“The fast and the furious” – Interview with Dr. Road Rage

Main Feature Story – Friday, August 10, 2012
Feature: The fast and the furious
When it comes to road rage, Novato psychologist Bob Nemerovski is an information superhighway

by Dani Burlison

Most people toss around the term “road rage” lightly, often referring to the grumpy old man tooting his horn behind us in the Sir Francis Drake right-hand turn lane.

But a quick look at daily headlines around the country shows that serious incidents of driver hooliganism are definitely speeding up.

Bus commuters must thank their lucky stars that the energy often used to drive defensively through hordes of angry, vehicle-wielding madmen can be used instead to read a book while crawling through the Novato Narrows. Drivers new to the crowded Bay Area highways may often suffer from anxiety as they learn to navigate through hundreds of Priuses and SUVs clogging the turnpike.

And let’s not forget the many Marin cyclists who see it through a more serious lens—collisions with angry drivers do more than leave dents in our Trek frames. Road rage can leave cyclists seriously injured. Or worse.

So what, if anything, can be done about road rage? How can we bring a higher level of awareness to mainstream commuters who often dismiss or misunderstand the effects it can have? With these questions in mind, we reached out to Novato psychologist Bob Nemerovski. Nemerovski, 47, is one of Marin’s few—perhaps the only?—experts on the topic of road rage (he specializes in men’s issues, anger and anxiety—road rage-related or not), and has spoken extensively on the topic. He even leads local seminars to educate and inform the general public.

We asked him to shed light on a topic we should all be pondering before we’re driven over the edge by that jerk who just cut us off at the Lucky Drive exit.

• • • •

You probably could have developed an expertise on a lot of things—why road rage?

I have been fascinated by this very potentially dangerous phenomenon for many years. In part because of what I have seen in the media, in part because of what I have witnessed in person—and, in one case, threatened by a weapon-wielding rager. But mostly because of the many stories I have heard from friends and family who have been witness or victim to road rage AND those who have expressed great personal concern for the intensity of their own anger while driving. I chose road rage for my doctoral dissertation topic and was astounded by the massive response I received to my requests for subjects. In my psychotherapy practice, I have been surprised by the number of people who have come in for other issues but later revealed that they feel road rage—some are proud of this.

What would make someone proud to intimidate me just because I forgot to use my turn signal?

The answer to this important question is complex. An episode of road rage depends on the intellectual, emotional and personality makeup of each individual driver involved as well as other factors such as each person’s current life circumstances and stressors, coping skills, the situation on the roadway at the time—for example, unexpected congestion—local driving norms, each driver’s comfort in the vehicle such as temperature, and many more potential factors than you have space for. However, one’s tendency to develop frequent and intense driving anger is a key factor in the genesis of road rage. In fact, one of the pioneers of road rage research has gathered solid evidence for a personality trait for excessive driving anger.

Some people are genetically predisposed to ride my tail?

There are many psychological models for the genesis of anger. For my research and clinical work, I use a model I call the T.I.F. model. This stands for “threat,” “injustice” and “frustration.” If we feel threatened, whether it be physically or psychologically—such as when our self-esteem might be deflated—we are prone to feel anger. In the car, this can happen when we are tailgated or someone cuts us off. If we perceive an injustice, such as someone breaking the law or violating a social rule, we are prone to feel anger. On the road, this can happen when someone doesn’t take turns merging. When we are striving to achieve a goal and that goal is frustrated by others, we are prone to feel anger. This happens when we get stuck behind a slow driver when we are late for work.

What is the public’s greatest misunderstanding about road rage?

People don’t realize it, but driving is a social activity, and it consists of countless subtle interpersonal interactions per mile. However, when physical elements of the automobile—such as its cocoon-like protective shell, the power and control provided by sophisticated in-car systems, and awesome horsepower—are merged with the many images of power, freedom and invulnerability broadcast by widespread advertising, drivers gain a false sense that they “own the road.” When thousands of individuals on the road at once believe this, frustration, conflict and anger are inevitable.

You mean others believe they own MY road?

When we are off the road and we encounter others whose needs compete with our own—for example, joining a long line at the local Starbucks—we engage each other in a process of civil communication, both verbal and nonverbal, that allows us to work it out peacefully. Internal morals and external pressures such as social and legal consequences and fear of retaliation appear to manage to keep most non-driving conflicts between strangers aggression-free.

Why would that change in the driver’s seat?

