Angry Driver – At first glance, you’d think that for a nation with a thriving economy, low unemployment, decent health care and a generally strong middle class, people’s anger might be tempered.
But at least when it comes to road rage, the facts say otherwise. Statistics show that not only is the rate of road rage increasing in Australia, but the severity is getting worse.
If often, it is unlikely that you would not experience it. Passive-aggressive driving, rude gestures, or worse, are everywhere.
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A recent survey of almost four thousand Australians found that an alarming 88 per cent of respondents claimed to have been victims of road rage.
Brisbane is the most furious, with 95 per cent of the state’s drivers suffering from road rage. Adelaide and Perth tied for second with 90 per cent rs exposure, while Melbourne (87 per cent) and Sydney (84 per cent) weren’t much better.
Rude gestures are the most common form of road rage (72.5 percent), followed by doors (57.4 percent) and verbal abuse (53.3 percent). Frighteningly, 23.4 percent of rs admitted to being followed in the car by an angry r, the rate was higher for women than for men.
But it gets worse, with one in ten (10.1 percent) rs forced off the road during a road disturbance, 5.9 percent claiming another rs damaged their car and 2.2 percent saying they were physically attacked in an incident on the road.
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With such a high proportion of affected drivers, statisticians would tell you that there is a small minority who almost always exhibit road rage, which affects most other rs. You’d think the traffic police would focus some energy on the issue, but apparently too many people ‘die from speed related incidents’ to notice…
First, it’s important to understand what road rage actually is. The term “road rage” itself is a bit vague. So much so that the Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee (DCPC) in Victoria has divided roads into three categories:
Road violence: spontaneous acts of driving-related violence that are specifically directed at strangers or where strangers justifiably feel they are being targeted.
Road Hostility: Spontaneous, non-violent but hostile acts associated with driving that are specifically directed at strangers or where strangers justifiably feel targeted. It can be something as simple as making rude gestures towards other road users or verbally abusing them. The difference between road violence and road hostility is measured by severity. One is violent while the other is simply hostile.
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Selfish Driving: Basically the act of overtaking traffic at all costs. It includes urgent or self-oriented driving behavior to gain time, which is carried out at the expense of others in general, but is not specifically directed at specific individuals.
No doubt we have all noticed the selfish driving habit, this author occasionally justifies his behavior to himself, but the other two, road violence and hostility, are behind the increasing level of anxiety on our roads.
To clarify something, unless you’re visiting Kings Cross in Sydney, you wouldn’t verbally or physically abuse someone if they happened to walk in front of you or were walking a little too slowly while you were trying to pass.
There’s no doubt that being in a moving motor vehicle increases the chances of serious injury much more than walking and goes some way to explaining the increased stress levels – but perhaps it’s the anonymity of being in a metal box that allows perfectly reasonable citizens to rage at a random stranger for the slightest crime.
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A large proportion of road rage cases are probably caused by poor driving standards on our roads. But is that an excuse?
There are some ironic facts about bad driving that lead to road rage. The two biggest drivers of road violence according to the DCPC report are a) getting stuck behind a slow r that refuses to move into the left lane and b) reversing.
As you can imagine, these two situations are very compatible. r A comes up behind r B in the right lane, first waits for the vehicle to turn left, but is instead left disappointed – and enraged – by r B’s inaction.
Of course, you might think that r B is wrong, and logically, you would be right. However, sitting in the right lane when not overtaking is, unfortunately, only prohibited on roads with a speed limit above 90 km/h (or 80 km/h or less, if there is a left turn except for an overtaking sign).
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As r A’s anger level rises, r B looks in his rearview mirror, gently hitting the brakes as a warning, increasingly angry that r A is so close to his bumper.
What happens from here is what determines the severity of road rage in Australia. An educated r would know the rules of the road and would either stop, in the case of r A, or give way by merging to the left, in the case of r B, regardless of the speed limit. This would defuse the situation and allow the two vehicles to continue as they wish.
Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is that the headlights start flashing, the high beams come on, the brakes become defensive and then, when the r A finally passes – more often than not it’s driving in the left lane – that moment of eye contact when the two cars become parallel causes an even bigger anger.
In an all-too-common scenario, despite not surrendering or increasing speed at all, r B now begins to push r A in an ironic battle of the buffoons, further infuriating both rs to the boiling point.
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I could go on, but you get the idea. You saw it happen. Statistically speaking, it probably happened to you or you did it to someone else.
Related to the person: personality, age, drugs and alcohol. Related to the situation: crowds, noise and aggressive signs. Associated with the car: anonymity, territoriality, inability to communicate and the illusion of freedom. Cultural factors: such as acceptance of violence, revenge and masculinity.
Almost all data shows that the vast majority of road violence cases are caused by a specific incident that precedes the violent act, such as running one r into another, getting stuck behind a slow r, stopping or changing lanes without indicating. However, both ethically and legally, it is ultimately the responsibility of the person who chooses to engage in violent behavior regardless of the triggers.
In layman’s terms, if someone cuts you off or drives 10 km/h under the limit while you’re sitting in the right lane in front of you, your reaction to their actions is your responsibility. Road rage is a choice you are responsible for and remains a choice that should not be blamed on the victim’s driving behavior. It’s a tough pill to swallow for those of us who feel we’re constantly surrounded by lower standards of driving.
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My first exposure to extreme road violence came five years ago when I was wandering in the left lane of a dual carriageway waiting at a red light in suburban Brisbane in a now defunct (but then new) Saab 9-3 Aero. It was around 1 am.
While I was still waiting for the light to turn green, I realized that I had forgotten to take the milk and noticed a gas station across the street. While I was waiting, another vehicle swerved into the right lane.
The light turned green and I sped off, accelerating hard so I could make a safe right turn without impeding another vehicle.
Before entering the front and further into the right-hand turn lane, I pulled away from the other car by at least four lengths, but that was clearly too much of an insult to the other driver and his angry co-driver. As they passed the beer can, it flew towards the poor Saab and crashed into his door.
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Although a little shocked, I continued on my way and turned into a gas station to get some milk. A quick inspection of the door showed no visible damage, but as I was about to enter the station, I realized that the other car had decided to turn around to continue our disagreement.
At that point I decided I should probably eat eggs in the morning and I’d better go home, quick.
From here they followed me for the next 20 minutes. I did my best to wave my apologies, but it was potentially too risky to come side by side.
I reported the car’s number plate to the police, but while I was trying to find the nearest police station, I decided to keep a safe distance between myself and the other car and headed towards nearby Glorious Mountain, a very winding stretch of road where I do most of my car tests.
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As speeds gradually increased, the other car began to pull away, no doubt desperately trying to keep up with him.
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