Pandemic Road Rage? Stress, Trauma Play Out on Roadways
No matter where you’re driving, you may notice an increase in road rage, excessive speeding, or terrible accidents these days.
Gerald Pierson is a resident of Brooklyn Park, and he says he sees bad driving.
“It’s gotten a lot worse. I’ve seen it right by my house. There was a serious accident where they had to use the jaws of life to get the guy out of the car. It was right after the city raised the speed limit.”
Experts say this is not your imagination. In fact, underlying stress and trauma from grief and isolation during the pandemic, can play out everyday we are out and about, especially when driving.
“People are just honking their horns, yelling, and flipping me off,” says driver Lauren Berg.
Berg drives all around the metro and says she’s shocked by some of the altercations she’s seen, and she’s not the only one.
“It’s very, very scary,” says Gladys Borbur. “Most people are super impatient. When you’re driving the speed limit, they get angry and just pass and just speed for no reason. It’s ridiculous.”
Police say road rage is on the rise, and the trend upwards started during the pandemic.
Jesse Mathwig is with the Maple Grove Police Department. They added a traffic unit just to focus on keeping roads safer.
“It can be tailgating, speeding, running red lights, aggressive lane changes, sometimes we get complaints about people driving on the shoulder of the interstate passing traffic, especially during traffic slowdowns,” Mathwig said.
Maple Grove Police Commander Jonathan Wetternach says part of the reason for the bad driving may also be an adjustment to new routines.
“People have been at home more for the past year and a half and it has caused people to not have to drive places, so when they go out they might not be used to driving in high volumes of traffic,” said Wetternach.
If you take a closer look at the number of crashes and fatalities, it paints a grim picture of how dangerous the roads have been. So far this year there have been 408 deaths, and that number is likely to climb.
But perhaps behind the numbers, there’s a larger issue too. Dr. Aja King is a Brooklyn Park Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who studies trauma.
“I think that because you have the stressors of not just COVID but integrating back to society,” said Dr. King. “What does that mean to be back in line? What does that mean to be back in traffic? What does that mean to have to wait?”
Or not wait.
Police report drivers are skipping stop signs and red lights more often now, and even smashing signs with their cars.
Dr. King says if you look at some road rage incidents, you can see visible effects of the pandemic.
“The effects of COVID have been irritability, anger, frustration, and definitely feeling stressed, and so you may see that in possible road rage moments,” King said.
“I think kind of everyone’s tolerance has gone down for things. When you think that getting back out there again in the community, you’d think that people would be more understanding or patient. It seems to be quite the opposite,” says Lauren Berg.
To help, police and health professionals are encouraging safer outlets and daily practices.
“There are many avenues in which we can relieve our stress and it’s not just one and done,” said Dr. King. “Be able to get grounded in yourself and in your home and recognize pieces and spaces in which you have peace and safety.”
“As a community, we need to just be more patient when driving,” said Commander Wetternach.
“If you do encounter an aggressive driver, disengage with them, don’t engage in any behavior such as hand gestures, verbal contact or anything. Just pull over and let them leave the area or change lanes,” Officer Mathwig warns.
“You never know what those people are going through. Take a breath, it’s not worth it. Yeah, just be more empathetic,” says Lauren Berg.