When we have a conflict over competing needs on the road—like when two lanes merge into one—the physical and logistical properties inherent in automobiles, for instance, sound insulation and demands on the driver’s attention, and road travel itself, such as the distance between cars and the speed of events when navigating through traffic, get in the way. These obstacles result in the inability of drivers to hear one another’s speech or accurately interpret facial and other nonverbal communications. This makes any form of message between drivers—such as horn honking or hand waving—ambiguous and subject to misinterpretations that often lead us to believe that we are being mocked, criticized or threatened, all of which can lead to high levels of driving anger and aggressive behaviors.

That one-fingered salute is rarely misinterpreted.

Another important factor that contributes to driving anger and road rage is anonymity, which has been shown in several prominent studies to lead to a psychological state called “deindividuation,” which is believed to reduce our inhibitions to perform antisocial behavior. Essentially, if we believe no one can identify us, we are more likely to engage in antisocial, even hostile behavior.

Sounds similar to bloggers.

Another common source of driving anger is when one gets in the car already frustrated or angry, perhaps as the result of a disappointment at work or a troubling argument with a loved one. The anger that one suppresses from expressing at the boss or his or her spouse can more easily find expression when triggered by the behavior of other drivers on the road. This is referred to as displacement, which means that we are redirecting our anger toward new, less risky targets.

Does road rage affect one physically?

It’s no different from the bodily arousal people experience when they get angry—fight or flight symptoms including increased heart rate, numbness, temperature change, sweating, muscle tension, tight chest, stomach discomfort, etc. There are also cognitive impairments for many people when angry, including impulse-control problems, short-term memory loss, lapses in judgment. Persons with frequent and high levels of anger tend to experience high levels of stress that have been shown to increase risk for cardiovascular events, high blood pressure, stroke, decreased immune functions and other medical problems.

Can friends and family make a difference? Like, “Jeez, Dad, can you stop chasing people down with the Hummer?”

I hear more from family members who are worried about the road rage behaviors of a loved one than from road ragers themselves. This is because people with road rage may have the tendency to externalize responsibility for their potentially dangerous behavior by blaming other drivers who anger them and [they] psychologically avoid seeing their own role in road rage. Their friends and family become concerned about the potential for injuries and death to themselves and other passengers. This concern can lead to a variety of relationship problems.

What about mental health issues—are these people simply crazy?

This has been studied extensively in terms of either aggressive driving or driving anger, and there is no overwhelming evidence for there being one personality style, set of traits or disorder that is associated with these constructs. Some have linked road rage with the DSM diagnosis “Intermittent Explosive Disorder,” but although some road ragers may qualify for that diagnosis, the majority would not, in my opinion. That being said, in my study I looked at the impact of how different people explain and evaluate the behaviors of other drivers. I found evidence to suggest that drivers who are more likely to excuse, accept or explain away the offensive behavior of others on the road are less prone to driving anger and road rage; while drivers who are likely to blame and judge others for their seemingly offensive behavior are more likely to develop driving anger and road rage. This may seem obvious, but knowing that how we think about another driver’s behavior impacts our levels of anger gives us the power to be more mindful and better manage our thoughts and emotions on the road.

In the words of the late Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?”

I found support for a link between a driver’s ability to take the perspective of other drivers and lower levels of driving anger. An example would be understanding that someone who is tailgating may be late for work and anxious, and not necessarily trying to be hostile. This makes sense. If we can put ourselves in the shoes of other drivers, we are more capable of understanding their behavior and staying calm. If we can’t appreciate their situation, then we are more likely to get offended, angry and even rageful if their driving bothers us.

The top three “road rage cities” are New York City, Dallas and Detroit. Where’s Marin on that list—fourth?

The Bay Area is usually not listed in the rankings of road rage cities. A number of studies have shown that daily commuters have LESS road rage than those who drive during non-commute hours and areas. This is because commuters expect certain delays so they plan for this emotionally; plus they realize they are all in the same boat. These studies found that road rage is more likely when drivers are expecting clear roads and driving the speed limit, or more, but then are surprised by unexpected slow traffic, construction and any behaviors by other drivers that appear to impede their travel.


“The roadway is a sort of moving community, and we are only one of many who are on our way somewhere to do something that is uniquely important to us,” reminds Bob Nemerovski. “Just as we don’t all rush en masse into the local coffee shop and shout out our drink orders without any semblance of order, societal rules and common courtesy, we can truly all get along on the road and get to our destinations in an orderly, safe and peaceful manner.”

