes were labelled 'being magnanimous', 'chilling out', 'slowing down', and 'apology/acknowledgment'.

'Being magnanimous' referred to situations where the respondent perceived him/herself to be a recipient of another's aggressive driving and made a deliberate choice not to respond. However, a characteristic of this sub-theme was that this choice was underpinned by the adoption of morally superior stance, or sense of magnanimity. 'Chilling out' was a more general response to both the milder aggressive behaviours of other drivers and the general frustrations of driving. 'Slowing down' referred to reducing one's speed in response to the perceived aggressive driving, often tailgating, of another. This subtheme appeared to consist of two separate underlying motivations. One of these was a genuine concern for one's own safety while the other was more aimed at "getting back" at the other driver. 'Apology' referred to how drivers modified their more negative reactions and responses when another driver made gestures that acknowledged their having made a mistake, indicated an apology, or acknowledged the recipient driver. These sub-themes are discussed in relation to their implications for understanding aggressive driving and intervening to reduce it.

Alexia Lennon, Barry Watson