Road Anger: Why Motorists Hate Cars

When I was growing up we had a lovely white-haired neighbour who was always jolly and good fun with us kids. Let’s call him Bob, because that was his name.

My school was a few miles from where we lived, near to where Bob worked, and he was kind enough to offer me a regular lift in his red VW Polo. This was back in the day when VW was a real quality brand. He was rightly proud of this car; an immaculately kept motor that lived in its own garage every night.

But those journeys were revelation to me. Even as a pre-teen I was struck by the remarkable transformation that came over Bob when he got behind the wheel. The kindly gent we knew for his jokes turned into a raging pit of anger and spite. The driving seat brought on his reptile head on, big style.

Please don’t get me wrong, he was always courteous and friendly with me and I never felt the slightest personal fear, mainly because Bob’s road anger was so clearly directed against his fellow motorists. He would begin by grumbling, usually at the first junction, then as the journey went on would work up through swearing, bashing the wheel, gunning the engine and finally hitting the horn and screaming at other cars.

Bear in mind, this was in the seventies when motoring was in its infancy and the roads were empty by today’s standards. But the actual level of traffic had very little to do with it. Bob was thoroughly assimilated by the machine. He was a ‘motorist’. A proud, threatened, angry motorist who saw other cars as invading his car’s space and impeding its rightful progress.

And we should be aware that the thing that motorists hate more than anything else, more than environmentalists, more than pedestrians, and even more than cyclists, is cars.

Bizarre but true, more than anything else, motorists hate cars. Cars with lights on, cars with lights off, cars that cut across their path, cars that nip into their parking spaces, cars that overtake, cars that don’t overtake, cars that undertake; cars that go too fast, cars that go too slow, cars that don’t pull out at junctions, cars that do pull out at junctions, and cars that get too close. Just cars that share the road space, get in the way of and generally threaten their own car.

Stress or anger at other road users is rife among drivers.
Four-fifths (78%) of drivers admit driving while angry or
stressed about another road user over the past year.
A startling one-third (31%) admit driving while stressed
or angry about once a week or more often.

source: Brake Driver Survey Report

The US AAA Foundation found that 57% of fatal road accidents involved aggressive driving. It estimates that between 2003 and 2007 119,000 people were killed on US roads as a result. 119,000.

I have a theory as to why Bob’s seething road anger was so powerful. I think was a very profound frustration with the driving experience, born of the realisation that his own precious car was actually part of the problem. His car was brilliant, and he loved it and was proud of it, but it was a brilliant mistake and deep-down he could sense that, even then.

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  • http://www.bikestylespokane.com Barb Chamberlain, Bike Style Spokane

    Great insight. The one correction I would make–and it is not trivial–is to point out that what made Bob angry was other DRIVERS. Those “cars” in his way are operated by other human beings, not remote control (yet).

    Dehumanizing others on the road makes it far easier for a driver to joke about how many points you’ll get for taking out a pedestrian or cyclist, easier for someone on a bike to complain about “those cars!” or someone in a car to complain about “those bikes!”.

    I bike to work daily and use the ultimate weapon in my interactions with others: I make eye contact and smile. If we can see each other as fellow human beings, maybe we can all recognize the value of increasing the level of courtesy, kindness, and safety we bring to our interactions.

    @BarbChamberlain

  • http://twitter.com/iamnotacyclist iamnotacyclist

    I too find it both funny and frightening how aggressive some people become when they get in the drivers seat. Anything that holds them up for mere seconds triggers an disproportionation response. Anything that’s in their way, not only cars but literary everything, becomes and enemy. Of course it only happens to a certain percentage, but it’s still quite astonishing. The funniest thing is that the hold ups usually mean that they are a minute or two behind schedule, yet it seems as if some perceived it as an hour or so. 

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    A report from the insurance company AXA estimated that 800 lives are lost on
    Britain’s roads through accidents caused by road rage or disrespectful
    driving. This is a serious issue would should be addressed, but is sadly ignored as people are reliant on their cars, due to successive failure in UK transport policy over the last 50 years.

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Cars are brilliant, but they are a brilliant mistake, and deep down, we all know it…

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