Road Rage and Faith

February 1st, 2013

Life in the Fast Lane

You’re driving down the freeway, humming along at 75 miles per hour in the far right lane. You come upon a vehicle doing 65 miles per hour, so you attempt to pass on the left. As you do, you suddenly realize there was another vehicle in the “fast” lane, and you have just cut them off. You complete your pass and settle back into the “slow” lane. Just then, the car you cut off appears parallel with you. The driver has rolled down the passenger-side window and is yelling at you at the top of his lungs. You can’t make out what he’s saying, and you try to ignore him; but then, suddenly, a donut is tossed out the window at you as the car speeds away.

Welcome to the world of road rage. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that aggressive driving—including road rage—was a factor in 56 percent of fatal crashes. Speeding is the number-one contributing factor, the report noted, involved in nearly one third of all deadly accidents. According to the foundation, nearly eight out of ten people said that aggressive driving was a serious or extremely serious safety problem. However, the same survey indicated that nearly 50 percent of respondents admitted to exceeding the speed limit by 15 miles per hour within the past month. “This reflects the ‘Do as I Say, Not as I Do’ attitude society has toward traffic safety,” the foundation noted.

“It’s easy to think ‘that other guy is the problem’—the one who runs someone off the road, tailgates, or yells obscenities,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation. “In reality, examples of driving aggressively . . . are all too common.”

The US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines road rage as “an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on the roadway.” Aggressive driving occurs when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” If you find yourself driving slowly in the passing lane, tailgating, or trying to “teach a lesson” to another driver, then you are “also part of the problem,” said Kissinger. “An aggressive driving act by one driver can trigger a disproportionate and potentially violent reaction from another driver.”

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving—driving while talking on the telephone or sending a text message, for example—accounted for 3,092 fatalities and over 400,000 injuries in 2010, according to, the official federal government website on distracted driving. Today, there are a myriad of possible distractions inside the vehicle: eating and drinking, talking to passengers, reading, personal grooming, using a GPS, watching a video, and adjusting the radio/CD/video player. Eleven percent of drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time, the website indicates.

Sending or reading text messages, for example, takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, or, at 55 miles per hour, the distance of a football field. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books banning texting while driving, while ten states; Washington, DC; and the US Virgin Islands ban handheld cell phone use while driving. (A Carnegie Mellon study found that drivers who use a cell phone reduce their brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.) Four states—Montana, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Florida—have no state laws banning cell phone use or texting while driving.

Road Rage Makes the News

Meet Dallas. Dallas was driving his Chevy Camaro near San Francisco in July 2011 when a woman changed lanes right in front of him. Dallas admitted to spitting and throwing coffee on the woman’s vehicle, and he pleaded no contest this past April to a misdemeanor charge. He was fined $1,000 and had to attend ten anger management classes. The conviction was deferred if he stays out of trouble for the next year and a half. This might be a problem for Dallas—Dallas Braden, a major league baseball player for the Oakland A’s, who recently made news for confronting the city’s police chief while carrying a baseball bat at, of all places, an anti-violence rally.

Meet Michael Economides, 37, who was jailed in lieu of a $1 million bond in early October near San Diego, California, for allegedly shooting a motorist in the chest. According to news reports, Economides was driving on Ortega Highway when he had a confrontation with another driver. The two vehicles pulled over to the side of the road, and the driver and a passenger from one of the vehicles got out and started walking over to Economides. Police say Economides pulled out a gun, shot the driver in the chest, and then fled.

Meet Jim Stillwagon, 63, a former Ohio State University football star, who is suspected of shooting at a pickup truck on a highway ramp and then later striking the driver with a handgun. Stillwagon, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was jailed on felonious assault charges. Reports indicate the incident probably began when one driver cut off the other. Stillwagon was riding his motorcycle and had a permit for the gun he was carrying at the time. Reports also indicate the road rage incident took place over a 14-mile area.

Factors in Road Rage

You might think that road rage is the almost exclusive domain of the human male. If so, you would be wrong. According to a recent study by that looked at the hazards of commuting, women are more likely to experience road rage than men. Sixty-one percent of the women surveyed had experienced road rage, while 56 percent of the men reported the same. Psychiatrist Keith Ablow notes that one possible reason women experience more road rage is that the feeling of anonymity people get while driving may lead to lowered inhibitions and possible straying from otherwise polite or nurturing personalities. Ablow also believes that “women may be less in touch overtly with their aggression and, therefore, more vulnerable to it being tapped by circumstances on the road.”

The same survey found that age seems to be a factor in road rage. Not accounting for gender, the study found that 68 percent of respondents age 24–34 reported experiencing incidents of road rage, while only 47 percent of respondents 55 and older reported the same. Another factor is longer commutes, which seems to correspond to higher levels of stress behind the wheel, although the study also found that even people with short commute times “let it get the best of them now and then.”

Avoiding Road Rage

Dr. Leon James, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, believes that a predisposition for road rage is found as early as childhood. “Drivers grow up being socialized into a highway of hostility rather than mutual support and peace,” he says. “The back seat of the car is what I call road rage nursery.” James notes that only 20 states have enacted laws that specifically target aggressive driving, while the website of the NHTSA states, “Aggressive driving is a traffic offense; road rage is a criminal offense.” “Cross that line, and your car insurance may not follow you,” writes Jay MacDonald at “Generally, insurance is designed to cover accidents and our own stupidity, not intentional acts,” says Michael Randles, president of Insurance Center Associates in San Pedro, California.

What’s the best way to avoid road rage? “Immediately make loud, funny noises or wailing, or if you prefer, burst out singing in a loud voice,” James suggests. “After a few seconds start talking to yourself. Give yourself all the rational reasons for not doing anything and to just forget the sit- uation. . . . Convince yourself you are more of a human being if you forgive, forget, and live to get to your destination without a side stop at the hospital or police station.” According to the Stop Road Rage website, a recent survey by Response Insurance found that “50 percent of [road rage] victims respond [to aggressive driving behavior from another driver] with horn honking, yelling, cutting-off, and obscene gestures of their own.” Response Insurance spokesman Ray Palermo says, “Road rage is a two-way street. It takes two people to fight. So, if you are subjected to aggressive driving, often the best way to ensure it does not get any worse is to just ignore it.”

Living the Faith on the Road

As Christians, we’re familiar with the Lord’s Prayer and the line that says, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13, KJV). Whenever we get behind the wheel, the temptation exists to become a different person, to claim the road as our own, and to practice aggressive or unsafe driving. Our faith should guide our actions wherever we are, but especially when we are driving a heavy machine at high speed. Our neighbors are everywhere; and they deserve our respect, our love, and our faithful behavior.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs.

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