Driver stress and road rage

Learn more: Read our advice page on avoiding driving while stressed.

Driving is a complex task, requiring full concentration and a calm attitude. Heightened emotions such as stress, anger or upset are a form of cognitive distraction that can significantly impede drivers’ ability to spot and respond to hazards. Research has found that drivers who suffer from work-related stress are more likely to speed and take other risks while driving and more like to be involved in serious crashes [1].

Stress is a significant problem in the UK and elsewhere: research indicates stress accounts for 40% of all work-related illnesses in the UK [2]. All drivers are exposed to stressful driving situations from time to time, even if they do not generally suffer from stress in everyday life. Traffic jams, tailgating and inconsiderate behaviour from other drivers can cause stress [3].

Some drivers react angrily to stressful driving situations: this is often referred to as ‘road rage’, and can be incredibly dangerous. Research has shown that angry drivers are more likely to take risks such as speeding, rapidly switching lanes, tailgating and jumping red lights [4]. Driving aggressively can in turn increase your stress levels, becoming a vicious circle[5].

Stress and anger at the wheel is a problem for many drivers. A Brake and Direct Line survey of UK drivers found that 71% had lost concentration at the wheel in the past year due to stress or annoyance. The most common reason for this was the behaviour of other road users (60%), followed by stress about personal issues (44%) and work-related stress (39%) [6].

Learn more: Employers can access guidance from Brake on managing driver stress and a broad range of other road safety topics to help them prevent at-work crashes at www.brakepro.org.

 [1] The contribution of individual factors to driving behaviour: implications for managing work-related road safety, Health and Safety Authority, 2002

 [2] Beat stress at work, NHS Choices, 2014

 [3] The Wear and Tear of Daily Stressors on Mental Health, University of California, 2013

 [4] Anger on the road, American Psychological Association, 2005

 [5] Aggression on the road as a function of stress, coping strategies and driver style, Bar-Ilan University, 2010

 [6] Driven to distraction: driver stress, Brake and Direct Line, 2011

Tags: stress