On the face of it, you would think for a nation with a prosperous economy, low unemployment level, decent health care and a generally strong middle-class, people’s anger might be tempered.
But when it comes to anger on the roads, at least, the facts suggest otherwise. Statistics show that not only is the rate of road rage on Australian roads on the rise, but its severity is getting worse as well.
If you drive often, it’s unlikely that you would not have experienced it. Passive-aggressive driving, a rude gesture or much worse, it’s everywhere you go.
A recent survey of almost four thousand Australians found an alarming 88 precent of respondents claimed to have been a victim of road rage.
Brisbane drivers are the angriest, with 95 per cent of motorists in the state having been on the receiving end of road rage. Adelaide and Perth tied for second with 90 per cent of drivers exposed, while Melbourne (87 per cent) and Sydney (84 per cent) were not much better off.
Rude gestures are the most common form of road rage (72.5 per cent), followed by tailgating (57.4 per cent) and verbal abuse (53.3 per cent). Terrifyingly, 23.4 per cent of drivers confessed an enraged driver had followed them in their car, the rate was higher for women than men.
But it gets even worse, with one in ten (10.1 per cent) drivers having been forced off the road during a road rage incident, 5.9 per cent claiming another driver had caused damage to their car and 2.2 per cent saying they had been physically assaulted in a road rage incident.
With statistics like this, there must be something seriously wrong with our behaviour on the road.
With such a high proportion of motorists affected, statisticians would tell you there’s a small minority that must be almost always exhibiting road rage, which affects the majority of other drivers. You would think that traffic police would focus some energy on the issue, but clearly too many people are ‘dying of speed–related’ incidents for them to take notice...
So what are the causes of road rage and why is it so rampant in Australia?
Firstly, it’s important to understand what road rage actually is. The term ‘road rage’ is in itself somewhat indefinite. So much so that the Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee (DCPC) in Victoria divided road range into three categories:
Road Violence: The spontaneous, driving-related acts of violence that are specifically targeted at strangers, or where strangers reasonably feel they are being targeted.
Road Hostility: The spontaneous, driving-related non-violent but hostile acts that are specifically targeted at strangers, or where strangers reasonably feel they are being targeted. This may be something as simple as obscene gestures at 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.
Selfish Driving: Essentially the act of getting ahead of traffic at all costs. Involves time-urgent or self-oriented driving behaviour to gain time, which is committed at the expense of other drivers in general, but which is not specifically targeted at particular individuals.
No doubt we’ve all noticed the selfish driving habit, this author is occasionally a self-justifier of the behaviour himself, but it’s the other two, road violence and hostility, that are behind the increasing levels of anxiety on our road.
Lets get something clear, unless you frequent Sydney’s Kings Cross, you wouldn’t verbally or physically abuse someone if they accidentally walked in front of you or were walking a little too slow as you were trying to get past.
No doubt being in a moving motor vehicle increases the chances of serious injury far more than walking, and goes someway to explain the increased stress levels – but it’s perhaps the anonymity factor of being in a metal box that allows perfectly reasonable citizens to become enraged at a random stranger for the smallest of crimes.
A far chunk of road rage cases are likely 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. Two of the largest triggers of road violence according to a report by the DCPC are a) being stuck behind a slow driver who refuses to move into the left-hand lane and b) being tailgated.
As you can imagine, these two situations are highly compatible. Driver A comes up behind Driver B in the right lane, initially waits for the vehicle to merge left, but is instead left disappointed – and enraged - by Driver B’s inaction.
Of course, you might be thinking that Driver B is in the wrong, and logically, you would be right. But sitting in the right lane when not overtaking is unfortunately only illegal on roads with a speed limit above 90km/h (or 80km/h or less, if there is a keep left unless overtaking sign).
While anger levels rise in Driver A, Driver B is looking in his rear-view mirror, gently tapping the brakes as a warning, getting progressively angrier that Driver A is so close to his bumper.
