Interview Ian Hainey talks with a Dubai psychiatrist to find the reasons behind road rage and how we can avoid it.
The fast and the furious
Statistically, it will not be long this year before drivers of the UAE encounter their first road rage incident of 2009. Rather than accept the inevitable, Dr Arne Brosig, one of the top psychiatrists in the country, sheds light on why this happens and gives pointers on how to avoid being embroiled in a heated road incident. Dr Brosig, who was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit for outstanding work in the fields of neurology and psychiatry and now heads up the German Center for Neurology and Psychiatry (GNP) in Dubai Healthcare City, has strong views on the topic, which has been researched thoroughly by authorities in his homeland.
q Why do people suffer from road rage? a Aggressive behaviour occurring while in road traffic is a commonly encountered phenomenon. In a recent study scientists discovered that 90 per cent of drivers experience aggressive acts over a year and as many as 60 per cent admitted to having behaved aggressively themselves when driving. A comprehensive study on this topic showed that essentially three conditions cause aggressive behaviour when driving. There is external traffic conditions - the difference in speed which the driver would like to apply and that which the external traffic conditions impose, for instance caused by cars ahead not leaving the fast lane, or alternatively, cars pushing aggressively from behind.
Also poor handling of stressful situations in road traffic is another factor. This might be in the form of a diversion or on an occasion where driving conditions are difficult due to weather or bad driving by others. Finally, individual stress factors which influence the quality of driving. This might be a stressful period at work, time pressures or family problems. How is the mind of a timid driver different to that of a more confident driver?
The risk of having an accident will continuously decrease over the first six years after passing the driving test. It is only after six to seven years that a driver should have mastered driving and, from this time on, the level of accident risk will remain consistent. After this much driving experience, the driver will have all the necessary confidence to keep most difficult situations under control, which is the major issue concerning stress. Psychology calls this the "locus of control", which is the sureness to be master of the situation. This leads to less stress behind the wheel and therefore to less aggressive behaviour.
What is the difference between the mind of a confident driver versus an aggressive driver? Nearly all major studies prove that there are three main risk groups with regard to road rage. They are young and inexperienced drivers, male drivers and drivers in high-class automobiles. Additionally, crowd psychology comes into the picture, as while driving on an empty road, a driver is less likely to behave aggressively. However, if there are several cars on the road at the same time, a pack has formed and the alpha dog will of course try to fight his way through and take over the lead. Disaster lurks whenever several alpha dogs are driving next to each other.
Then there is the issue of misuse of power - whenever a human being misuses the potential power in his hands by not sticking to the rules and instead indulges in selfishness in order to act out narcissistic tendencies. Why does road rage seem to be such an issue on the roads here? The case of the Hummer driver who ran over the woman in Dubai and was sentenced to 10 years in prison is one such example.
Dubai is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. The most common meeting points of those various cultures on the roads in and around Dubai. In a very confined space people with entirely different attitudes towards life, objectives, status, ways of living, literacy, and qualifications meet daily on the road. Of course, these differences are reflected in road traffic even though all participants have the same UAE driving licence.
Additionally, everyday life's various stress factors be it due to a stressful working situation, family trouble or general problems within the social community, aggravate the picture. If on top of all this, the world economy collapses out of the blue, people's livelihoods may be under threat. To vent these frustrations on one's employer would be more than counterproductive and to let them out on family would lead to further emotional trouble. It is therefore the obvious choice for many to get rid of frustrations and anger in an anonymous way when driving to work or going home.
The ever-growing density of traffic favours this behaviour and since there is less time for exercise, let alone mental or cultural relief, there are decreasing numbers of valves to let off steam. People wrongly tend to think that they themselves will not come to any harm but road death statistics here in the UAE prove to the contrary. What can be done to curb road rage and improve driver attitudes on the road here?
There are certain premises which invariably lead to road rage, such as those drivers who never leave the fast lane whilst driving too slowly. This will lead to aggression and frustration in the driver trying to overtake on the one hand and to anger and frustration in the slowly driving person who unwittingly experiences the car behind him as aggressive and threatening. Therefore stronger sanctions should be imposed on drivers who do not obey the rule of giving way to faster cars as well as on those who exceed the speed limit and tailgate others.
In the UAE, we observe more young people with powerful cars and these kind of dangerous coming-of-age presents can be a common factor in accidents. Of course, young men in all countries of the world love fast and powerful cars, but, as said before, it takes up to seven years to become a good driver. This aim cannot have been reached at the age of 18. This is why in many countries early driving licences are combined with an accompanying adult to give young people the chance to gain experience and safety in road traffic.
More important than sanctions by the authorities are those actions that every individual can take to make road rage lessen and traffic safer. To begin with, all personal stressing factors, such as problems at work, with family, etc should be very deliberately switched off when getting behind the wheel. To be able to do that a person must learn his individual stress factors and consequently strategies to cope with the assessment and handling of personal stress situations in everyday life as well as in road traffic.
How could the law intervene to help people who have caused dangers to others as a result of road rage? In Germany, for instance, anyone who has lost his or her driving licence due to reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs has to undergo a special psychological test or training as well as a medical opinion as to the capability of driving safely in future. Only once these steps are taken will the driving licence will be reinstated. This system would work well in the UAE as well.