Road Rage - A New Disorder or a Symptom of Today's Chaotic Lifestyle?

Lisa Rickwood

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You’re a law-abiding, tax paying member of society. People respect you, you’re generally happy with life (aside from minor annoyances), and you practice fairly good self control at work and home. But when you get behind the wheel of your car, you change. You become a horn-blasting tailgater with no patience and a lot of anger.

In your mind, you’re running late and everyone is in your way. You’re convinced that other drivers are rude, oblivious and ‘out to make you miserable. ’ You tell yourself this is irrational and that people are simply trying to get to their destinations but you can’t control your impulses and end up feeling your blood pressure rise, tension increase and aggression build. Before you know it, you’re cutting off drivers and giving them the ‘international signal. '

Recently, doctors of psychiatry at the University of Chicago’s medical school discovered yet another new disorder to describe the aggressive, angry tailgaters on the highway. The new disorder is called ‘intermittent explosive disorder’ and it involves multiple outbursts which can include threats or aggressive actions and property destruction. The outbursts are generally out of proportion to the event.

According to doctors, the disorder is fairly common and affects up to 16 million Americans, and the disorder first appears during adolescence around the age of 14. The disorder involves inadequate production of serotonin, a mood-altering relating brain chemical (often referred to as a natural happy drug).

Is this disorder really as common as discovered or is it just the tip of the societal iceberg – an indicator of the stress people feel? More research needs to be done into the affects of stress on the brain chemical, serotonin. Perhaps long periods of stress depress the system and cause intermittent explosive disorder, or perhaps not as many people have the disorder – they’re just taking their life frustrations out on the road because the highway is more anonymous and no one will know it’s them.

Whether this disorder is common or not, we can make our travels on the road less dangerous. If we stop and think about how dangerous it is to operate a motor vehicle and how one small error can end our lives or the lives of others, we might think about our intolerable actions on the road.

Ask yourself when you’re running late if it’s really important to beat the car in front of you to the next set of lights. Is it worth cutting off other drivers and making them angry? Is speeding worth it? Do you feel calm, cool and collected when someone cuts you off or you feel like ramming your vehicle into their back bumper? It’s not worth it.

What can you do to make your commute more pleasant, then? Think of your car as a refuge - a traveling oasis, not simply a machine to get you from point A to point B. Next time you plan a trip, equip your car with the following things to make your adventure more interesting and relaxing: calming music CDs or books or seminars on tape, easy finger snacks, bottled water and any other things that would make the trip less taxing.

If you find that your emotions are out of control while driving or elsewhere, you should seek the services of a medical professional as you may suffer from intermittent explosive disorder.

For most of us, we simply need to practice more self-control. Nothing is worth risking your life, not even being late for your own wedding.

Lisa Rickwood, BFA, Professional Business Coach, is an accomplished visual artist, speaker and small business and author of the book, Escape The Pace. Learn how to master stress for professional and personal success by visiting:


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