Here are the Top Ten ways to cage your rage:

10. Think socially rather than selfishly, and try to imagine the other driver’s perspective—e.g., “I bet he’s late for work like I was yesterday. I’ll let him pass.”

9. Play it safe and smart—move to a different lane; pull over and calm down.

8. Don’t be a vigilante—let the highway patrol, not me, punish dangerous drivers.

7. Practice acceptance—”let it go” or FIDO—”forget it; drive on.”

6. Use humor—Tell yourself, “He must be rushing to get to his driving school class!”

5. Exercise altruism—purposely allow others to merge and pass. It feels good!

4. Reduce your stress and anger triggers—practice mindful breathing; listen to relaxing music instead of aggravating talk radio; put down the phone; etc.

3. Enjoy the ride—focus on the scenery; enjoy the company of your passengers. Instead of making good TIME…make time GOOD!)

2. Leave 10 minutes early so you won’t be rushed and stressed.

And the No. 1 way to avoid road rage…

1. Take public transportation or ride a bike!

Drive your road rage solutions to Dr. Nemerovski at DrNemerovski@gmail.com .

Find this article at:


[Visit www.drnemerovski.com for more about me and my psychotherapy practice]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

See my interview on KPIX / CBS Channel 5 News

I was honored to be asked to speak with KPIX reported Mike Sugarman about my Road Rage research. CLick the link below to watch the video:


-Dr. Road Rage.
(for more about Road Rage and my work, visit: http://drroadrage.com)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Whose Road Rage is it?


We all know “Road Rage.” As portrayed in the media, it is a potentially deadly, destructive roadway phenomenon. In fact, around the world, violent acts of road rage kill hundreds and injure thousands of people each year, and they cause millions of dollars of damage. These acts include ramming one’s car into another car; getting out of one’s car and assaulting another driver with fists, baseball bats, and tire irons; or attempting murder with weapons such as firearms and knives. However shocking and damaging these acts of violence are, they are extremely rare compared to the millions of safe, uneventful journeys taken each day around the globe.

For many of us, when we think about road rage, we conjure up mental images of other drivers’ anger-fueled expressions and behaviors—like “flipping the bird,” cutting someone off, tail-gating, shaking a fist, honking, and yelling obscenities. Witnessing these offensive displays stirs up intense feelings of shock, disbelief, and anger. When they happen to us, we can feel threatened, vulnerable, and furious.

For a significant number of drivers, it doesn’t take obvious, provocative, aggressive gestures and behaviors by others to set us off. In fact, many drivers report being frustrated, angered, and even enraged merely by what they perceive as incorrect, problematic driving by others. These acts might seem discourteous (e.g. not letting us merge, driving too slow, taking a parking space we wanted, etc.) or dangerous (e.g. speeding, running a red light, weaving, tail-gating, etc.). These and other driving behaviors may trigger feelings of frustration, injustice, or being threatened. Each of these feelings is a common trigger for anger, rage, and aggression.

Yet, these descriptions of road rage are incomplete. They focus on external factors that upset us emotionally yet allow us to maintain a victim stance. Feeling like a victim not only leaves us feeling powerless over our reaction and distress to others’ behavior; it ignores our role in on-road interactions that may anger other drivers. Are you shocked? Ironically, most of us are guilty at one time or another of committing some driving behavior that—often without our self-awareness—causes anger or even rage in other drivers. In my recent study on road rage, located at www.Marin-Psychotherapy.com, participants were surprised to discover they were not simply victims of road rage, but they at times were instigators of road rage. This insight can be helpful in recognizing that we are all responsible for driving safely and with consideration of—and compassion for–other drivers at all times.

What can we do to minimize driving in ways to anger other drivers? What can we do to bring down the volume of anger and rage inside of us while driving? Answers to both questions over-lap. The cycle of road rage isn’t simply one driver angering another. The roadway is a sort of moving community, and we are only one of many who are on our way somewhere to do something that is important to us. Just as we don’t all rush en mass into the local coffee shop and shout out our drink orders without any semblance of order, societal rules, and common courtesy, we truly can all get along and get to our destinations in an orderly, safe, and peaceful manner. Here are some helpful ideas:

Top Ten Ways to Avoid Road Rage (yours and the other guy/gal’s):

10. Think socially rather than selfishly, and try to imagine the other driver’s perspective (e.g., “I bet he’s late for work like I was yesterday. I’ll let him pass.”)

