There are many disadvantages to having a car-centric society like ours, including air pollution, health problems related to not getting enough exercise, high personal and governmental monetary costs, deaths and injuries, etc. On top of all this, there's a common problem that we're too often downplaying: all the stress and anger caused by spending so much time driving.
Psychologists have a pretty good idea about what causes road rage and lesser frustrations, and Baltimore Spokes gives a pretty good overview:
"The car is not only an object of convenience, beauty, and status. It is also a cultural and psychological object, associated with the driver's internal mental and emotional dynamics, our ego. Cars are an extension of the self, they are ego-laden objects that can be used both positively and negatively to get our own way on the road. The automobile offers us a means to exercise direct control over our environment. When we enter the car we use it as an outlet for regaining a sense of control. Automobiles are powerful, and obedient. They respond instantly and gratifyingly to our command, giving us a sense of well being that comes with achieving control over one's environment. [...] What happens when someone thwarts our sense of freedom? For example, while driving along in a pack of vehicles, a car in the left lane suddenly darts into your lane just ahead of you. Your foot automatically lifts from the gas pedal and taps the brakes, just enough to maintain distance. At this point, aggressive drivers feel thwarted because they were forced to alter what they were doing. That driver forced you to lift your foot two inches. "What a moron. What an idiot." You feel an explosion of fury inside. It gets very hot. You might even begin to perspire. You grip the wheel harder. Now you've arrived at the decisive moment: you can let the emotion die out, or you can fan the flames with thoughts of indignation and retaliation. Aggressive drivers do not let the momentary emotional flare die down."
road rage photo
But this makes me wonder: Could we do more to prevent and mitigate all this? It looks like we've only started trying to address some of the symptoms - like sending violent drives to anger management classes after they've had an incident - instead of recognizing that something that makes so many of us angry and stressed needs stronger medicine.
At some point we'll have to rethink the whole thing. Cities can't just keep sprawling, making commuting distances longer and traffic at bottleneck worse, leading to increased stress. It's a vicious cycle. The days aren't getting longer, yet on average we spend more and more time in cars. This can't go on forever. How many health problems, like obesity, back pains, and stress-related diseases could be mitigated if we had a society that offered more transportation alternatives like fast and affordable public transportation, more bike paths, walkable mixed use neighborhoods, etc?
But that's big changes. What about smaller ones, such as better preparing new drivers in driving ed. classes? It wouldn't completely solve the problem, but some awareness and tips on how to do with road anger and stress couldn't hurt.