Beware the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ Motorist

Psychologist Donna Dawson exposes the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ behaviours of UK motorists

58 per cent of motorists admit to acting aggressively while driving

57 per cent of drivers admit they behave differently when behind the wheel

Churchill compared aggression behind the wheel with face to face aggression– while 31 per cent of drivers have sworn at strangers in the car, only 12 per cent have done so in person

New research from Churchill Car Insurance exposes the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality of UK motorists.  More than half (57 per cent) of drivers admit they behave differently when behind the wheel, acting more aggressively than they would normally. Churchill compared displays of aggression on the road with those in person and found that while 31 per cent have sworn at strangers in the car, only 12 per cent have done so face-to-face. While 26 per cent of motorists have shouted at others while driving, less than half (12 per cent) of that amount have done so in person. 

One of the biggest catalysts for so called “Jekyll and Hyde” style driving is the mistaken belief that this behaviour is acceptable when in the car. Indeed when questioned, 27 per cent felt this was acceptable and psychologist insights support this.  Drivers feel disassociated from their environment, their car a safe place allowing them to express anger and frustration at another driver and even at life in general without the risk of direct conflict. There is no one to criticise or in close contact, so people feel detached from situations and more able to express their feelings. 

Psychologist Donna Dawson said: “One of the reasons drivers exert such different behaviours when on the road is the belief that their behaviour is justified by the circumstances – we tell ourselves ‘the other driver caused me to react this way due to their bad driving. In other words, I am a perfectly reasonable person, reacting normally to another person’s bad behaviour.’”

Churchill’s research shows how dangerous the roads can be, with 29 million motorists (58 per cent) admitting to behaving aggressively while driving. Aggressive driving ranges from beeping horns (33 per cent) and swearing at other drivers (31 per cent) to deliberately tailgating (11 per cent) and chasing someone’s car in anger (four per cent).

Steve Barrett, head of car insurance at Churchill commented: “If you’re confronted with aggressive behaviour on the roads, then try to continue driving calmly and don’t get drawn into an instance of road rage. Remember that these frustrations often blow over as quickly as they arose, so it’s best not to give them any oxygen to escalate”.

The most popular excuse for driving aggressively is to vent frustrations (50 per cent). Other excuses include “it’s a bad habit” (30 per cent) and, “it isn’t a conscious decision, I just get angry in the car.” In a society where openly expressing anger and aggression is disapproved of and discouraged, inside a car appears to be one of the few places people feel they can vent their emotions.

Top 10 excuses for driving aggression

  1. To vent my frustration
  2. It’s a bad habit
  3. It isn’t a conscious decision, I just get angry in the car
  4. Because they probably can’t hear me
  5. I’m not offending someone if they can’t hear what I’m saying
  6. I’m not physically acting aggressively towards someone if I’m in my car
  7. I feel protected by my car
  8. Everyone else drives aggressively
  9. There’s less chance of being harmed in response
  10. I can get away quickly if I need to

Source: Churchill Car Insurance

Men are more likely to act aggressively when driving compared to women (67 per cent vs 49 per cent) and aggression seems to ease with age, with 62 per cent of those aged 18-34 saying they have behaved aggressively behind the wheel compared to 49 per cent of those 55 and over.

Psychologist Donna Dawson continued: “Motorists are human beings, not machines, and so they are prone to inconsistency, distraction and making mistakes. With this in mind, motorists should learn to drive ‘defensively’ and avoid driving in a stressed and nervous state. Being calm, alert and aware is essential - an angry, aggressive driver is a danger to themselves and others because they are out of control, so it’s better to give them a wide berth and to shrug it off.

“The secret is not over reacting; if we became angry at every perceived injustice that occurred to us on the road, we would damage our mental and physical health and probably end up in an accident. The only way to make driving safe and more tolerable on our congested roads is to show each other patience and consideration. Consideration is contagious, and once it’s shown to you, you are more likely to show it to someone else.”