Road safety experts have renewed calls for calm as a study by Monash University claims more than one in four drivers have been involved in a road rage incident – either as an aggressor or the victim.
More than two-thirds of drivers surveyed said they had been shouted at or were the recipients of rude gestures in the past 12 months.
The study comes as traffic congestion is poised to increase in the wake of the coronavirus crisis – as more people shun public transport to avoid infection from airborne illnesses – and as work-from-home orders are lifted.
The study of approximately 1000 motorists – funded by insurance company Budget Direct, with questions drafted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) – endeavoured to find out how often anger behind the wheel escalated to a form of physical aggression or road rage.
MUARC research fellow Dr Amanda Stephens, who helped draft the latest survey questionnaire, said it is difficult to determine if road rage is increasing, or whether it is simply more widely reported thanks to the proliferation of dash cams, mobile phone cameras, and social media.
Dr Stephens said the results were similar to the previous MUARC study on road rage, in 2017, however it was difficult to compare like for like as some of the survey questions had changed.
“It does raise a really good question … whether aggression is increasing. (The answer is) we don’t know,” said Dr Stephens.
Dr Stephens said traffic congestion and travel delays were common causes of anger on the roads, but there was a difference in how drivers expressed their frustration.
“Traffic congestion … is definitely a key trigger for anger,” said Ms Stephens. “In the survey, about 90 per cent of drivers said they get angry when there are travel delays.”
This has prompted renewed calls for drivers to better plan their route, or allow more time for each journey.
“How you feel is how you drive, so a negative mood will translate into poor driving practice,” said Dr Stephens. “Most drivers see others as the problem.”
Dr Stephens said the patience of motorists will be put to the test as Australia emerges from COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. “There is likely to be a shift in community mood as drivers return to the roads and are reacquainted with travel delays and increased road congestion,” said Dr Stephens.
According to the survey, more than half (51 per cent) of male respondents admitted to “shouting, cursing or making rude gestures” towards other road users, versus 39 per cent of female respondents.
The study also found Millennials or Generation Y drivers (those born from 1981 to 1996) are “more likely than older counterparts to have intentionally damaged or attempted to damage another vehicle.
Gen Y represented 21 per cent of respondents who admitted to intentionally damaging or attempting to damage another vehicle. Baby Boomers (the generation born from 1946 to 1964) represented 4 per cent of those surveyed who admitted to such aggressive behaviour.
The CEO of the Australian Road Safety Foundation, Russell White, said a lot of road rage or anger is triggered because another driver hasn’t obeyed a basic road rule, such as indicating, or suddenly cutting across several lanes of traffic rather than finding a safe and non-disruptive way to get back on course.
“Our advice is to know the road rules, obey the road rules, and be mindful of how your actions could impact traffic around you, think of the knock-on effect,” said Mr White.
If you find yourself as the victim of a road rage incident, Mr White says: “Don’t do anything that will escalate it”.
“Someone has to be the one to defuse it,” said Mr White. “If you’ve made a mistake, own the mistake and apologise, don’t do anything to make the situation worse. But if you feel like you’re in danger, call ‘000’.”
While there is no specific traffic fine for road rage, motorists can be charged with assault or more serious offences if they take matters into their own hands.
According to police contacted by CarAdvice, getting out of a car when stopped in traffic and going up to another vehicle – and threatening the driver with violence – is a form of assault and can be a chargeable offence if the other party feels in legitimate danger. Striking or harming another person is also, of course, assault.
Using a car as a weapon comes with harsh penalties, either as menacing driving or predatory driving, depending on the circumstances.
Police interviewed by CarAdvice believe road rage hasn’t increased of late but it was more widely reported thanks to the proliferation of dash cams, phone cameras, and social media.
Information on the National Road Safety Partnership Program website claims Australia is not a nation of aggressive drivers.
“Are We A Nation Of Aggressive Drivers? The answer is no. About 70 per cent of drivers will have honked angrily at another driver, 45 per cent will have shouted cursed or made rude gestures, and a similar percentage (44 per cent) will have, at one time, followed a slower driver … too closely”.
The survey says most drivers have “inner demons that may emerge on certain days or at certain times while driving”.
It claims 18 per cent of drivers “consider themselves to be an aggressive driver, indicating that they frequently do these behaviours”.
“Therefore,” the road safety website warns, “if someone is being aggressive toward you – it is likely that they are not aggressive, just having a bad day. These bad days may happen more often in our new normal and as we get back on the roads.”