Driver stress and road rage

Learn more: Read our advice page on avoiding driving while stressed.
 
  • Aggressive driving contributed to 114 fatal road crashes in 2018 [1];
  • One in five UK drivers experience road rage at least once a week, and two million experience it every day [2]. Young people are particularly at risk as almost half (42%) of 18-34 year olds report experiencing road rage at least once a week, and 14% say they experience it every day;
  • Almost half (43%) of UK drivers say they have been victimised by other drivers who were experiencing road rage. Female drivers are more likely to be targeted by angry drivers than male drivers are [3];
  • Research shows 8% of drivers rate aggression from other drivers as their biggest concern on the road [4].

Introduction

Driving is a complex task that requires full concentration and a calm attitude. Heightened emotions, such as stress or anger, are a form of cognitive distraction and can significantly impede drivers’ ability to spot and respond to hazards. Research shows that drivers who suffer from work-related stress are more likely to speed and take other risks while driving, and more likely to be involved in serious crashes [5].

Stress is a significant problem in the UK and elsewhere: research indicates more than 11 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to stress, and almost half a million people suffer work-related stress so severe that it makes them feel ill [6]. Stress accounts for 44% of all work-related illness [7].

All drivers are exposed to stressful driving situations from time to time, even if they do not generally suffer from stress in everyday life. Long commutes, poor weather and busy traffic can all make it more likely that drivers will become stressed.

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%) [8].

Road rage

Some drivers react angrily to stressful driving situations: this is often referred to as ‘road rage’, and can be incredibly dangerous. Driving aggressively can in turn increase your stress levels, becoming a vicious circle [9]. Aggressive driving contributed to 3,261 road crashes in 2018 [9]. Of these, 114 were fatal – or 8% of all fatal road crashes recorded by police that year.

Road rage is not a criminal offence, but it may lead to prosecution for different reasons if it causes drivers to act aggressively or in a way that puts other road users at risk.

Drivers experiencing road rage may be more likely to engage in:

  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Harsh braking or cornering
  • Changing lanes erratically
  • Jumping red lights [10]

Research has shown that road rage is a key concern for many drivers. Almost half (43%) of drivers polled in an RAC survey said they had been victims of road rage [11], with female drivers more likely to be targeted than male drivers (49% compared to 37%). Three in 10 people have witnessed physically abusive behaviour related to driving in 2019, and almost half (20 million) witnessed verbal abuse [12]. In total, 8% of drivers ranked aggression from other drivers as their biggest fear on the roads.

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.

End notes

[1] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties in Great Britain, annual report: 2018, table RAS50001

[2] BigChange (2018), Angry roads: new research reveals scale of our road rage nation, accessed 17/03/2020

[3] RAC (2018), RAC Report on Motoring 2018

[4] RAC (2019), RAC Report on Motoring 2019

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

[6] Bupa (2020), Work-related stress

[7] HSE (2019), Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2019

[8] Brake and Direct Line (2011), Driven to distraction: driver stress

[9] Shamoa-Nir, L. and Koslowsky, M. (2010), Aggression on the road as a function of stress, coping strategies and driver style, Bar-Ilan University

[10] Dittman, M. (2005), Anger on the road, American Psychological Associ

[11] RAC (2018), RAC Report on Motoring 2018

[12] RAC (2019), RAC Report on Motoring 2019

Tags: stress