x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Get a grip on threat posed by road rage

Road rage, rooted in human territoriality, is a real danger, and we can all help to diminish it.

Bad drivers can, as the expression goes, drive you crazy. But the usual frustrations and alarms of time spent on the road can sometimes swell into something verging on real madness, however temporary.

Road rage is a serious problem, sometimes even a deadly one. An Abu Dhabi case now before the courts, for example, involves a fatal beating; testimony indicated that a man who did not allow a following vehicle to overtake was finally cut off, forced out of his car and beaten. He died shortly after.

Whatever the facts of that case, there's no doubt that incidents of road rage, leading to violence, have become all too frequent around the world.

To be sure, most traffic-related anger is so fleeting that it does not translate itself into anything beyond a muttered or shouted imprecation - although that can lead to legal trouble if you are accused of certain insulting words or gestures.

But the more worrisome road rage is the kind that takes violent form. Experts say this is most commonly triggered by aggressive tailgating and by being cut off abruptly. (Squabbles over parking spaces are another cause.) The human brain is wired to expect to defend territory, and intrusion on "your" space can instantly generate a combative response.

Some western studies suggest that younger, poorer men, especially the unemployed, are most susceptible to this kind of transient but extreme anger. But they are by no means alone: the actor Jack Nicholson once took a golf club to another driver's windows after being cut off in traffic. The US National Institute of Mental Health says 7.3 per cent of drivers are susceptible to road rage.

Daily life is full of potential causes of frustration and even anger. But the restraint we all expect of each other in normal work and social situations is even more necessary when we are moving at 80kph (or more) in metal juggernauts that can so easily cause injury and death.

The best line of defence against road rage, in ourselves and in others, is to remember that getting through traffic is not a competition. Courtesy is as much a virtue on the road as in every other part of life. Human nature being what it is, however, not everyone will respect that fact all the time.

Driving etiquette in the UAE is often sorely lacking. In the case of irresponsible driving, however, we have seen that it can cost lives.