Research Focus: Driving Aggression and Confrontive Coping

Driving takes place in a social environment where other road users have a strong influence on driving behaviour. One aspect of this social situation is interpersonal interaction which can lead to emotional responses in some cases. One of the most frequently emerging emotions in driving is that of anger and the most common response to anger is aggression and confrontive driving behaviour. From a psychological point of view aggressive behaviour has a functional meaning. Aggressive behaviour is intended to restore the original unrestricted situation to allow free driving (Shinar 1998). Aggressive driving, and in its extreme, road rage, are characterised by speeding, risky, and dangerous manoeuvres motivated by self-interest. Aggressive driving contributes to road traffic incidences but is rarely recorded as a factor.

The DriverMetrics Profiling measure of Aggression has a long track record of validation research dating back three decades with many studies showing associations with risk taking behaviour. Some of the main findings for associations with the DriverMetrics measure of Aggression in chronological order include:-

Cognitive failures (Gulian et al, 1989); Crash involvement (Matthews, Dorn and Glendon, 1991; Matthews et al 1996); Psychoticism (Matthews, Dorn and Glendon, 1991); Neuroticism (Dorn and Matthews, 1992); poor mood in a driving simulator study (Dorn and Matthews, 1995); confidence in driving skill (Lajunen and Summala, 1995; 1996); driving convictions (Matthews et al, 1996); drink driving (Simon and Corbett, 1996); poor safety motives (Lajunen and Summala, 1996); driver stress (Lajunen, Corry and Summala, 1997); close following, speed and risky overtaking (Matthews et al, 1998); anger and violence (Ward, Waterman and Joint, 1998); mobile phone use (Chen, 2007); collisions amongst young driver offenders (af Wåhlberg, 2010); violations (Maxwell, Grant and Lipkin, 2005); age (Kontogiannis, 2006); driving fatigue in a simulator (Desmond and Matthews, 2009); aggressive driving style (Shamoa-Nir and Koslowsky, 2010); aggression amongst commercial drivers (Oz et al, 2010); driver error amongst commercial drivers (Rowden et al, 2011); crashes (Qu et al, 2016).

These findings show that the Aggression factor as measured via DriverMetrics Profiling helps to identify individual differences in responses to traffic and other road users. These studies show that the emotional state of driving aggression contributes to risk taking and road traffic crashes. Therefore, the regulation of driver emotions is a useful risk reduction strategy. Companies with fleet drivers scoring high on this factor use DriverMetrics interventions to influence a driver’s emotional state. One of these interventions is DriverMetrics coaching which aims to change the internal context of driver’s perception of the traffic and other road users. This in turn influences the motivations and cognitions that the driver brings to the driving task.

Another factor measured via DriverMetrics Profiling and closely linked to Aggression is that of Confrontive Coping strategy. Confrontive coping is related to Driving Aggression in the sense that it involves the mastery of traffic through self-assertion or conflict to relieve the frustration (Matthews, 2001b). Confrontive Coping is measured using items such as “I showed other drivers what I thought of them”. Therefore, this factor tends to be linked with drivers getting into conflicts with other road users, driving too close or speeding, gesturing at other drivers and risky overtakes. Our cultural values help to define when other road users are appraised as showing hostility, and the extent to which confrontive coping strategies to intimidate them are acceptable.

When drivers complete the profile, we often find that these two DriverMetrics scales are correlated given that Confrontive Coping aims to relieve the driving frustration experienced in the use of intimidating behaviours. Some of the main findings in studies to validate the DriverMetrics measure of Confrontive Coping include:-

Driving aggression and thrill seeking (Matthews et al, 1996; Emo et al, 2016); need for recovery (Hoare, 2001); speed (Dorn, 2005); violence (Ward et al, 1998); poor job satisfaction and poor well-being (Machin, 2003); risk taking in a simulator (Emo et al, 2004); driving anger (Emo et al, 2004); longer driving hours and physical symptoms (Machin and Hoare, 2008); fatigue in a driving simulator (Desmond and Matthews, 2009); poor mood and shorter distances to other vehicles in a simulator study (Emo et al, 2016).

DriverMetrics coaching targets a number of elements for behavioural intervention, ranging from very general factors such as social values and personality, to specific maladaptive cognitions. These may include addressing the belief that overtaking at risk is a worthwhile means of teaching other road users a lesson for getting in the way.  DriverMetrics coaching supports the driver to handling one’s own emotions and emphasises mood-regulation and stress management techniques. The aim is to encourage and empower drivers to stay calm under the pressures of driving for work. Coaching interventions that are targeted for specific risk factors supports drivers to recognise their personal risks. An organisation must do all it can to strengthen its driver training and education to ensure that systems are in place for mitigating these kinds of risks.


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