Why Are The Roads Full Of Rage?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

That old nag Dr. Joyce Brothers says that during a road rage confrontation, “men are at the same mental level as an ape,”  a being who “… protects his space, at all costs and without logical thought as to the consequences.”

Well, yeah.

It’s not hard to see how dealing with a driving environment chock-a-block full of cars, many of them driven exceptionally poorly by exceptionally inattentive, inconsiderate and sometimes passive aggressive motorists can make a guy go ape.

People who drive significantly below the posted limit, but who refuse to pull off  to the side of the road (it only takes a moment) to let the mile-long line of cars stacked up behind get by; the dude who squats in the passing lane and refuses to move right. The dickweed on his sail fawn; the suburban yenta in her SmooVee. These people create rolling roadblocks, obstructing the flow of traffic – oblivious to other drivers or actively trying to thwart them. 

They get a pass. 

But it’s the “road rager” who, in frustration, executes a passing maneuver on the right or over the double yellow who gets tarred with abuse (and tickets) for reacting understandably to an obnoxious situation. It’s never the passive-aggressive left lane hog. He is “doing the speed limit” and “driving “defensively.” 

Dr. Brothers goes on to advise various stratagems to cope with road rage that basically boil down to putting up with the hateful mess that is today’s driving environment.

Qualudes would also work.

No one seems interested in talking about the underlying problem that is ultimately responsible for the road-rageous traffic situation. It isn’t poor driver education or bad driving as such. It’s simply that America is getting crowded.

Arguably, over-crowded.

Just prior to World War II, for example, the population of the entire United States was less than 150 million. It was still only about 170 million in the mid-late 1960s. But in the past 40 years, the population of the U.S. has surged to more than  300 million today. Looked at another way, we’ve experienced a doubling of the population it took more than 400 years to build up in less than the course of a single lifetime.

There are many people alive today who were born in a nation with fewer than half the occupants it has today.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections (assuming a modest birth rate and constant immigation levels), we’ll be at 390 million by 2050 – a short hop in the time-traveling DeLorean from now. That’s the equivalent of adding a major city the size of Chicago and its outlying suburban sprawl to every state in this country. Some 2.5 million people (net, after accounting for deaths) are added to the rolls each year –  a rate of increase that will cause our present population to double once again in about 100 years.

And these people will be driving.

On the same basic road infrastructure designed to accommodate 160 million. The Interstate system, for example, is about the same today as it was decades ago. It’s hard to even maintain what we have, let alone build new capacity. 

Perpetual gridlock in and anywhere near any major urban area of the country is the result. 

Cities such as New York and Los Angeles were isolated islands of congestion as recently as 30 years ago, when even the nation’s capital was still a relatively sleep Southern town and once you got 10 or 20 miles out, you were in the country with not much around but cows and farms. Today, the “greater Metropolitan Washington Area” stretches for 50 miles from downtown and suburbs such as Loudoun and Fairfax County are choked blue with people and cars. It takes an hour or more to travel the 10 or so miles from an outlying ‘burb into the city – a trip that took 15 minutes in the 1970s.

We’re not yet bulging at the seams with humanity like China or India. But we are rapidly losing open spaces – and open roads – on both the East and West coasts, as well as in most of the South. Cities that were rural cow towns 30 years ago – Phoenix and Denver, for instance – have become major metroplexes just like D.C. and Noo Yoik. Indeed, America is fast becoming one vast New Jersey – a paved-over continent of homogenous big box stores, chain eateries and tightly packed McMansion tract housing developments.

“Rush hour” in places like Washington, Atlanta and Los Angeles actually lasts several hours each way – with an ever-diminishing window of reasonably free-moving transportation possible between about 10:30 a.m. and around 2:30 p.m.

It is this endless, inescapable hassle – the constant press of people everywhere – that is at bottom the source of what is generally called “road rage” but which is really just the accumulation/venting of levels of stress that are right at the edge of our ability to deal with.

Axiom: As population/crowds/lines/hassles become more common, so will “rage” of various types.

We are being packed tighter and tighter into a finite space – and compelled to battle one another for scant resources like rats in a Skinner box.

And it is only going to get worse.

Denouncing road rage (or defending it) is not the issue; coming to grips with a rapidly changing America that is becoming a profoundly different place from the one that existed as recently as 20-30 years ago is.

