The increasing levels of competitive behavior, me-first attitudes, and dog-eat-dog morality are reflected in aggressive driving becoming the norm. The phenomenon is recent enough that its name was coined only in the 1990s. And yet if it's part of the broader trend of all things me-first and get-outta-my-way, it should have been rising since sometime in the '70s -- no later than the '80s, when careerism and the higher ed bubble were already clearly becoming the norm in the economy.
Why did interpersonal competitiveness take so much longer to show up in driving habits? It's not as though folks didn't have cars, roads, and traffic back then.
I think it was the presence of people in general, and children in particular, being more out and about in the '80s. Kids weren't just out walking and playing, they were riding around on their own little vehicles that you had to watch out for. Having kids around as potential accident victims made drivers take it a little easier, when they probably would have preferred to drive more aggressively. Even if you're a little man behind a big wheel, you're not looking for a criminal record.
Now that so few people spend any time outside their homes -- and not protected by another solid box like an office building, chain store, or automobile -- aggressive drivers feel they have less to worry about.
We ought to keep in mind how widespread me-first driving has become. It's not just maniacs weaving around other cars on the highway. It's treating stop signs like speed bumps even when they're four-way. It's peeling out when the light turns green in a slow part of town. It's turning a corner at 25 mph in a quiet residential neighborhood. And it's darting into your streetside parking space like the neighbors are going to think you're a stunt driver (they aren't). No matter how insignificant the stakes objectively are, everyone perceives their daily driving as though a NASCAR victory hanged in the balance.
HURRY THE FUCK UP THROUGH THE CROSSWALK, YOU STROLLER-PUSHER, OR I'LL MISS THE OPENING OF GAME OF THRONES
It's enough to make even the anti-helicopter parents feel anxious when their kids are playing outside. When my nephew and his friends were walking to-and-from one another's houses, I had to yell at them a couple of times to get out of the street if they were just hanging around. It's a quiet suburban street, but when cars do come through, they turn the corner in front of our house like they're on a highway exit ramp.
That is a definite change since I was a kid. We not only hung out in the street, with plenty of time to move to the side if a car was coming, we tossed the football around, hit the whiffleball back and forth, and slapped the street-hockey puck to each other. The last time I remember seeing that in popular culture was the scene of street hockey in Wayne's World. "Car!" *guys get out of the way, car drives past* "Game on!" *guys resume game in the street*
I remember playing like that a few years after that movie came out in '92, but it was rare enough by the end of the decade that I don't recall being on the other side as a driver and having to stop every now and then while children moved aside. Helicopter parents had already begun to lock their children indoors 24/7, aside from school and activities that were supervised and chauffeured.
The case of road rage is likely part of a larger class of me-first phenomena that should have started circa 1980, but took at least a decade longer to come racing out of the gates. An outgoing and rising-crime climate has a pro-social effect on ordinary folks, who are more interested in getting along with and looking out for one another.
The difference from the early signals of competitiveness, such as careerism, is that the feedback from political and economic me-first-ism is less personal and face-to-face. You're competing for a job with people whose faces you may never see, and voting for policies like BOO TAXES whose cascade of consequences you won't immediately feel personally or observe in the lives of others.
But when it comes to driving aggressively when there are children crossing the sidewalk on their bikes, and throwing the football around in the street, the feedback that you should dial it down is immediate and tangible. Aggressive driving is an activity whose effects on others are impossible not to put a face on. It only flourishes in a climate of anonymity -- when people are cocooned indoors within a neighborhood setting, and when they might as well be faceless on the major roads and highways. Not just in the sense of "you'll never see them again," but in the physical sense of it being hard to see into today's cars, whose cocooning don't-look-at-me drivers have ushered in a change in design where all the windows are slit-like and tinted.