Following slower drivers: Lead driver status moderates driver's anger and behavioural responses and exonerates culpability

Amanda Stephens, John J A Groeger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Two experiments investigated the effects of lead-driver status on the anger-experienced and aggression-expressed in traffic scenarios in which the lead drivers’ actions were determined by an event obviously beyond, or within, their control. Experiment I contrasted reactions to lead-cars bearing Learner driver markings (Low Status) or similar unmarked cars (Control), while Experiment II contrasted reactions to Ambulances (High Status) or otherwise identical generic work vans (Control). Reported anger, heart-rate and behaviour were measured while drivers drove. When the lead vehicle slowed or changed course because of the actions of another road user, drivers were reliably more angered when slowed by a learner driver than an unmarked sedan. Drivers reported less anger when slowed by an Ambulance, than by a work van, when there was no apparent cause for the lead-vehicle slowing. Driver behaviour also differed according to lead-vehicle status. Drivers allowed greater headway between themselves and a slower ambulance, but drove closer to the work-van, and followed Learner drivers at a dangerously close distance, leaving greater headway behind a similar, unmarked car. Reliable differences in subjective anger ratings and behaviour suggest that anger experienced and expressed depends not just on the actions of the perpetrator but on the perceived status of that perpetrator. Higher status vehicles appear to be forgiven their indiscretions more readily even when there are no extenuating circumstances, whilst lower status drivers are likely to be blamed more readily for circumstances beyond their control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-149
Number of pages10
JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggressive driving
  • Driving anger
  • Driving simulator
  • Low status high status

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