The Census Bureau predicts growth rates through the tricentennial (2076) similar to those we’ve experienced from the WWII era to the present. That could mean 400 million Americans (perhaps more) within the lifetimes of many currently fuming in gridlock.

Just imagine it: 100 million more people than we already have. And probably another 100 million cars on the roads.

Even a relatively modest increase in the current population to 350 million or so will forever flush the transportation environment that gave rise to the automobile as a passion.

The car culture is dying because driving a car is no longer much fun.

Excepting those living in the handful of states likely to remain relatively diffuse in terms of population concentrations, the idea of buying a 150 mph sports car is becoming the equivalent of walking around in a “Star Trek” uniform and pretending you’re in command of the Enterprise, battling Klingons.

What’s the point?

“Road rage” can be viewed as the last-gasp thrashing around of the American Dream – a physical rebellion against the loss of open spaces, the ability to go wherever, whenever – and enjoy the trip.

Throw it in the Woods?

Share Button


  1. This article goes on the assumption that slow drivers are always inept, while fast drivers are always superb drivers.

    So what justification do you have for these statements ???

    • Hi Arb,

      It’s not slow drivers per se – it’s slow drivers who slow down others by refusing to yield (pull off, move over to the right lane).

  2. This was a quote I found that put it the way I usually see it and is also a good example of road rage people have that have zero patience:

    it would be nice if the impatient speeders behind me who think i’m a slowpoke going 75 while i’m passing a vehicle would actually keep their briefs on a moment while I move back into the right lane, instead of jerking over to the right lane to pass ME as soon as they see enough room to squeeze 6 inches past my bumper………..remember what your teachers taught you standing in line in kindergarten…..don’t PUSH.

    • Just today I had to pass three Slow Pokes. The first was doing 43 in a 55. The second about the same. The third a little faster, maybe 50 in a 55. I had to pass the first two over the double yellow because there was no legal passing zone (even though a good driver in a quick car can execute the pass safely). All because these cotton-brains insist on slowing me (and everyone else) down to their dumbed-down level.

      Here’s a quote for you:

      “When I drive that slow, you know it’s hard to steer. And I can’t get my car out of second gear… What used to take two hours now takes all day…”

      -Sammy Hagar

      • That is awsome. Yes it is impossible for some people to drive 5 mph under the limit which would take you 10% longer to get to your destination during the time while you were behind him. Maybe you need to get a fake gun out and point it at those guys. I bet staying behind him would have cost you an extra 30 seconds. That sounds like a real reason to cross a double yellow line to pass.

        • And there it is!

          You think it’s right to force others to travel at whatever speed you are comfortable with. Instead of graciously yielding and letting others go by, you want to be the self-appointed enforcer of the speed limit – or even less than the limit. Others should defer to you – because you know best what the right speed is… if they’re “10 percent” late to their destination, too bad! You are the Road Fuhrer! No one shall pass!

          You call “speeders” inconsiderate and rude, but it’s fine for you and other Slow Pokes to interfere with the travel plans of others, get in their way – deliberately – in order to slow them down to your speed.

          That’s real road rage. Only it’s the passive-aggressive sort that is typical of the low-rent bureaucrat type that has become (unfortunately) the typical American type.

          Let me guess: I bet you support heaf cayuh reform, too?

      • My guess is that the 3 people that you are talking about actully knew what the speed limit was. 45mph. Either that or there was a real safety reason to only be driving that fast which you ignored.

        • Nope. Speed limit is 55. I have been driving up and down this road every single day for the past seven years. There is always someone clogging up the works by doing significantly less than 55. Typically, it’s a feeble old coot who should probably have stopped driving altogether years ago.

          And keep in mind that the posted limit is too low to begin with – as is the case on almost every road in the country. Speed limits today are slightly lower, on average, than they were in 1969. What was regarded as a legal, safe speed 40-plus years ago is now “speeding.” It’s ridiculous – and it’s all about money (and power) not “safety.”

          To get back to what we’re talking about: Normal cruise speed for this road is about 70 mph, but thanks to our idiot system, the maximum legal speed limit on any secondary road is 55 mph. So (as on the highways and everywhere else, too) most of the cars are “speeding.” And the drivers doing at – or below – the posted limit – are creating obstacles to the smooth flow of traffic.

