Every weekday morning across the Capital Region, residents get into their cars and drive from Albany’s surrounding towns and villages into downtown for work. Every late afternoon, they take to the roads to make the reverse trip back home. The daily ebb and flow of commuters on Albany-area roads is as regular and predictable as the tides. So are the traffic jams, delays, and car accidents that come with it.
Most of us endure the inconvenience of slowdowns and tie-ups on I-90, Loudon Road, and New Scotland Avenue (to name just a few hotspots) without much complaint. It is an increasingly common part of life in the Albany area. Some drivers, however, struggle to contain their emotions behind the wheel. At their worst, they succumb to road rage, a dangerous loss of emotional control that triggers dangerous, aggressive behaviors behind the wheel that, inevitably, lead to accidents, injuries, and even the occasional loss of life.
What factors set Albany drivers on the dangerous course to a road rage accident? How can Capital Region motorists avoid falling victim to road rage, either as perpetrators or victims? What can a victim of an Albany road rage crash do to hold an out-of-control driver or others accountable? Those are some questions we will try to answer in this blog post.
Albany Road Rage by the Numbers
But first, let’s quantify the problem.
Here’s the good news on road rage in Albany, such as it is. Road rage accidents in Albany and its surrounding municipalities account for only a tiny fraction (historically just 0.5 percent, on average) of the total crashes that occur annually—according to data from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ITSMR), which is affiliated with the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy and tracks New York State crash data.
Now for the bad news. Capital Region road rage accidents have been on an unmistakably upward trajectory over the past decade. Perhaps most alarmingly, in the most recent year’s data available from ITSMR, accidents attributed to road rage doubled in the City of Albany, and rose by more than one-third across Albany County as a whole, compared to one year earlier.
The Psychology of Road Rage
To what can we attribute this troubling trend in Albany and its outskirts? To find out, let’s first take a closer look at what we currently know about the psychological phenomenon of road rage.
Chances are, road rage has existed ever since humans took to the road in wheeled vehicles. The term “road rage” only emerged in popular culture, however, in the 1980s, and to this day, it does not have a precise clinical definition.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standard diagnostic reference manual for psychiatrists and psychologists in the United States, does not include road rage, per se, as a diagnosable condition. It does, however, include Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), which encompasses some symptoms characteristic of road rage, among its recognized impulse control disorders.
In the absence of a formally classified definition of road rage, most researchers, clinical psychologists, and drivers themselves, recognize it as a constellation of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors behind the wheel characterized by anger and aggression toward other motorists that are far out of proportion to any perceived cause or justification.
Road raging drivers take unreasonable risks behind the wheel such as speeding, driving on road shoulders, weaving in and out of traffic, or racing. They may also engage in intentionally harmful or intimidating actions that essentially turn their vehicles into weapons, such as when they run other motorists off the road, tailgate, and threaten drivers by yelling, honking, or changing speed and direction unpredictably.
What contributes to road rage?
Researchers believe several factors influence it.
- Age and gender. The vast majority of road-raging drivers are men, and they skew younger (although all age groups exhibit road rage behavior).
- Environmental factors. Road rage is associated with high traffic volume and density and the amount of time a driver spends on the road.
- General psychological factors. High amounts of stress (particularly due to running late), job dissatisfaction, tendencies to blame others, feeling isolated inside a car, feeling assaulted or wronged by another driver’s conduct, and feeling unaccountable for one’s driving behavior, all correlate with the probability of someone engaging in road rage.
- Mental disorders. Some research suggests that road rage drivers exhibit higher-than-average rates of substance abuse. Suffering from a behavioral disorder, such as borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or intermittent explosive disorder, may also contribute to incidents of road rage.
As many as one-third of drivers report having engaged in road rage behavior, according to the American Psychological Association, although far fewer (on the order of 2 percent) admit to having exhibited violent behavior or making serious threats.
Road Rage Factors in Albany
Applying the factors above to Albany, we can begin to draw some conclusions about the steady rise of road rage accidents over the past few years.
Mental disorders seem unlikely to account for the rise in road rage in Albany, simply because no data or reporting we have reviewed suggests rising rates of mental health disturbances in the Capital Region.
As to the other factors, however, other characteristics of Albany may account for the rise in road rage accidents here.
- Population growth and young men: Population, age, and gender might explain part of the rise. According to data published by Capital Region Indicators (a clearinghouse for demographic information about the area), Albany County’s population has risen slightly over the period that road rage accidents have increased. Although the City of Albany is also home to slightly more women than men than the national average, the largest block of male residents in Albany is between the ages of 22 and 34 (the highest-risk group for road rage incidents).
