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DTU researchers develop concept against road anger

Tuesday 28 Apr 20


Sonja Haustein
Senior Researcher
DTU Management
+45 45 25 65 19


Mette Møller
Senior Researcher
DTU Management
+45 45 25 65 37

About the RELAX project

The project is funded by TrygFonden.

Intervention participants were recruited from participants in a survey on road anger. A total of 62 people participated in the intervention’s seven sessions, and thought patterns and behaviour before and after the intervention were compared with those of a control group. All participants completed a questionnaire before and after the intervention, and a selection of those in the test and control groups drove twice in a driving simulator.

It is possible to adapt the intervention to different sub-groups of road users, and, of course, the long-term impact should be studied as well.

Read more about the project

Road anger is an increasing problem involving the risk of traffic accidents. Traffic researchers at DTU have now developed an intervention course that can reduce the participants’ road anger tendencies.

You have probably experienced another driver honking, yelling, or gesticulating aggressively at you in traffic. Such a situation can feel quite uncomfortable, and several thoughts are running through your head—not least thoughts of how rude this person is.

An increasing number of Danes become victims of road anger. Being shouted at is the kind of road rage that occurs most frequently and is seeing the highest increase. The situation is naturally unpleasant, but, more problematic still, road anger also increases the risk of traffic accidents, according to Sonja Haustein and Mette Møller, senior researchers at DTU Management specializing in traffic behaviour:

“The increased risk of accidents is probably due to road users’ attention being directed towards their anger rather than their driving. And even though the problem is on the rise, there are currently few preventive measures in place. That’s why we’ve now developed and tested a new concept that can prevent mild forms of road anger.”

The concept is called ‘RELAX intervention’ and is funded by TrygFonden. The exercises included in the intervention course are meant to make participants aware of their thoughts and behaviours in situations that typically trigger mild road anger and to make them view the actions of other road users differently. If they do not perceive their fellow road users as hostile, they will react less aggressively in turn.

Targets mild road anger
It takes about an hour and a half to complete the course, which consists of different types of exercises and activities carried out in smaller groups and in plenary sessions where all participants are gathered.

“The target group is the general population, and the RELAX intervention is therefore not intended for people who have been diagnosed with anger management issues. The intervention targets ordinary road users and aims to reduce the milder form of anger directed at the behaviour of other road users,” says Sonja Haustein, who is leading the project.

Mette Møller further explains that research suggests that there is a difference between how likely road users are to become angry and which situations will trigger their anger. For example, men often experience anger when momentum and progress is prevented, while anger in women is to a greater extent triggered by risky driving and traffic offences. In addition, road users who tend to become angry more often perceive the behaviour of others as reckless and attribute a negative intent to them.

“In order to change the thoughts and behaviour of road users, we’ve used a combined cognitive and behavioural approach. Our concept is rooted in cognitive theory, which assumes that what we think in a given situation has an impact on what we feel and how we act. Therefore, if road users are to behave less aggressively, they need to think less aggressively,” she explains.

To test the concept, the researchers conducted various studies using a test group and a control group. The test group participants had fewer verbal expressions of anger and fewer gesticulations when driving in a driving simulator after completing the RELAX exercises. On the other hand, the control group participants—who did not take part in any of the exercises—showed an increase in road rage behaviour.

“Our questionnaires also showed that those who had participated in the course were involved in fewer road rage situations than before the course, both as the one exhibiting road rage and as the victim—especially when it came to yelling and being yelled at. In addition, a large proportion of the participants told us directly that they felt the exercises had helped them cope better with their own road anger. For example, they became more aware of their own behaviour in traffic and were able to see the situation from the point of view of the other road users,” explains Sonja Haustein.

The concept in practice
Following the development of the RELAX intervention, the researchers discussed how the concept and exercises could be used in practice in collaboration with the National Police of Denmark’s national traffic centre, the Danish Road Directorate, the Danish Road Traffic Authority, the Danish driving instructor union, and the Federation of Danish Motorists (FDM).

“Among other things, we discussed whether the concept could be included in the training of driving instructors, enabling them to include some of the principles and concrete road anger knowledge in driving lessons. Another option could be to include the exercises in a general course for 17-year-olds and their parents who are doing accompanied driving,” says Sonja Haustein.

“We also discussed the possibility of introducing the RELAX concept at after-work meetings in educational institutions and in companies. This could be relevant for young people training for a profession that includes driving, for example, or for companies where driving is part of the work,” she says, but stresses that there are no firm plans at this stage.

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Photo: Carsten Broder Hansen

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