          The fact is there are a lot of really poor drivers out there, especially fearful/timid ones who drive significantly below the speed of traffic. And they are arguably more of a threat to others than the driver who runs significantly faster than the posted limit – because the fast driver may be a superb driver whereas the slow poke is always inept.

          They’re also the same type who bray about “freedom” while supporting every new law/restriction that comes down the pike.

          If a cop Tasers some poor woman for daring to talk back during a traffic stop, they’ll support the cop – who was doing it for “our safety.”

          Submit. Obey.

  3. and God forbid you should blink your lights or *horrors* honk your horn to let them know you need to pass, such behavior is the driving equivelent of throwing down the gauntlet and will be met by either cluless indifference, intentional disregard, or violent opposition. Expect a “finger” for having the gall to ask them to move over.

    • Yup.

      I attribute it to decades of dumbing-down the driver pool. People have been taught to regard “speeding” as the Original Sin of driving; it follows, therefore, that if one of these pinheads is “doing the limit” (though often as not they’re not even doing that) then, by god, he won’t move over. In fact, he’ll probably do everything he can to make it hard to pass him – such as speeding up just enough to close off any gap – then slowing down again. These pricks do that stuff all the time.

      It’s one of the reasons why I love my sport bike. On such a machine, you can short work of these losers, often before they even realize what’s happening… until it’s already over!

        • Well, I’m not the one defending inept/passive-aggressive drivers.

          There’s no excuse for refusing to yield to faster-moving traffic. It just takes a moment to signal/move right – and by doing so, you defuse a tense situation for both yourself and the other drivers. You can continue at your speed, the other driver(s) at theirs. What’s not to like about that?

          Also: You should always be scanning your rearview mirror so that you can anticipate the need to yield. Instead, many people just drive on, oblivious (or indifferent) to the cars behind them. Why, they’re speeders! I’ll show them!

          • Usually the problem that I see is that there is a long line of slower cars in the right lane and then a bunch of people trying to move to the left lane. Since everyone does not drive 25 mph over the limit like you do the person in the left lane will be doing over the speed limit to pass the group of slow cars but still be less than your need for high speed. If the driver is even able to get into the right lane, he knows it could be minutes before he can move to pass again. You want someone else to be slowed down a lot just for your need for speed and your road rage.

  4. You either don’t drive much – or are an oblivious driver. Probably, you’re one of those people who thinks others should drive at your pace. That so long as you’re “doing the speed limit” there’s no reason for you to move over or let other cars get by. After all, they’re “speeders” – and it’s their problem, not yours. Right?

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of your type out there. Drivers who refuse to yield/move right are as common as red light runners. I encounter them (several of them, typically) every single time I am out on the roads. Whether it’s the guy doing 52 (slowing for the curves) on a 55-posted secondary/rural highway or the guy squatting in the left lane of the Interstate – it’s a constant hassle to be dealt with. These people won’t move over (or pull off and let faster-moving cars get by). And there is virtually no enforcement directed against them (even though they are obstructing the flow of traffic). Our system encourages this. It tells them they are “doing the speed limit” and “driving defensively.” Many deliberately refuse to yield, thinking they’re in the right or trying to make a point. But the point should be doing your part to help traffic move smoothly and freely – and one of the most important things you can do toward that end is to yield to faster moving traffic. This should be a reflexive instinct. But as your post reveals, there are still people out there who don’t get it.

    • I want an honest anwser. How many times in the past year have you seen someone traveling the speed limit or slower in the left lane when there was not heavy traffic causing a traffic jam to slow them down? Tell the truth!

        • Eric, there is only one answer for you, you need to move. I have not ever seen it or anyone going only the speed limit in the left lane except when a truck was passing a slow truck. I guess it must be your area in the country where you either drive way over the limit or under the limit in the left lane. I have never seen it.

          • I travel all over the country and the problem is everywhere. You’re the first person I’ve talked with who claims not to be aware of it – perhaps because you’re one of the Slow Pokes!

          • Yes Eric, there are liars out there also. Funny how I have been all over the central part of the country and I have never seen it. I would guess you are either making it up or exagerating a lot.

