Friday, February 12, 1999

‘Road rage’
is learned,
expert says

'Driver education starts
in kindergarten and before,'
says Leon James

By Susan Kreifels


Mom and dad, watch your behavior in the car. If you're guilty of "road rage," your kids are likely to take after you when they get behind the wheel.

That is one of the most significant findings by "Dr. Driving" -- Hawaii's own Leon James, a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

"Those who remember parents as more aggressive drivers are more aggressive themselves, like swearing and tailgating," James said.

"It's not as some people describe it -- something happened and they snapped, or other drivers push them to be hostile. We've been taught to do it."

James, an expert on road rage who testified last year before Congress, just completed analyzing

e-mail questionnaires filed by 1,095 respondents across the nation in December and January.

That followed a survey of 1,040 drivers done four months earlier.

Sgt. Clyde Yamashiro, with the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Division, said people who display road rage give all kinds of excuses for their behavior. But Yamashiro said he "semi-agrees" with James.

"It could be considered learned behavior," Yamashiro said.

James said schools should start teaching children from their first day about how drivers and passengers should behave on the road and how to manage anger.

He wants to start a new organization called CARR: Children Against Road Rage.

"Driver education starts in kindergarten and before, when they start riding with parents in cars and observing them," he said.

Adults also need "serious self-training," James said, and to support one another in "quality driving circles."

James believes adults would take time out from their busy lives to join such activities if they knew the risks they drive by every day: About 5 million Americans have been involved in collisions for each of the last few years, and 40,000 to 44,000 of them died.

"Every year, we're killing on our roads as many (U.S.) soldiers as died in the Vietnam War."

In 1997, Hawaii saw 131 auto deaths, he said.

"We are undergoing amazing risks we don't realize," James said. "Driving has become too serious and dangerous an activity that we do every day. You don't want your children to grow up and be like you.

"You want to reduce your driving stress, switching from an aggressive driver to a supportive driver. Then, suddenly, driving becomes a pleasure again instead of frustrating, plus it reduces risk."

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