An investigation into serious violence associated with motor vehicle use: is 'road rage' a valid or useful construct?

Criminology Research Council grant ; (18/04-05)

This study examined data from convicted offenders in Victoria to examine whether the perpetrators of, and interpersonal triggers for, violence occurring on the roads differ between road and non-road contexts. A case-control methodology was used to compare data from 31 cases of road violence with 31 cases of violence against strangers which resulted in similar charges but which occurred in non-road contexts. Information regarding perpetrators and the triggering incidents leading to the violence was obtained from prosecution legal files. Psychiatric contact information was obtained from the Victorian public mental health database on both cases and controls. There were no significant differences between cases and controls on any demographic, criminological or psychiatric variables, except for ethnicity. Although a sizeable proportion of incidents of road violence were perpetrated by persons who had not previously been criminally violent, this proportion was not significantly different from that found in the controls. Within the road violence sample, those with no prior criminal violence were more likely to be in employment than those with a past history of violent offending. In the road context, the triggering incident was most likely to be coded as an act of recklessness, which appeared to pose a threat to the safety of the other party. Off the roads, the most common trigger was an apparent threat to the other party's status. In both contexts, the initial trigger was as likely to be perpetrated by the eventual victim as the offender. The study provides support for causal models of road violence that emphasise personological rather than environmental factors, and also has implications for preventative strategies.