What drives people to take shots at other motorists from behind the wheel of a car? Aggression, territoriality and a feeling of anonymous power are the psychological ingredients of road rage, experts say.
On Wednesday, New Mexico authorities arrested a 33-year-old man and charged him with murder this week in connection with a road rage incident in which he allegedly shot and killed a 4-year-old girl who was sitting in the back seat.
Police say the violence was preventable.
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"We're starting to see this throughout our nation," said Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden at a Wednesday news conference. "And this is something that should not be happening in Albuquerque, New Mexico, let alone anywhere else in the United States."
Police said the girl was shot when a driver pulled up and fired into a car in which she and her 7-year-old brother were passengers in the back seat. She later died at a hospital. Her father had picked the children up from school, Eden said, and had yelled at the shooter after being cut off in a lane change.
While the specifics of the incident are still being investigated, experts say they usually arise from a perfect storm of perceived insults, stress, male aggression and the feeling that you can't be held responsible for things you do from behind the wheel of a car.
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"This about a sense of power and anonymous power behind the wheel," said Steve Albrecht, a security consultant and former San Diego Police officer who has written about the causes of road rage. "If you look at the anonymous nature people have in a car, then mix in male aggression, they believe they can do what they want with no consequences."
Albrecht added that violence is usually a young man's game.
"There's a territoriality that young men get," he said. "That comes from immaturity also the anonymous nature of this. You wouldn't be able to identify them."
He said that aggression, combined with easy access to firearms in many states, has fueled road rage incidents.
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The actors in road rage incidents often take slights very personally, according to Emil Coccaro, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Chicago who has studied the intersection of firearms and road rage.
"People with road rage respond to a threat with a bigger emotional response," he said. "They tend to think that people are doing what they are doing to mess around with them. In fact they are doing it to get where they are going, and they are in the way."
The solution has to come from inside, both experts say. Breathing, counting to 10, listening to music, or just refusing to care if someone beats you to a light or cuts you off are strategies to defuse road rage before it gets out of control.
"Life is not like the movies where you think you can do something and there is no consequences," Coccaro said.
"You don't know if the person has a gun or a golf club."