- Rising traffic congestion and delays. Albany’s traffic challenges, measured by volumes of vehicles on the roads and delays caused by congestion, have steadily increased year by year, according to reporting from the Albany Business Journal and the Times Union. Albany drivers spend close to 50 hours per year in traffic these days, up from around 45 hours per year ten years ago. Delays are highest during the weekday afternoon commute, when a drive home from Albany to the suburbs takes about 17 percent longer than normal.
- Life stressors. Albany-area residents, like all Americans, have faced extreme stress, strain, and anxiety in their lives recently. The pandemic, in particular, took a massive toll on our collective physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing. In Albany, that strain added to already dire conditions. Even before the pandemic, the poverty rate in the city was roughly twice the rate for Albany County as a whole, and unemployment was also already significantly higher than in the surrounding areas. In the greater Albany County area, nearly one-third of households already did not earn sufficient income to keep up with the cost of living, according to the ALICE Project from the United Way. Those trends only worsened after COVID-19 struck, adding the type of uncertainty and anxiety to residents’ lives that can fuel road rage.
Hopefully, some factors that contribute to a rise in road rage in Albany will ease in the near term as the pandemic recedes and the local economy rebounds. Other factors, however, seem likely to remain entrenched in our lives in the Capital Region for far longer, such as strain on our transportation infrastructure and the overall pace of modern life.
How to Overcome Feelings of Road Rage
The fact that, over the past few years, Albany drivers have faced conditions that can fuel road rage might make Capital Region road rage accidents less rare, it does not make them ok. As drivers, we all get frustrated and upset from time to time. That is no excuse, however, for letting our emotions take control in a way that harms others.
Here are three tips that can help Albany drivers keep their emotions in check behind the wheel.
- Give yourself time. Running late can cause stress and anxiety to skyrocket, leading to a loss of emotional control behind the wheel. Anticipate delays in your trip and try to give yourself extra time. If you run late, call ahead and let people know the reason. By focusing on ways to reduce that running behind schedule makes you feel, you can lower your risk of giving in to road rage.
- Breathe deeply. According to the American Physiological Society, a growing body of research confirms something that humans have long intuitively understood: taking a deep breath really can help to steady your nerves. Deep breathing can almost instantly lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and other fight-or-flight responses triggered by acute or chronic stress. It may also disrupt negative patterns of thought. Drivers who feel their temper rising can often steady themselves by simply focusing on taking a series of long, slow, deep breaths.
- Empathize. Road rage incidents sometimes get triggered by a driver’s perception of having been intentionally wronged by another driver’s careless or dangerous actions on the road. This is usually faulty thinking. We all make mistakes behind the wheel sometimes. We do not intend to upset others by our mistakes, and it is often a fallacy to think others intend to anger us on the road. By reminding yourself that someone else’s bad driving is not directed at you, and may simply reflect that person having an “off” moment, you can avoid falling into the rabbit hole of road rage.
Holding Drivers Accountable for Road Rage
Unfortunately, some drivers will still let their emotions get the best of them while navigating Albany highways and streets. By giving in to road rage, they will inevitably cause accidents that inflict potentially severe injuries and property damage.
If a road rage driver causes an accident that harms you in Albany, then the law gives you two principal options for holding the driver accountable.
Criminal Liability for Road Rage in Albany
Causing an accident through road rage is illegal in New York, and subjects perpetrators to arrest and criminal prosecution. Victims of a road rage driving accident can (and should) dial 911, report the accident, and tell the police about the road rage conduct that triggered it. Police and prosecutors will decide how to proceed in arresting or charging the road rage driver.
Civil Liability for Damages Caused by a Road Rage Accident
Taking the necessary steps to ensure that authorities hold a road rage driver criminally liable protects the public. It does not, however, directly address the injuries and losses you suffered in a road rage accident in Albany.
Instead, by working with a skilled Albany motor vehicle accident injury lawyer, you could take legal action against the road rage driver, and anyone else answerable for that driver’s misconduct, and seek compensation. New York law makes anyone who causes an accident through road rage liable for damages to crash victims like you.
In a lawsuit, victims can often recover compensation for:
- Medical expenses resulting from road rage accident injuries;
- Other expenses incurred because of the road rage accident;
- Lost wages and income due to missing work while recovering from, or disabled by, crash injuries;
- Pain, suffering, and other life difficulties owing to the injuries; and
- Punitive damages, which a New York Court may see fit to award to punish the road rage driver’s outrageous, dangerous conduct.
The amount of money road rage accident victims might recover can vary based on the nature of their injuries, the skill of their lawyer, the strength of their case, and the financial resources (usually insurance) of the road rage driver or other legally liable party.
If a road rage driver in Albany caused an accident that injured you, then you, too, may have the right to financial compensation for the harm you suffered. To learn more about your rights, contact an experienced injury lawyer today for a free consultation.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.