Story by Leah Sauser
With his left hand on the wheel, Iwagoshi's right hand finds the glove compartment, fumbling through insurance papers in search of tiny weapons. With three nails clenched tightly in his strained fist, Iwagoshi sets his sight on the rear tires of the car in front of him. As eyes narrow and brow furrows, his mind goes black. His body fights for more oxygen as his breathing quickens. Window rolls down, his arm swings back, and fist loosens. Three nails are thrown with purpose.
"The first thing I always ask [road ragers] is: What are you mad about?" says Mary Rawlins, a licensed mental health counselor, of Mary Wister Rawlins, MS, LMHC, in downtown Bellingham. "It's about working backward-like a chain. What happened right before you got mad? What happened right before that?"
Iwagoshi, a 23-year-old Western student, says his road rage is triggered primarily by people who drive too slowly. His rage starts small and subtle, and grows into something wildly uncontrollable.
"I'll be stuck behind a driver going 50 mph in a 60 mph zone," Iwagoshi says. "I'll be annoyed at first. And then three seconds later I'll be pissed. And three seconds after that, I'll be enraged. That's how fast it escalates."
Rage is an emotion that may have once served a purpose from an evolutionary standpoint, Rawlins says, but is now a useless, counterproductive disposition. The fear or anxiety expressed through rage helped our primitive ancestors fight for survival. Today, this fight-or-flight mechanism still exists, but is generally useless for most people besides athletes. While all living creatures experience fits of anger, not all are affected by rage behind the wheel of a car.
Because it's too difficult to prove a violation was caused by road rage, officers must instead cite aggressive driving on traffic tickets, says Sergeant Freddy Williams, public information officer for the Washington State Patrol. An aggressive driving violation shows up on a traffic ticket in the form of tailgating, speeding, abrupt lane change, erratic driving or rude behavior to other drivers, he says.
According to Rawlins, if a person can find what triggers his or her rage, then they can work to control it. "Hurt and fear are at the root of rage," Rawlins says.
Excessive anger can lead to dangerous health issues, such as heart attacks, coronary artery disease and diabetes. Rawlins says aerobic exercise may be helpful for people dealing with rage, although people with diagnosed mood disorders may need something more emotionally in-depth, like talk therapy.
As roadways become more congested, displays of rage become more common, Williams says. Next time someone drives below the speed limit, be calm, take a deep breath and look around. Maybe they're seeing something you're missing.