“Road rage” is a potentially dangerous phenomenon that, given our individual proximity to driving or riding in automobiles, has broad ranging personal and societal impacts. As such, road rage has recently been the subject of significant public and media attention, and sensational stories about “road rage” fill the newspapers, magazines, and television news.
Pervasive public interest in “road rage” has led to a proliferation of websites and blogs that attempt to serve a variety of functions from helping upset drivers vent their anger to electronic vigilantism in which users can report the locations, car makes, and license plate numbers of offending drivers (“PlateRage.com”). Another website offers books of flip-cards with large print—and mostly obscene—statements that tell drivers how their road behavior is affecting the card-waving driver (“RoadRageCards.com”).
Road rage is not unique to America and has been the topic of a great deal of media, research, and government attention in numerous countries across the globe including the United Kingdom, the Philippines, India, Israel, China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. In the U.S. alone, legislation to counter aggressive driving and road rage has been passed in more than one-third of the states and governments around the world have made various levels of legislative commitment to managing this problem.
The term “road rage” is a relatively new one, reportedly coined by the media itself in 1988, possibly in response to the much-publicized seemingly viral progression of destructive acts of road violence in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. The phrase “road rage” was only introduced officially into the English language in 1997 and did not appear in social science literature until 1998. The first U.S. Congressional hearing on the issue was not conducted until 1997.
However, considering that driving has been a part of American culture since Henry Ford invented the Model T in 1908, it is safe to assume that road rage—or any form of aggressive and violent behavior on the roads—followed not too long after. In fact, researchers in fields such as transportation, public safety, and psychology have been working to understand and address the problem of dangerous roadway behaviors for more than half a century. For references of road rage prior to the invention of the modern automobile, one can look as far back as 420 B.C.E. for Sophocles’ fictional reference to the right-of-way dispute that led to Laius’ death at the hands of Oedipus. One of the first non-fictional references to road rage involves the poet Lord Byron who reportedly was involved in numerous roadway confrontations, one of which resulted in him causing bodily injury to the alleged perpetrator.
The relatively recent popularity of the specific term “road rage” is thought by many to be the result of growing media “hype.” Road rage publicity not only brought the phrase into western vernacular but most likely enhanced public perception of the prevalence and level of threat of the phenomenon, creating a priming and contagion affect that may foster aggressive retaliatory acts by some drivers.