Your road rage may not be your fault — here’s why

Next time you feel that surge of uncontrollable anger while driving, you can blame your parents. New data presented by researchers at the University of Houston suggests road rage may be genetic.

Do you suffer from accelarousal?

Some people are more prone to fly off the handle when accelerating and steering. The authors call this proclivity accelarousal.

People with accelarousal have a difficult time not reacting to even the smallest highway confrontations.

“It may be partly due to genetic predisposition. It was a very consistent behavior, which means, in all likelihood, this is an innate human characteristic,” the authors wrote in the paper co-authored by Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute.

The new study was published in the journal Association for Computing Machinery.


In order to determine how acceleration triggers people, the authors of the new study devised a naturalistic driving simulation that involved the same parameters, traffic, and weather conditions found in a regular short trip.

They monitored each participant during a series of half-hour drives along the same route in a Toyota Sienna minivan. As participants drove, researchers looked for signs of instantaneous physiological stress.

“Acceleration events were of the mundane type, such as entering a highway from an entrance ramp or starting from a red light,” the authors wrote.

All participants had their stress levels assessed again with self-reported questionnaires after the simulation was completed.

Accelaroused people were roughly 50% more stressed than non-accelaroused ones while driving on their routes. The former also reported feeling “overloaded” and “exhausted” after the simulation.

The non-accelaroused group experienced none of these emotions. In fact, the majority of them said that they felt calm during acceleration events.

“Thanks to our work, we now have an understanding of accelerousal, a phobia that was hidden in plain sight,” explained Tung Huynh, a research assistant on the project.

How to deal with your road rage

Recent statistics from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety determined that “road rage” contributes to roughly 218 deaths and 12,610 injuries per year.

The authors of the new report hope that shining a light on accelarousal will help motorists recognize their emotional impulses before yielding to them. This is especially relevant as workers prepare to return to commute life.

Over time, increased stress levels caused by road rage can cause your blood pressure to spike, which in turn leads to the development of chronic and acute conditions like heart disease and strokes.

Moreover, people who are genetically prone to become overstressed while driving likely experience similar emotions during other situations, like heated arguments, or challenges at work or school.

“This was a clear indication that accelerousal was taking a toll on drivers, and that the drivers were not consciously aware of that,” the authors concluded.

The American Psychology Association recommends angry motorists practice cognitive and relaxation techniques to reduce their risk of causing harm to others on the road.

In one such exercise, drivers are asked to visualize stressful driving situations (someone cutting them off in traffic, long traffic lights, etc.) over and over again until their reaction to them lessens in intensity.

In another experiment, angry drivers underwent stress-management courses that noticeably improved their coping skills.

Angry motorists should also check their blind spots, use their signals, listen to music during stressful situations, and expect other drivers to make mistakes — in order to avoid losing their temper on the road.