What happens from here is what determines the severity of road rage in Australia. An educated driver would know the road rules and either back off, in Driver A’s case, or give way by merging left, in Driver B’s case, regardless of the speed limit. This would diffuse the situation and allow the two vehicles to proceed as desired.
Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is headlights start to flash, high beams are engaged, brakes become a defensive tool and then, when Driver A does eventually pass – more often than not by undertaking in the left lane - that moment of eye contact as the two cars become parallel sparks the rage even further.
In an all too common scenario, despite not yielding or increasing speed in the first place, Driver B now begins to tailgate Driver A in an ironic battle of the stupids, which further enrages both drivers to boiling point.
I could go on, but you get the picture. You’ve seen it happen. Statistically, it has probably even happened to you, or you have done it to somebody else.
But what exactly causes a rational human being to get so angry?
According to studies, response to road rage triggers are determined by four factors.
Person-related: personality, age, drugs and alcohol. Situational-related: congestion, noise and aggressive cues. Car-related: anonymity, territoriality, inability to communicate and illusion of freedom. Cultural factors: such as acceptance of violence, vengeance and masculinity.
Nearly all data shows the vast majority of cases involving road violence is caused by a specific incident that precedes the act of violence, such as one driver tooting another, being stuck behind a slow driver, being tailgated or changing lanes without indicating. Both ethically and legally, though, it is ultimately the responsibility of the person who chooses the violent behaviour regardless of the triggers.
In laymen terms, if someone cuts you off or drives 10km/h below the speed limit while sitting in the right lane in front of you, your reaction to their actions is your responsibility. Road rage is a choice for which you are responsible, and remains a choice that should not be blamed on the driving behaviour of the victim. It's a hard pill to swallow for those of us that feel we are constantly surrounded by below-average driving standards.
My first exposure to extreme road violence comes from about five years ago when I was idling in the left lane of a two-lane road waiting at a red light in the outskirts of Brisbane in a now-defunct (but then new) Saab 9-3 Aero. It was around 1am.
As I remained still waiting for the light to turn green I realised that I had forgotten to get some milk and noticed a petrol station on the other side of the road. While I waited, another vehicle pulled into the right lane.
The light turned green and I quickly pulled away, accelerating hard to get ahead so that I can turn right safely without disturbing the other vehicle’s flow.
I cleared the other car by at least four car lengths before merging in front and further into the right turning lane, but it was obviously an insult too great to bear for the other driver and his enraged passenger. As they went past a beer can flew towards the poor Saab, slamming into its door.
Though somewhat shocked, I continued my path and turned into the petrol station to get some milk. A quick inspection of the door showed no visible damage but as I was about to walk inside the station, I realised the other car had decided to turn around to further continue our disagreement.
At that point I decided I should probably just have eggs in the morning and it’s best to just head home, quickly.
From here I spent the next 20 minutes being followed at speed. I tried my best to express my apology using hand gestures but it was potentially too risky to come side-by-side.
I reported the car’s number plates to the police but while I tried to find the closest police station, I decided to put a safe distance between myself and the other car and headed up nearby Mount Glorious, a very twisty section of road that I perform most of my car tests on.
As the speeds gradually increased, the other car started to struggle, no doubt desperately attempting to keep up with my turbocharged Saab. But just as I started to think this was probably not a smart idea, the other car suddenly left the road and slammed side on into a tree. I still remember the noise.
At that moment I faced a rather peculiar dilemma.
Do I go back and see if they are ok, or just continue on my own way? After a few seconds of thought I knew I couldn’t keep going so I turned around and headed to the scene of the accident to find an old Holden Commodore wrapped around a tree.
Thankfully the damage was to the rear of the car and the two occupants were slowly getting out, obviously very shocked and probably a little bruised. I yelled out to see if they were ok – while in the safety of my gloating Saab - and was told to “F#$k off”. So I did.
Though I think about that incident more often than not, pondering that perhaps I should’ve just let them go ahead of me at the lights and merged behind them in the first place, I am not entirely sure if my actions deserved that level of response.