9. Play it safe and smart (e.g., move to a different lane; pull over and calm down)

8. Don’t be a vigilante (e.g., let the highway patrol, not me, punish dangerous drivers)

7. Practice acceptance (e.g., “Let it go” or FIDO–“Forget it; Drive on”)

6. Use humor (e.g., Tell yourself, “She must be rushing to the hair salon. She needs it!”);

5. Exercise altruism (e.g., purposely allow others to merge and pass.);

4. Reduce your stress and anger triggers (e.g., practice mindful breathing; listen to relaxing music instead of aggravating talk radio; put down the phone; etc.).

3. Enjoy the ride (e.g., focus on the scenery; enjoy the company of your passengers, etc.)

2. Leave 10 minutes early, so you won’t be rushed and stressed.

1. Take public transportation or ride a bike!

Give these a try. If you have other tools or tips, drop me an email (Robert@DrNemerovski.com) so I can share them with my clients and readers. For those of you who are thinking, “These suggestions are great, but they won’t work for me—or my partner or friend—who has ‘serious road rage issues,’” counseling or therapy might be appropriate. In my research and therapy practice, I do encounter people whose anger problems—both in and out of the car—benefit from professional guidance in order to get to the “root” of psychological contributors to excessive or uncontrollable anger and propose more adaptive ways of “being” that don’t involve rage. Unfortunately, many people with road rage or general anger problems won’t seek help until someone in their life suggests it, or until they have something to lose, such as a relationship, job, their freedom, or worse, or someone has been injured or killed. Stay calm out there!


Deffenbacher, J. L., Oetting, E. R., & Lynch, R. S. (1994). Development of a driving anger scale. Psychological Reports, 74(1), 83-91.

Larson, J. A. (1996). Steering clear of highway madness: A driver’s guide to curbing stress and strain. Wilsonville, OR: BookPartners, Inc.

Nemerovski, R. A. (2009). Anger in the car — An examination of the role of perspective-taking in the anger response while driving. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.


[Visit www.drnemerovski.com for more about me and my psychotherapy practice]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teen Shot After Prom During Road Rage Incident

This is tragic. Sounds like a “perfect storm” involving drinking and driving, teen driving, guns, and some possible “road rage” interaction. Bottom line: A young life was lost and many people will be feeling the pain for years to come. Stay calm, safe, AND SOBER out there. – Dr. Road Rage.com


(Source: http://fox4kc.com)

GRANDVIEW, Mo. — A 16-year-old boy is recovering after being shot in a road rage incident early Sunday morning following an after-prom party at Grandview High School.

A second teen was also hurt when suspects fired into their car.

It happened on the exit ramp from Northbound 71 Highway at Missouri 150 Hwy.  Police say a car full of Grandview students headed home from their after-prom party were confronted by three men in another car at about 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning. One of the suspects pulled out a gun and fired into the car full of teens.

“They said they were driving along and then somebody rode up beside them and started throwing beer bottles at them and then they started shooting,” said Cornelius Blow, a parent and volunteer chaperone at the after-prom party.

He rushed to the scene when he heard what happened. He says it’s bullet only grazed the injured teen and that the second victim, a girl, was injured by flying glass, and all in the car were very fortunate.

The suspects were driving an olive green SUV with beige trim, possibly a Ford Explorer.

A black mid-size 4 door car driven by a black female was also involved in the road rage. Anyone with information regarding this incident or witnesses to the shooting are asked to call the TIPS Hotline at 474-TIPS.

# # #

For more about Dr. Nemerovski, visit: www.drnemerovski.comMarin-Psychotherapy.com, or SF-Psychologist.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apparent road-rage incident leads to fatal crash

Break checking. Not only a dysfunctional method of roadway interpersonal communication, it can be deadly. Many road rage incidents start with the premise that another driver took something from us (time, 100 feet of asphalt, self-esteem, etc.) and we feel entitled to get it back…or make them pay. Think again. Stay calm out there!


(from http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/01/25/BAQJ1MU9RQ.DTL&tsp=1)

The driver of a minivan was killed this morning on Interstate 80 in Richmond in a crash that may have been road rage-related, the California Highway Patrol said.

The crash happened about 5:45 a.m. when the driver of a 1989 Ford Aerostar minivan heading west on I-80 struck a pickup in the carpool lane west of Carlson Boulevard, the CHP said. The minivan then crashed into the center divide and flipped a number of times, sending debris across the freeway.

