The Solution to Road Rage? Find compassion.

Stopping road rage with the same treatment for domestic abusers.Treatment for domestic abuse makes driving the streets safer for all.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published February 18, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

It's a novel idea - teaching compassion to domestic abusers ( see the article "The Key to End Domestic Violence"). But psychologist Steven Stosny, Ph.D., has found that it also works to stop domestic violence.

What he never expected was to discover that it also makes a dramatic dent in road rage. It has totally unintended effects on driving. It not only makes homes safer, it makes the highways much safer.

Stosny, who is based in Germantown, Maryland, has developed a treatment program called CompassionPower that he administers to batterers. Many of the abusers are violent offenders mandated into the program by the courts.

In addition, Stosny is a behavior specialist on an aggressive driving task force formed by the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration. The NHSTA had decided to do something to reduce aggressive driving in the Washington, D.C., area, because it has the second worst record in the country.

Stosny proposed a treatment program for aggressive drivers modeled on his program for violent offenders, those who engage in domestic violence or child abuse (often one and the same person). But he suggested that before he implement a trial of his aggressive-driving program, at considerable taxpayer expense, the NHSTA should just "run some numbers" on graduates of his domestic violence program.

Now you have to understand, neither Stosny nor anyone else talks about aggressive driving in his domestic violence program. In fact, no one has linked domestic violence and aggressive driving before.

And aggressive driving is notoriously hard to detect. It's not like speeding, a relatively sustained act and one that can be monitored electronically.

Aggressive driving consists of cutting other drivers off, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, running stop lights and stop signs, and trying to intimidate people by blowing the horn or gesturing obscenely at them. An officer has to witness these acts, which are relatively short-lived but can cause accidents. For every violation, there are six crashes caused by aggressive driving.

When they "ran the numbers" on graduates of Stosny's domestic violence program, everyone was startled. Here is what they found:

Two thirds of those people court-ordered into the domestic violence program had multiple aggressive driving violations the year before. Many had more than 10. Many were driving on revoked licenses. In fact, 30% of them had revoked licenses.

"These people aren't keeping cool on the road," Stosny reports. But that was before they underwent compassion training.

What happened afterwards blew everyone's mind. The year before they learned compassion, 312 batterers our of 400 in the program had convictions—many of them multiple—for aggressive driving. The year after the compassion workshop, in which not one word was uttered about driving, there were only seven aggressive-driving convictions among the 400.

So there's very good reason for highway police to be on the lookout for aggressive drivers. Who knows how many of them are also batterers? And maybe they should be ticketed aggressively.

"The big hopeful thing, the reason I got involved in the aggressive driving thing anyway," says Stosny, "is I think if you can get these people for aggressive driving, and give them the same basic intervention, you can catch many people who are in violent relationships where the abuse is not being reported. And you can lower family violence. Of course, that has to be tested."

Of course. And, hopefully, soon.