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Could Traumatic Brain Injury Cause Road Rage?

Have you ever been accosted by an angry driver? Crowding, yelling, and even running other drivers off the road are all signs of road rage. Now researchers have found a connection between that road rage and prior traumatic brain injury.

Road rage causes serious accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association, says “road rage” applies to anyone who:

“commits moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property; an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger of one motor vehicle on the operator or passengers of another motor vehicle”.

Serious driver aggression includes threats to other drivers, passengers, or their vehicles. The NHTSA and the Auto Vantage auto club report that two thirds of all traffic fatalities are the result of road rage or aggressive driving. In seven years, road rage has killed 218 motorists and injured over 12,000 people.

But could these aggressive driving tactics actually be caused by traumatic brain injury? Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada surveyed nearly 4,000 adult drivers, ages 18-97. The study showed that survivors of at least one traumatic brain had many more incidents of serious road rage than those without a brain injury. According to Dr. Gabriela Ilie, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital:

“We know already that driver aggression and risk of driving collision are affected by psychiatric factors and substance use, and that this connection is strong, and we know that and substance can be, both, antecedents and consequences of brain injury. . . . Through this study, we wanted to examine if a link between traumatic brain injuries and road-related aggression and driving collisions also exists.”

Dr. Robert Mann, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and co-principal investigator of the study, emphasized that there wasn’t enough information to decide whether a causal relationship existed between TBI and road rage.

“Nevertheless, it appears that a large proportion of the driving population has experienced these injuries, so understanding how trauma to the head affects driving could have important implications for improving traffic safety.”

Traumatic brain injury can affect patients’ moods and the way they respond to situations. It can cause anxiety and emotional outbursts. So the idea that these outbursts may come in the form of road rage isn’t far off the mark.

That’s why traumatic brain injury survivors must be careful to monitor themselves and their behaviors in high-stress situations. If it turns out that TBI can actually cause road rage then aggressive driving could put head injury patients at risk for a second car accident and serious legal complications.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He and his team represent the victims of traumatic brain injuries to get their medical expenses covered. If you or someone you know has been seriously injured in a car accident, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.