Here’s a question I’ve pondered for a long time: Why is it so much easier to get angry at other people while driving than when doing just about anything else? Perhaps that’s not true for you. But it is for me and, I’ve discovered, a lot of other folks as well. So lately I’ve been thinking hard about this psycho-sociological phenomenon to see if I could get to the bottom of it. And I’ve arrived at what I think are some plausible partial explanations:
- Driving is stressful. Because of the inherent danger of driving, particularly in heavy traffic, we are naturally more anxious when behind the wheel than in other circumstances. Also, when driving we are often in a hurry to get to our destination. Such stress naturally makes it more difficult to control one’s temper when another motorist tailgates, drives too slowly or darts in front of us.
- Driving is a form of waiting, which by itself tests our patience. Yes, while driving one is involved in an activity, but it is a mundane and sedentary one, and often quite boring, especially when on a long commute or trip. This in itself demands patience. So when other drivers are inconsiderate or obnoxious, we find it especially difficult to cut them slack.
- Other drivers are (usually) hidden within their cars. It’s always easier to lose your temper at an inanimate object than at another person. And the fact that other drivers can’t be readily seen invites us to respond to what we do see—the vehicle they’re in, an inanimate object. This even comes out in our speech while driving: “That car just cut me off!” The other driver’s humanity is obscured by the machine they’re operating, and this impacts the way we treat them. If you have any doubts about this, consider how differently we respond to people when we’re in boats, passing others on the lake. We all wave and smile! But we almost never wave to other motorists unless we know them. Try waving to a stranger in another car sometime, and check out the look you get.
These are my best guesses as to why we (or many of us) are more irked by others while driving than while, say, cooking, fishing, painting, gardening, showering, hop-scotching, or working at the computer. I’d welcome your own theories or analyses, if you have any to share.
See you on the road. But please don’t wave.
I think that our perceived anonymity also contributes. I know there have been times I have been upset with another driver and when seen by someone else, I suddenly feel sheepish.
Good point, Jason. I agree and have had the same experience.