Deal­ing with ROAD RAGE

Ev­ery­one has ex­pe­ri­enced it but so lit­tle has been done about ...


Our car is head­ing into the city when a woman dashes across the in­ter­sec­tion while the pedes­trian light is red. The driver di­rectly be­hind us leans on his horn. “That wasn’t a honk to say ‘I’m here,’” says for­mer po­lice driv­ing in­struc­tor Richard Glad­man. “That was a re­buke.” A driver’s im­pulse to honk at an er­rant pedes­trian is to as­sert they are ‘right’, ex­plains Glad­man. It is an ex­am­ple of the type of low-level frus­tra­tion that can – and does – es­ca­late into full-blown road rage. And it’s hap­pen­ing ev­ery day on our over­bur­dened roads and high­ways.

Road rage is in­creas­ingly com­mon, with more than 70 per cent of driv­ers in Aus­tralia and 20 per cent in New Zealand hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced road rage in the past year. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by the Aus­tralian NRMA (Na­tional Roads and Mo­torists’ As­so­ci­a­tion), al­most one in five driv­ers ad­mit­ted to com­mit­ting road rage, and 22 per cent of these in­ci­dents hap­pened with chil­dren under the age of 15 in the car.

The most com­mon form of abuse for the ‘aver­age per­son’? Lean­ing on the horn came in top at 75 per cent, fol­lowed by abu­sive ‘ hand ges­tures’ at 44 per cent and mouthing abuse at 31 per cent. Dis­turbingly, af­ter ­be­ing a vic­tim of road rage, more than 40 per cent of re­spon­dents re­ported ­los­ing con­fi­dence while driv­ing.

Last Novem­ber, New Zealand AA asked its mem­bers to rank the most an­noy­ing be­hav­iour on the roads – and run­ning a red light topped the list. Other road-ragein­duc­ing be­hav­iour in­cluded driv­ers in the slow lane speed­ing up at the over­tak­ing lane, tail­gat­ing, driv­ing while us­ing phones, not in­di­cat­ing, driv­ing slowly and lane weav­ing. But our list of ir­ri­ta­tions didn’t just ap­pear in re­cent years.

Driver anger has a long his­tory. Bri­tish mag­a­zine The Oldie un­earthed a case of ‘car­riage rage’ dat­ing back to 1817. It was an early in­di­ca­tion that we hu­mans can have trou­ble han­dling frus­tra­tions on our way from point A to point B. But the cur­rent term was coined in the late 1980s when news an­chors in the US re­ported a grisly spate of free­way shoot­ings.

To­day, with an ever-in­creas­ing num­ber of cars on the road, more and more mo­torists find them­selves trapped in traf­fic and at the mercy of an­other’s anger – or their own.

A 2017 study of al­most 3000 driv­ers by the Monash Univer­sity Ac­ci­dent Re­search Cen­tre in Aus­tralia re­vealed the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple ad­mit­ted to some form of ag­gres­sive driv­ing. The worst of­fend­ers were

male driv­ers aged be­tween 22 and 39. More than a third of these ad­mit­ted to ex­treme road rage and said they had driven af­ter an­other driver at least once while an­gry.

While sev­eral stud­ies have shown male driv­ers are more likely to ­com­mit road vi­o­lence, women tend to feel an­grier be­hind the wheel.

Most shock­ingly, 96 per cent of driv­ers who had been in­volved in a car crash re­ported they had ex­pe­ri­enced ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour on the roads. Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, the study also found overly ag­gres­sive driv­ers were much more likely to make bad choices, such as driv­ing and hold­ing a mo­bile phone, speed­ing and also drink-driv­ing.

Even when it doesn’t lead to vi­o­lence, road rage has be­come more than just a strange quirk of driv­ing be­hav­iour, say ad­vo­cates for road safety. It is a symp­tom of a self-fo­cused world­view, and be­cause peo­ple feel anony­mous in their cars, they feel they can be rude or worse – and not be held to ac­count for their be­hav­iour.

Louis Bez, 34, says he of ten sees driv­ers shout ing when trapped in traf­fic in the clogged-up city streets where he lives. The at­mos­phere sours, and words or ges­tures are ex­changed. There was a moment when he re­alised he was do­ing just the same. “It’s in the pri­vacy of my car, but still I swear out loud,” he ­ad­mits. The pro­tec­tion of his car gives Bez the li­cense he needs to vent when he wouldn’t do it oth­er­wise.

Dr Bri­die Scott-Parker stud­ies road rage and leads the Ado­les­cent Risk Re­search Unit at the Univer­sity of the Sun­shine Coast. “As roads be­come busier and we ex­pe­ri­ence more con­ges­tion, it’s only nat­u­ral we have an in­crease in driver anger and driver ag­gres­sion,” she says. “How­ever, this is some­thing we can – in many ­in­stances – pre­vent.”