The minivan’s driver was Ronald Zerangue, 63, of El Sobrante, his wife said. She declined to comment further.

Zerangue, who died at the scene, may have been trying to “brake-check” the driver of the 2004 GMC pickup truck at the time of the crash, said Officer Sam Morgan, a CHP spokesman.

Brake-checking involves intentionally swerving in front of a car and slamming on the brakes, Morgan said.

Zerangue, the lone occupant of the minivan, was driving behind the GMC driver before he swerved into the next lane and sped past the pickup, the CHP said.

Zerangue then apparently tried to cut in front of the GMC and hit the brakes, but clipped the pickup before slamming into the center divide, Morgan said.

Zerangue had a valid license and a clean driving record, according to California Department of Motor Vehicles records. He had been a mechanic at AC Transit for the last four years, said Clarence Johnson, a spokesman for the agency.

The pickup driver stopped at the crash scene and was cooperating with investigators, Morgan said. The male driver and his female passenger, who were not identified, suffered minor injuries.

Three westbound lanes were closed for two hours while CHP officers investigated the crash.

# # #

[Visit www.drnemerovski.com for more about me; citations and references gladly provided upon request]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Distracted Teen Driving: The Hazards of Having Friends in the Car.

A lot of parents are restricting their teens from driving with other teen passengers (beyond what some state laws dictate). When teens show off for their underage passengers by driving aggressively, it’s a likely trigger for others’ Road Rage. Just the other day I saw two teens laughing in a car after they clearly, purposely blocked another car from merging. The kids thought it was hilarious. The driver of the other car was beet red. Good thing he didn’t act on it. Stay calm out there! -DrRoadRage.com

Here’s the article:

(from http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/25/distracted-driving-additional-passengers-hinder-teen-drivers/)

It’s a well-known fact that driving with friends can increase a teen’s crash risk, which is why many states have laws restricting the number of passengers that teen drivers can transport. Now researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm insurance have shed light on why teens’ driving skills can spin out of control when friends are in the car.

Car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death among U.S. teens, who are four times as likely as adult drivers to be involved in fatal crashes. Two new studies published in the Journal of Adolescent Health pinpoint which teens are likely to drive with friends and how extra passengers can hinder their driving before a crash.

In one study that surveyed 198 teen drivers, researchers found that those teens most likely to drive with multiple passengers were “thrill-seekers” who didn’t accurately perceive the risks inherent in driving and suspect that their parents are not monitoring their behavior.

Thankfully, these teens are in the minority, says study author Jessica Mirman, behavioral researcher at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Most teens reported an understanding for driving risks and rules set by their parents, according to the research.

In a second study, researchers analyzed a nationally representative sample of 677 teen drivers involved in serious crashes. They compared the likelihood of driver distraction and risk-taking just before the crash, when teens were driving with additional passengers and when they were solo.

Both male and female drivers were more likely to be distracted before a crash if they were accompanied by passengers. Of those drivers who reported being distracted by activity inside their car before a crash, 71% of males and 47% of females said they were distracted directly by their passengers.

When compared with males driving alone, males with passengers were almost six times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver and more than twice as likely to drive aggressively before a crash. Overall, females rarely drove aggressively prior to a crash.

The studies’ authors say teens may not realize how distracting passengers can be. Friends — intentionally or not — can promote risky driving. It’s up to parents to temper the trend.

“It’s critical that parents stay involved in their teens’ driving beyond the learner permit phase,” said Chris Mullen, research director at State Farm, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This includes continuing to monitor their driving activities and to review ways teens can be safe drivers and passengers.”

# # #

[Visit www.drnemerovski.com for more about me; citations and references gladly provided upon request]

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How Does Driving Anger Develop? Part I

How Does Driving Anger Develop?  Part I:

Driving is a social activity consisting of countless subtle interpersonal transactions per mile. However, when elements inherent to the physical nature of the automobile—such as its cocoon-like protective shell, the power and control provided by sophisticated in-car systems, and awesome horsepower—are merged with the many images of autonomy, omnipotence, and safety broadcast by widespread advertising, drivers gain a false sense that they “own the road” and are entitled to the most efficient, optimal driving experience possible. When thousands of individuals on the road are essentially competing at once to meet their own unique, highly valued personal goals, frustration, conflict, and anger are inevitable.

To be continued….

[Visit www.drnemerovski.com or www.drclaudiaperez.com/drnemerovski for more about me; citations and references gladly provided upon request]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment