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Road rage: causes and solutions from a psychology prof

One in three Canadians reported they're victims of road rage at least once a month, according to a recent survey. Here's what you can do about it.

Entitlement, cynicism and a misguided sense of justice all contribute to a hostile car culture, says expert

What kinds of people are more likely to experience road rage, and what we can do about it? (Getty Images)

One in three Canadians reported that they're victims of road rage at least once a month, according to a recent survey by State Farm.

"There's a loss of civility on our highway due to our car culture," said Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii, and the author of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare.

Here are his thoughts on who is more likely to experience this kind of aggression, why, and what we can do to reduce it. 

1. People who are generally angry

People who take an angry approach in dealing with challenges or frustration are the most at risk of driving with road rage, James said.

"They're just going to continue that same style on the highway."

2. People who ruminate behind the wheel

These drivers aren't violent in their everyday lives, but they constantly criticize other drivers and compulsively act on these cynical and negative thoughts, he said.

"When people see others on the road as their adversaries, their competitors ... that represents a philosophy that is basically anti-social, and it manifests first as verbal road rage and can then explode into physical confrontations." 

3. Automotive vigilantes

"There's also a sense of entitlement. People feel entitled that if things don't go their way, they have the right to take matters in their own hands."

James said this happens "when a driver is unable or unwilling to let go of the feeling, 'This driver, somebody has to punish them. We can't just let them get away with it.'"

"If you don't punish them, then you feel like a wimp," James said, adding that this misguided sense of justice fuels aggression. 

Solutions: think positive

Traffic, construction and the actions of other drivers are not usually the underlying causes of road rage, James said. 

It's actually the psychological frame of mind and the attitude of the driver that compels them to act out in an aggressive way, he said.

So rather than allow yourself to be plagued by negative emotions, he recommends trying to think on the bright side. 

"If you think positive thoughts about other drivers, you soothe your own stress."

This is especially important because it models good behavior for kids.

"That's when their driver education starts. Children in the back seat of the car, they soak up the attitudes of their parents or whoever is driving them." 

To hear the full interview with Leon James, listen to the audio labelled: Road rage: causes and solutions.