Merg­ing lanes, in par­tic­u­lar, can evoke strong anger in driv­ers. Go­ing on­line to the lo­cal li­cens­ing au­thor­ity to check the road rules will help you avoid mak­ing mis­takes and at­tract­ing road rage from other driv­ers.

“By trav­el­ling in­side a ve­hi­cle we are ef­fec­tively in­side an in­su­lated bub­ble,” says Dr Scott-Parker. “This iso­la­tion means we some­times en­gage in

be­hav­iour that we wouldn’t nor­mally en­gage in, say if we were in a queue in a su­per­mar­ket stand­ing right next to this per­son.” The feel­ing of be­ing safe and pro­tected by the shell of your ve­hi­cle can be a dan­ger­ous il­lu­sion.

Road rage oc­curs when we feel that some­one is get­ting in the way, with driv­ers gen­er­ally plac­ing the blame on others, not them­selves. “Most vent­ing is neg­a­tive, and that’s the prob­lem,” says Stan Steindl, ad­junct as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in psy­chol­ogy at The Univer­sity of Queens­land. When a driver feels in­sulted or threatened, the brain’s fight-or-flight threat re­sponse sys­tem is trig­gered. “One as­pect of the fight-or-flight re­sponse is anger.”

The im­pul­sive­ness be­hind ex­plo­sive road rage is usu­ally prompted by an event that the of­fend­ers – ­of­ten well- ad­justed peo­ple with fam­ily, job, friends – view as a per­sonal ­at­tack, says traf­fic psy­chol­o­gist Ludo Klup­pels.

Dr Scott-Parker adds it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber good car karma. She says, “I’ve heard driv­ers of all ages say that if they let some­one in and get a lit­tle ‘thank-you’ wave, that feel­ing of warmth, pos­i­tiv­ity and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment stays with them for the rest of the day.”

Un­for­tu­nately, it seems most of us are ca­pa­ble of road rage if pushed enough on the right day. David Simp­son*, 49, is nor­mally a quiet, well- be­haved dad, but his in­nerHulk ex­plodes when he gets be­hind

the wheel of a car. Last year, as he was driv­ing his 13-year-old son to a Satur­day morn­ing soc­cer game, he approached a busy in­ter­sec­tion in an in­ner-city Syd­ney sub­urb.

A late model Euro­pean sedan was dou­ble- parked out­side the lo­cal shops and was block­ing traf­fic. A real es­tate agent was tak­ing lib­er­ties with park­ing re­stric­tions. With his son in the front pas­sen­ger seat, David be­gan shout­ing abuse and pro­fan­i­ties at the man who had dared to slow down their jour­ney. His son still talks about the in­ci­dent – and the pro­fan­i­ties.

One evening in 2015 a mo­tor­cy­clist threatened Martin Kracheel and his friend as they were driv­ing to play pool. When they drew too close to the mo­tor­bike in front, the rider slowed down and ges­tured to them to pull over. The biker walked over to their car, swear­ing and de­mand­ing they get out. “He wanted to punch us,” says the 33 year old. “It was tense.” Martin knew they had to do some­thing to dif­fuse the sit­u­a­tion – and quickly.

“We apol­o­gised, and he ac­cepted the apol­ogy,” Martin says. It was a near miss. Driv­ers who get out of the car to make threats – and worse – are at the ex­treme end of the spec­trum.

When anger is un­leashed, it paves the way to a ‘tragic list’ of pos­si­ble ugly out­comes we all need to be aware of, says traf­fic psy­chol­o­gist and ed­u­ca­tor Leon James.

Dave Craw­ford, 42, is a mild-man­nered sin­gle dad – though not al­ways. One morn­ing two years ago, he was driv­ing along a high­way with his seven-year-old son in the car. They were head­ing out for a day of trail­bike rid­ing and were tow­ing a trailer car­ry­ing two bikes. “There were no other cars on the road and we were mov­ing at around 100km/h, when we passed a pack of cy­clists,” he says. Without warn­ing, the leader of the pack pulled out into Craw­ford’s lane to let the pack pass. Craw­ford had to brake hard, swerve and drive de­fen­sively to avoid hit­ting the man.

He man­aged to avoid hit­ting the cy­clists but his car and trailer ended up fac­ing the wrong way on the high­way. De­spite ev­ery­one be­ing safe, Craw­ford was livid.

“I ex­pe­ri­enced a mix of rage and ter­ror,” he says. “I checked my son was safe, then got out and marched through the pack of now sta­tion­ary cy­clists and found the reck­less rider, an older man. “I heard some­one apol­o­gise but I was see­ing red,” he says. “I abused him un­til I felt bet­ter.”

Kirstie Robb, 38, was on the other side of the road-rage ex­pe­ri­ence when she was driv­ing her three kids home from school and the car in front of her stopped sud­denly. The teach­ing as­sis­tant slammed on the brake, fling­ing her arm out to pro­tect her 16-year-old son sit­ting next to her in the front seat.

