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Work stress triggers road rage

by Geraldine Hinter

Ben Hoggan
The incidence of road rage by stressed-out South Australian drivers is higher than British motorists and nearly as high as Americans, a UniSA study shows.

The study by Bachelor of Psychology (honours) student, Ben Hoggan, reveals that people experiencing significant stress at work often develop shorter 'fuses' in terms of anger management that can influence their level of road rage.

For people under constant stress who feel like they're undervalued, underpaid and under-appreciated at work, even minor situations can trigger anger that builds to a point where high and uncontrolled levels of aggression are unleashed on the motoring public, according to Hoggan.

"These people release their frustrations on the road because it is a convenient location for them, they feel invincible within their protective steel barrier, it's their space on the road and if people invade that space, the drivers believe they are well within their rights to attack other road users," he said.

Psychological scales developed in the US by Dr Jerry Deffenbacher were used by Hoggan to test road rage by SA drivers against that of drivers in America and the UK. This included measuring the levels of anger, the individual situations that provoke the greatest amount of road rage, and different sub scales that affected rage like police presence, traffic obstructions (slow drivers), and rude or illegal driving behaviour.

"It's interesting to note that when compared with American drivers, SA drivers have a greater sense of moral outrage if other drivers break the rules such as run a red light, cut someone off or tailgate. American drivers get quite angry at speed cameras, or even the presence of a police vehicle driving in traffic, whereas Australian and British drivers are not at all fazed by these," Hoggan said.

The study also shows that life satisfaction plays a big role in driver anger, where low satisfaction correlates quite strongly with increased driver anger and aggression on roads.

These findings are in line with research by motor vehicle insurer AAMI in 2003, which shows the increasingly aggressive nature of SA drivers and the state's road death rate, which is one of the highest in the nation. Other studies show a strong correlation between levels of driver anger and accidents, as well as traffic offences.

Ben Hoggan has been awarded first class honours for his research based on completed questionnaires from a broad spectrum of the community. His research was conducted under the supervision of Associate Professor Maureen Dollard from the School of Psychology.