Raise your hands if you know someone like this: very attentive and considerate to friends and strangers at social settings – but goes completely batshit crazy once they park themselves behind the wheel of a car.
Featured Image: Azcamsmedia
In the United Kingdom, almost half of 3,000 people surveyed by an insurance company said they would sometimes act aggressively behind the wheel. Up to 80 percent of Canadian drivers confess to road rage behaviour. While there are no statistics on the number of people who exhibit this syndrome locally, the facts are road rage incidences are on the rise. And it seems like there’s no stopping it.
There were 75 reports of road rage in 2015 compared to 69 in 2014, and 90 reported cases in 2013. However, many cases go unreported. According to Singapore Road Safety Council Vice Chairman, Gopinath Menon , “People avoid reporting it (road rage incidents) unless it gets out of hand because of the hassle.”
An incident is only considered “road rage” when there is proof of a “physical assault to a certain degree”, said criminal lawyer Josephus Tan. While you could file a “road rage” police report, it would take time and effort, he added. Fellow legal practitioner Daniel Atticus Xu said an arrest is highly unlikely, unless a police officer witnessed the attack. Assaults without the presence of “dangerous weapons” or “serious injuries” are classified as “voluntarily causing hurt”, which is a non-seizable offence.
In Singapore, victims who want to file complaints would first need to go to the police, then follow it up with a magistrate’s report. The court then decides whether an offence has been committed and set up a police investigation. The penalty for “voluntarily causing hurt” is a jail sentence of up to two years or a fine of S$5,000, or both.
While some people may think road rage is unique to Singapore, there are many reports of violent traffic incidents all over the world. Just earlier this year, Reuters reported an incident in Pennsylvania, United States of America, where an 18-year-old female driver was shot in the head in a road rage incident.
Down Under, there are some Facebook pages that call on drivers to “name and shame bad drivers in Australia”, where you could find quite a few irate drivers and their flowery language. Closer to home, the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute named Malaysia as the 17th most dangerous country in the world for drivers. This was followed up with a study done by the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety that found 2.4 million – or 18 percent of the 13.3 million registered drivers in Malaysia – to be “high-anger” drivers.
Dash cams speed up altercations
With the increase in road rage incidents, more people are turning to in-car dash cams to record any accidents or altercations that may occur. According to a report last year, dash cam company Blackvue said sales of their products have been steadily rising by around 30 percent annually. The increase comes from the perception of car owners’ that they need to protect their expensive automobiles, said product manager Gary Chia. “Even before they leave the showrooms or collect their cars, Singaporeans will want to have their cars protected.”
The circumstance is shared with Australia. Motorblackbox, distributor of dash cams such as Blackvue and Cowon, said they provide “great protection against road rage and hit-and-run accidents”. Director Martin Seo added: “Premium recorders can capture number plates and faces in vivid detail, which is necessary protection for break-ins and rear-enders in shopping centres.”
However, Mr Aloysius Fong, who started Roads.sg in 2014, said in-car cameras might also have caused road rage incidents. If drivers think they are in the right and feel they have video proof, it may embolden them to confront other motorists, said Mr Fong. According to managing partner of I.R.B Law Mohamed Baiross, police do not only view videos from one side of the argument for their investigations. Actions that warrant arrests need to be corroborated with independent eye-witnesses in oral and verbal forms as well as photographs and documentary proof.
Mr Baiross further added motorists who put up videos of traffic incidents might instead run afoul of the law. “Motorists may feel that there is public interest in shaming and bring up such bad behaviour but it could be potentially defamatory and smacks of vigilante justice – let the authorities do the enforcement under the due process of the law”, he said.
What causes road rage?
One of the first people to speak on road rage is Mr Steve Albrecht. In 2013, he wrote on the subject for American website Psychology Today . He’s been called on media from Singapore to South Africa to speak about the “new phenomenon of road rage” since, he said.