Shaken, she pulled over to the side of the road when the other car did, and got out to see what the prob­lem

was. She could hear the other driver swear­ing at her an­grily in his car and ac­cus­ing her of not keep­ing a safe dis­tance. The man, still sit­ting in his car, sl iced his hand to­wards her face threat­en­ingly and con­tin­ued to yell at her.

She told him to calm down, be­fore of­fer­ing him some un­friendly ad­vice of her own. “Then be­fore I could do any­thing he picked up an aerosol can and sprayed me in the face with red paint,” says Kirstie. “When I opened my eyes, all I could see was red. I couldn’t breathe for a few sec­onds. I could hear my chil­dren scream­ing.”

There re­mains an as­ton­ish­ing lack of re­search and gov­ern­ment at­ten­tion to road rage, which is sur­pris­ing given the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem. “Road rage has only been stud­ied in the US, Aus­tralia and Bel­gium,” says Klup­pels.

Road rage is o f f i c i a l ly an un­ac­knowl­edged killer. In Aus­tralia a mo­torist re­ceived a 25- year jail sen­tence in 2010 af­ter mur­der­ing a pedes­trian with their car.

De­spite in­ci­dents like this, most coun­tries, do not have a ded­i­cated of­fense called ‘ road rage’: of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics aren’t col­lected and – worst of all – lit­tle is be­ing done to pre­vent it.

How­ever, in Sin­ga­pore, road rage is a crim­i­nal of­fence and ranges from ver­bal ex­changes be­tween driv­ers to driver as­saults as a re­sult of a traf­fic dis­pute.

Aloy­sius Fong , founder of the web­site, cre­ated an in­ter­ac­tive plat­form so any­one on the road can up­load a wit­ness re­port or video to shame bad driver be­hav­iour and en­cour­age ev­ery­one to be safer on the roads, in­clud­ing cut­ting back on road rage.

“Laws here are strict with re­gards to road rage,” says Fong. “If you get out of your car in an ag­gres­sive man­ner, curse, give a rude ges­ture or kick the car you can be held ac­count­able to the po­lice. Once a phys­i­cal fight hap­pens then you’ll be charged.”

Tech­nol­ogy is po­ten­tially help­ing to catch of­fend­ers as car-cam own­ers are able to sub­mit videos to ROADS. sg for the traf­fic po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate. It has al­ready shown a 32.5 per cent in­crease in red- light run­ning vi­o­la­tions by the Sin­ga­pore Po­lice, so erring on the side of cau­tion on the road is key.

“Po­lice ad­vise driv­ers to stay calm, not to make eye or ver­bal con­tact,” he says. “Keep in your lane and stay in your car. If the road rage con­tin­ues

“Be­fore I could do any­thing, he picked up an aerosol can and sprayed me in the face with red paint!”

then park the car in a safe zone and call the po­lice for help.”

Driver ag­gres­sion is also re­in­forced by pop­u­lar cul­ture, such as in chil­dren’s video games. And the young learn it from their par­ents. “The back seat of the car is road rage nurs­ery,” says Leon James. “Chil­dren start their first driv­ing in­struc­tion in the car with par­ents who drive ag­gres­sively and talk badly about other driv­ers.”

James says that the key to coun­tries’ deal­ing with road rage is the in­tro­duc­tion of grad­u­ated li­cences, with sev­eral li­cens­ing phases: learner’s per­mit, in­ter­me­di­ate or pro­vi­sional li­cence, and then full li­cence. It would in­crease the num­ber of su­per­vised hours a pupil spends be­hind the wheel be­fore be­ing ‘signed off’ as a qual­i­fied driver. The out­come? Learn­ing re­spect and obe­di­ence for the rules and, more im­por­tantly, be­ing in­tro­duced to the con­cept of ‘life­long learn­ing’ in driv­ing.

Since 2009, it has been manda­tory that Swedes work­ing to­wards get­ting a driver’s li­cence at­tend a risk aware­ness course and at least three hours of tu­ition with a gov­ern­men­tap­proved in­struc­tor. Even ear­lier, since 2006, the Swedish driv­ing test syl­labus in­cluded top­ics such as im­pulse con­trol and un­der­stand­ing mo­tives. Once qual­i­fied, driv­ers are on pro­ba­tion for two years.

Karin Michaels­son, in­ves­ti­ga­tor for driver li­cens­ing, says the Swedish Trans­port Agency shifted its fo­cus from driv­ing skills and car me­chan­ics to “who you are as a per­son and how you be­have in traf­fic, be­cause who you are will im­pact how you drive”. Ev­ery driver must be re­spon­si­ble for starv­ing the ‘cy­cle of con­flict’, she says.

Kirstie Robb suf­fered no last­ing phys­i­cal dam­age from the spray paint at­tack, but she and her fam­ily were trau­ma­tised. Her seven-year-old son had night­mares, while her el­dest felt guilty at be­ing un­able to pro­tect his mother. “It was a very up­set­ting ex­pe­ri­ence – and an un­nec­es­sary one,” says Kirstie.

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