From time to time, even the best of us are prone to getting annoyed while driving so we surveyed 1,300 UK drivers to find out whether we react differently when driving than we would in similar situations in public.
From time to time, even the best of us are prone to getting annoyed while driving. Whether it’s due to heavy traffic or someone else driving badly, we’re all occasionally guilty of a slight bout of road rage. But do we behave differently behind the wheel compared to how we would in everyday life? Here at InsuretheGap.com we decided to find out.
We surveyed 1,300 UK drivers to find out whether we react differently when driving than we would in similar situations in public. We asked our respondents a series of questions about how they feel inside and outside their cars, how they behave in each environment, and whether driving makes them more aggressive or impatient. The results were enlightening.
It turns out that two thirds of us believe we act differently behind the wheel of the car compared to the rest of our day-to-day lives, as 35% of drivers admitted to being less patient in the car and 32% agreed they were more aggressive.
To illustrate this, we provided our respondents with two sets of equivalent scenarios, to evaluate specific behaviours in and out of the car, and asked them to respond about whether they had done the following:
|In the car||In public|
|Got annoyed at someone else driving slowly – 43%||Got annoyed at someone else walking slowly – 25%|
|Sworn at someone – 30%||Sworn at someone – 13%|
|Shouted at someone – 25%||Shouted at someone – 12%|
|Gestured aggressively – 24%||Gestured aggressively – 9%|
As these results show, we are around twice (in some cases almost three times) as likely to get annoyed or react aggressively when we’re driving compared to in everyday, public life.
So what is it about being inside our vehicles that changes our behaviour so much? We put that to our survey respondents too, and these were some of the top reasons.
Safety – 1 in 5 of the UK drivers said that they feel safer in their cars than they do outside. Us Brits are notorious for our aversion to confrontation, so it may be that the physical boundaries of our vehicles make us feel more secure and free to air our grievances.
Soundproofing – Of the drivers we surveyed, 27% admitted to acting less patiently and more aggressively because they knew nobody could hear them. In your Espace, no one can hear you scream!
No repercussions – 18% of our 1,300 drivers behaved more aggressively because there is far less chance of ever running into the person we’ve shouted at again if we’ve only seen them for a few seconds over the dashboard.
Easy getaway – The same number of drivers also answered that it was easier to get away after a confrontation. The awkwardness following an argument is clearly not an issue when you can drive away afterwards!
As well as assessing the population as a whole, we also analysed our results by age demographic, which brought up some interesting comparisons between the younger and older generations of drivers. 17 to 24-year-olds were over twice as susceptible to suffering from road rage when compared to the over-55s we surveyed, with 55% of the younger demographic having been guilty of it, compared to just 23% of the older set.
Gen Z drivers were also almost three times as likely to be more aggressive while driving than in person, with 49% of our 17 to 24-year-old respondents admitting to this, compared to just 17% of over-55s. Interestingly though, there was one trigger that was far more likely to anger the older generation: other people driving badly. 62% of over-55s have got annoyed by someone else’s poor driving, compared to the national average of 44% and 36% of younger drivers.
As well as breaking the results down by age, we also looked at location data to assess which city was the worst for road rage, and Belfast was top, with half of its drivers having suffered from road rage. These are the top 10 cities for road rage:
|Ranking||City||Drivers who have suffered from road rage|
To shed more light on all of the results of our study and what it says about us as drivers, we interviewed Lee Chambers MSc MBPsS, a leading Environmental Psychologist, to get his take.
Why do people behave differently behind the wheel of a car compared to in public?
“Being behind the wheel of a car is quite a unique situation we find ourselves in as human beings. We are often not aware of the negative emotions that flow through us. Driving by nature is stressful and we cannot control what other road users and pedestrians do. Because our space in a vehicle is limited, on roads which are often congested, it has a level of density which can trigger aggressive responses, more so than outside of a vehicle. This is an acute stressor in itself but, to add to that fact, we can’t just get out of a moving vehicle or abandon it. We trigger the flight or fight response, but have no ability to flee, leaving us fighting and all the irrational behaviours that are triggered, turning even the most relaxed characters into raging road users.
“There is also the perception of losing our autonomy and the invasion of our personal space. When we are moving in a vehicle, we are well aware that a mistake could potentially end our lives or leave us seriously hurt. This underlying feeling of an element of ownership over our position and space, and knowing driving can be dangerous, sits in our subconscious. And when someone violates the space or drives with aggression, it triggers feelings of loss of control and anger towards those who lack responsibility. And because the stress of driving raises your cortisol levels, it leaves you less resistant to getting angry the next time someone does something you perceive to be against you, which can very quickly become every other road user.”
Specifically, why are people more aggressive when driving?
“With the aggression that is triggered from being in an enclosed space, where you can control the vehicle but not any other road user, it can feel like a personal attack if another driver puts you in danger or closes your space. We also have our own mental ruleset for driving, which is usually quite rigid and we believe other drivers should abide by our rules.
“In a place where we often can't directly confront someone over this, we tend to vent our frustrations in whatever way we can. We can't just walk away and, having potentially had our choice taken away, we often mirror other road users’ behaviours to make a point. With our blood pressure rising and a hormonal response to feeling like we are being attacked, it is no surprise our behaviour becomes irrational and people do things that they would never do outside of a scenario that has triggered them while driving.”
The data suggests that road rage is more common amongst younger drivers. What could be the reason behind this?
“It’s an interesting consideration and, naturally, younger drivers are known to engage in risker behaviours and are less likely to follow driving rules exactly by the book. This can often cause road rage in itself, with younger drivers getting increasingly irate with drivers who follow the rules more rigidly. They are also likely to drive often and, generally being more disruptive drivers, they tend to find themselves in positions of conflict which triggers reactions that get reported as road rage. With the busy speed of modern life, the stresses of commuting and congestion, and the added psychological challenge of driving, this creates an area where you are considerably more likely to experience road rage.”
You can read more about Lee’s work on his website.
Ben Wooltorton, Chief Operating Officer of InsureTheGap.com, said about the results, “With this study, we set out to find out how differently people behave when they’re behind the wheel of the car and why this might be the case. The findings certainly suggest that we feel more shielded in our vehicles than we do out in public, with so many people admitting to acting differently and, in particular, more aggressively than they would do in public.
“With the majority of respondents acknowledging that they behave more aggressively behind the wheel, this perhaps highlights that we could all do more to ensure how we behave behind the wheel reflects how we behave in similar circumstances in everyday life.”