Mr Albrecht lists these factors that lead down the highway to road rage:
- When people feel they can act out with anonymity
- Testosterone – or estrogen poisoning (both men and women can be road ragers)
- Not caring about consequences (in the heat of moment at least)
- The sometimes “unnecessary and stupid” need to protect their “territory”
- And “lizard brain” (the amygdala part of the brain that governs our “fight or flight” response) thinking, which clouds drivers in a haze of rage that they often regret later
In Singapore, there is an additional factor: the prohibitive costs of automobiles. Cars are not cheap here and “when you knock into my car, I’m going to retaliate”, said Mr Fong from Roads.sg.
Consultant psychiatrist Adrian Wang at Gleneagles Medical Centre added: “People who are vulnerable to road rage may have a lot of tension, stress, and resentment, harboured over time. And when you have a bad day at work, or had a row with your wife, the anger takes over. On another day, you may have just given way to another motorist and let it pass.”
Techno-weapons against road rage
Technologists Chao Wang and his colleagues at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands think they have found a solution to road rage. His prototype “social car” overlays an augmented reality heads up display (HUD) over the car’s windscreen. Data, such as why the other driver is tearing down the road, for example, rushing to the hospital, etc, is shared with motorists. The app also allows drivers to give feedback on each other’s driving, giving a like or a thumbs down.
The improved communication turns rage into empathy, said Mr Wang. A test of the app with 30 drivers on a simulated circuit showed drivers are more forgiving when they know the reasons behind the erratic driving. All of the participants faced simulated motorists that sped and cut into their lanes as well as slow-moving vehicles. Half of the respondents were given reasons such as ‘rushing to the airport’ and ‘finding the right route’ to explain the driving styles while the other half had none.
The volunteers then took a questionnaire to gauge their empathy. The ones who had data on the bizarre driving exhibited more understanding and sympathy. However, the trial also threw out a flaw in the system: users tend to get distracted with the display. The team will look at resolving this in future versions, said Mr Wang.
Another technology (that is already in tests) could also eradicate road rage. Self-driving cars relieve human drivers – and their emotions – from stressful commutes. Since road rage stems from human-to-human interaction, it would be logical to assume machine-to-machine communication will not only make the “drive” to work and back more efficient, it will be more pleasant.
However, this scenario can only work in an environment where there are no human drivers said a study. Respondents said on the poll they plan to “bully” self-driving cars. Aggressive drivers would treat pliant autonomous cars like learner drivers and “mug them right off”. Participants said it would be easy to “nip around” robot cars when they stop and one even said: “I’ll be overtaking all the time because they’ll be sticking to the rules.”
Stakeholders suggest self-driving cars occupy dedicated lanes to protect themselves while others call on automobile insurers to penalise aggressive human drivers in events of road rage. As driverless cars will be fitted with cameras all over, it will be easy to capture the offending car’s license plate and/or driver as the cases may be.
Perhaps the solution could be in front of us all along. Google has programmed its autonomous cars to honk politely. It uses different beeps for various scenarios, for example to warn the car in front or to call out to distracted pedestrians and incoming traffic.
Since we were young, we’ve seen our parents use the car horn in this manner. Two quick beeps to let others know you’re there – follow the beeps with a wave to say thank you – and a sharper, longer honk to warn drivers around you of danger. Perhaps we weren’t as stressed back then, perhaps there were fewer cars on the road, or we were just more courteous, but there were fewer reports of road rage back in the day. Perhaps all we need to curb road rage is for everyone to chill pill before we get behind the wheel.
Don’t be a road rager
If you feel the need to grab that steering lock and exact some righteous revenge, stop. Take a deep breath. Associate Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School Leonard Glass had this advice for potential road ragers:
- Empathise with the offending driver. They may have stress factors that cause them to drive aggressively and it’s not personal.
- Don’t add to the fight. Drivers feel protected in a “seemingly impregnable steel chariot” and are goaded into fighting for justice. This “anonymity” gives us courage to act in ways that we would not with our spouse or boss.
- Regain your self-awareness. In the heat of the moment, repeat this to yourself: “It’s only personal when you make it so”. When this is done in the time of our most need, it can help us use our self-understanding to turn the perspective to ourselves, enhance our self-control, and avoid becoming kindling for incendiary road rage, said Dr Glass.