Friday, April 26, 2024

The 'weapons effect': The lethal combination of guns and aggressive driving

Road rage shootings are on the rise across the United States as drivers increasingly turn to firearms to vent their frustrations — with often tragic consequences,  reported The Trace.

Between 2014 and 2023, the number of people shot in road rage incidents surged more than 400 percent, from 92 to 481, according to a Trace analysis of data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. All told, angry drivers shot 3,095 people over that decade, or nearly one every day. One in four of those people — 777 — were killed.

Law enforcement agencies do not release statistics on road rage shootings as a specific category of crime. But GVA tracks incidents in which someone in a car fires at a driver or passenger in another vehicle or brandishes a gun in a threatening manner. The close of 2023 marked the collection of 10 full years of data, and although not all gun-related road rage incidents make the news or are reported to police, GVA provides the most comprehensive picture of gun violence on the nation’s roads and highways. 

Since 2014, gun-involved road rage incidents have more than doubled, and the number of victims killed or injured has increased more than fivefold, the data shows. When we looked specifically at shootings — incidents in which either a victim or suspect was shot — the increase is even more consistent. The number of road rage shootings tracked by GVA increased by an average of 23 percent each year over the past decade. 

Someone was shot in a road rage incident on average every 18 hours in 2023, up from once every four days in 2014.

These shootings are happening in almost every corner of the country. Many are prompted by collisions or motorists cutting each other off in traffic, while the motivations for others aren’t always clear. 

Studies have shown that the presence of a gun can impel some people to act more aggressively. 

“Although guns don’t directly cause violence, they dramatically increase the likelihood that any situation involving conflict will be lethal,” Brad Bushman, an Ohio State University communications professor who researches aggression and violence, told The Trace in 2022, when we first examined guns and road rage. “Imagine you’re in a car and somebody cuts you off. If there’s no gun in your car, maybe you flip them off. And if there’s a gun in your car, maybe you shoot them.”

Bushman and his team authored an oft-cited 2017 study that examined this phenomenon, dubbed the “weapons effect,” in drivers. The researchers assembled a group of drivers and placed either a black Airsoft gun or a tennis racket next to them in the passenger seat. They found that people sitting next to the replica gun were more likely to engage in aggressive driving behaviors like tailgating and speeding.

Bushman said there’s a body of research dating back more than 80 years showing that aggression is fueled by frustration. “Frustration means somebody blocks your goal,” Bushman said. “When you’re in a car, you have a definite goal — to get from point A to point B as fast as you can. Anything that interferes or blocks that goal can increase the likelihood that you’ll behave aggressively.”

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