        • Ok, where do you live? It should be pretty easy to video the problem. I would like to see the video. It should be pretty easy to video your speedometer and also the single car in front of you. You can put the video on U-Tube and post the link here.

          • LOL

            I don’t need to post a video to prove to you what I am saying, dude! Trust me, I experience over 100 miles of it daily. I live in Virginia about 60 miles outside of Washington D.C. and drive 50 miles toward D.C. daily. I work 10 miles outside D.C. It’s a complete cluster fuck nightmare mess of traffic always. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings I teaching martial arts which brings me even closer to the city and the nightmare gets worse. You’re welcome to ride shot gun sometime and video record to your heart’s desire, I’ll be concentrating on driving. Left lane loafers are a legitimate reality here.

          • Ok Dom, I do not live or drive in DC. Like I said, it must be a local problem because it is not here. If the traffic is as bad as you say, driving fast is not a good idea anyway. You sound like the typical fast driver from these sites that say that because you want to drive fast then get everyone else off the road. Believe it or not, if everyone would drive the same speed even at 55 mph then traffic flow is 10 times better. I have seen it. It is when people jocky for position all the time are the ones that cause traffic jams because that kind of driving is what causes people to need to hit their brakes.

          • “You sound like the typical fast driver from these sites that say that because you want to drive fast then get everyone else off the road.”


            “Believe it or not, if everyone would drive the same speed even at 55 mph then traffic flow is 10 times better.”

            I AGREE

  5. You say that people purposefully make human roadblocks. That is so rare that it should not even be discussed. It is even against the law in most states. Find some real things to get mad about because you are way out there on this one.

    • What all too many drivers “purposefully” do is refuse to use their rearview mirrors and, when they finally deign to notice that other cars are trying to go faster/get by, they refuse to let them do so. This is a common problem on American roads. It’s infuriating to be stuck behind such a rude, inept (take your pick) driver. Particularly given that most speed limits are already set well below the normal flow of traffic. So, when you’re stuck behind some febe or moron (take your pick) doing 52 in a 55, you’re really being forced to travel 10 mph less than the normal/average speed for that road.

  6. It’s real simple: Yield to faster moving traffic.

    Use your mirrors and pay attention to what’s happening around you. When a faster-moving car is coming up behind you, anticipate, move right and let the faster-moving car pass – before he’s right on top of you. This is the rule in Europe and people adhere to it. Americans, meanwhile, often don’t. This is passive-aggressive as well as unsafe because it disrupts the smooth flow of traffic and increases tension, which can lead to road rage. Americans, to a great extent, are terrible drivers. Poorly skilled, minimally trained; they very often use their cars to enforce what they think is proper policy – for example, “I’m doing the speed limit!” – so, I will not move over to let you pass. Etc. People like that are dicks as well as poor drivers.

  7. You are somewhat right about overcrowding causing some of the road rage but when there are people with road rage because there is someone in the left lane only going 10 mph over the limit for a mile or so then there are more problems than overcrowding. The problem is when people lack control and some need it no matter if it is right or not. What do you do about those people?

  8. What? Too many people? That can’t be true, the government refuses to enforce the border and welcomes millions of illegal (and legal) immigrants each year. We must have a shortage of people here. Why not far from me they are importing Somalians from Africa, it must be because there aren’t enough native Americans right? I think it’s important that we add as many people as possible so Walmart can have customers and social security doesn’t go broke. (sarcasm off)

    • You’re preaching to the choir here!

      The more we allow this country to be flooded with Turd Worlders (Somalis, etc.) the more this country will come to resemble the Turd World. It’s not rocket science… .

      What possible benefit is it to us to import these people here? And shouldn’t our government be in the business of protecting Americans first?

      Oh, I know. I’m just “mean-spirited” and “xenophobic.”

      • You have a great article about authoritarianism. What can be more authoritarian than a bunch of jokers getting to draw lines on a map, then threaten to shoot anyone who walks across it? Americans, though, ought to be careful about the term import – we do have a history of importing people here.

        As far as roads, roads are crowded and full of bad drivers for the usual reason – government. We have socialist provision of roads. We have subsidized oil and cars, meaning there are more cars than on the market. We don’t make drivers bear the cost of the roads, nor do we make property owners bear the cost of roads that bring them customers – we make taxpayers pay for it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here