FROM RUDE GESTURES AND EXPLETIVES TO FULL-ON ASSAULTS, THIS IS THE TRUTH BEHIND THE DARK SIDE OF AUSTRALIAN DRIVING.
MIt should come as no surprise that the practice of assaulting, or even killing, motorists who dare annoy others – whether by accident or evil intent – was invented in America. Back in 1988, a Los Angeles TV news show coined the term ‘road rage’ after a spate of shootings on its frustrating and often standstill freeways. At the time, Australia’s big cities didn’t have traffc anything like what Americans were enduring, but there seems to be a direct and logical link between commuting times and road-rage rates, because one leads to the kind of impotent, broiling anger that begets the other. Today, the average commute in Sydney is 34 minutes; not far off the global average of 38 minutes. And our rage is rising. A 2011 survey of Australians by insurer GIO found 85 per cent of us believe drivers are now more aggressive than ever (with Brisbane motorists rated the worst – indeed, 95 per cent of road users in the Queensland capital claimed to have been on the receiving end of road rage – and Sydney’s the calmest). Almost a quarter of all drivers nationwide said they had been followed by an angry idiot, 10 per cent had been forced off the road during a rage incident, 5.9 per cent had suffered damage to their car by another driver and 2.2 per cent were physically assaulted (thank goodness for central locking, or else this would be higher). While 86 per cent of road users suggested congestion was the major cause of road rage, the surprising fact is that incidents are almost as common outside our clogged capital cities. What few of us fellas (for road rage is predominantly a male thing) like to admit is that we’ve all had feelings of rage on the road – yet what differs is our response. Swearing profusely about the IQ levels and parentage of people sharing the road is an acceptable form of venting, while tailgating and the perplexing practice of braketesting people are not. However, critical thinking goes out the window when in the grip of road rage, or so it seems. Western Australia Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Anticich, who believes driver behaviour in his state is now the worst he has seen in 30 years, says deliberately braking in front of another vehicle was one of the most common incidents reported out of 2648 road-rage complaints received in 2013-14. “People seem to have a different set of values when they are in a car,” says Anticich. He explains that it’s not just hotheaded types who descend into Terminator-worthy tactics on the road. “It’s these other people, normal people, who seem to engage in often uncharacteristic behaviours: anger, hatred, bigotry.” In short, driving a car turns us into monsters. Anticich feels being in charge of a vehicle dehumanises people, and he blames the relative luxury of modern cars. “Back when I was young, you were lucky if you had a radio in your car, and more times than not, you didn’t have air conditioning so your window was down – you were engaged with the community around you,” he says. “Nowadays, it’s air con, windows up, you have a bunch of gizmos – music and other things blaring; it’s almost as if you’re locked into a microcosm of the vehicle, disconnected from the world around you.” The bad news is that things can only get worse. In 2010, a global Commuter Pain Index (CPI) was compiled through research by IBM, which recorded the emotional and economic toll on-road stress has on commuters around the world. On a scale of one to 100, Sydney recorded the highest CPI score of 40, ahead of Brisbane (34) and Melbourne (32). Beijing and Mexico City both scored 99, and Johannesburg – where road rage often ends in shooting – 97. Just lucky we’re still morally superior when it comes to the number of cars on our roads with guns in the glovebox. n