Was being overtaken such an insult that it had to resort to this? Was it really worth it? How miserable must one’s life be if that level of road violence is deemed acceptable?
Now and then when I infrequently get enraged with really poor driving standards on our roads, I take a few deep breaths and calm down, reminding myself that it’s just not worth it.
When it comes to road rage, folks, it’s fundamentally important to be able to realise certain factors and have a high sense of situational awareness. People are more stressed now than ever and road rage appears to be an easy and anonymous way to let it all out.
I have set aside eight tips that I hope you can now read and remember to help you the next time you feel your heart rate rising and anger taking over when behind the wheel:
- Some people are sometimes just having a really shitty day. If they happen to come behind you at a million km/h, let them pass. I will personally guarantee that it will do you no harm. Your life will go on and so will theirs (unless they crash, which is still not your problem). Besides, you’re not the judge, jury and executioner – another vehicle travelling faster than the posted speed limit is not your responsibility.
- Say sorry. We all make mistakes, the easiest way to disarm road rage is to say sorry if you’re in the wrong. Put your hand out the window and say sorry. Even if you’re not, avoid the pain and just say sorry, it will usually take all the anger – and power — away from the enraged driver.
- Learn the road rules so you know when you are and aren’t in the wrong. You would be surprised as to what the rules in your state actually say as opposed to what you think they say. For example, did you know that it’s not illegal to pass a vehicle in the left lane on all multi-lane roads – such as a large highway?
- Do not attempt to follow someone who you believe has wronged you to show your displeasure. It’s simply not your problem. If you’re having a crap day, go to a gym class and work out the anger.
- A more expensive car travelling past you in the left lane does not give you the authority to turn into a troll. Yes, they have a nicer car than you, yes they got in front of you by taking advantage of a gap in traffic, but no they are not the cause of all your life’s problems.
- Give way. If someone is indicating, just give way. Even if you have been sitting in a lane that is turning into a busy road and another car tried to merge in last minute, avoiding the lengthy queue, just give way. It will add approximately three seconds to your travel time but by keeping your heart rate down, potentially a few more years to your life.
- If someone is unreasonably angry with you on the road, it’s probably because they think you did something wrong. Whether you did, or didn’t, is almost entirely irrelevant now and no gesture or aggressive road behaviour will convince them otherwise. You only ruin your own day by playing their game.
- It’s just not worth it. Whatever you may think, no matter how right you may be, road rage is just not worth it. There are no winners and it’s not your place to teach another driver a lesson. If anything, your actions will only fuel their defiance.
The police do actually have some power to punish drivers that exhibit road rage. Two rules, in particular, come into play (NSW).
First is Menacing driving which states that:
- Offence-intent to menace. A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a road in a manner that menaces another person with the intention of menacing that other person.
- Offence-possibility of menace. A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a road in a manner that menaces another person if the person ought to have known that the other person might be menaced.
And second is Predatory Driving which states that the driver of a vehicle who, while in pursuit of or travelling near another vehicle:
- Engages in a course of conduct that causes or threatens an impact involving the other vehicle, and
- Intends by that course of conduct to cause a person in the other vehicle actual bodily harm.
Both these offences carry hefty penalties, ranging from 12-18 months for Menacing driving and up to five years for Predatory Driving.
You can now see why the police perhaps don’t enforce these two rules as often as they should when it comes to road rage. A 12-month jail term is probably a tad extreme for a case of out-of-character road rage, but a demerit point and financial punishment would go a long way to discourage road rage and help make the roads a safer place.
Wouldn't it be nice if instead of a speed-blitz weekend, with hundreds of cops utilised to 'slow down motorists' maybe we could have a 'rage-blitz' where aggressive and poor driving standards are targeted with extreme prejudice?
For those of you that can admit to exhibiting the behaviour, best to remember that having road rage doesn't allow you to get to your destination faster. Motorsport is evidence of that, where angry drivers generally crash, while the more tempered driver's come out on top.
Plus you never know, if you do end up getting really angry at another motorist, this might happen to you!
Now, tell me your road rage stories!