x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Steer clear of anger for a cool run in Dubai

Psychologists say Dubai drivers need to slow down and think more about their driving patterns.

Dr Lavina Ahuja said aggression breeds more aggression on the roads. Razan Alzayani / The National
Dr Lavina Ahuja said aggression breeds more aggression on the roads. Razan Alzayani / The National

DUBAI // It's often said that we can be blinded by anger. When it comes to the country's drivers, psychologists warn that may quite literally be true.

One hundred and one people were killed and 1,362 injured in Dubai in the first seven months of this year. However, psychologists believe many of these accidents could have been avoided had drivers been more aware of how their emotions - particularly anger - affected their behaviour.

Dr Raymond Hamden, a clinical and forensic psychologist who hosts a radio talk show, said that drivers angered by conflict at either work or home were particularly dangerous because the emotion limits visual focus.

"One of the things that used to be said is that a person who is angry should never drive because their anger can cause acceleration and selective vision of the direction they're going on the road.

"They may be visualising whatever they're angry about - which takes away from the focus of the visualisation they need to drive safely."

He likened the effect to another behaviour common on UAE roads - talking on the phone.

"The area of the brain needed to drive safely with focus is the same area needed when talking on the telephone," he warned, adding that using hands-free kits did not lessen the danger.

The good news is, according to Dr Hamden, that driving habits are not genetic, but learnt.

"What we see in the sociological explanation of driving is if you come from a culture where it's reinforced to be cooperative and to have a nature of rules and regulations and decorum - you see a much more calming and cooperative driving system.

"But in societies that are aggressive and defensive - where people are having to fend for themselves - people can be very defensive in a situation where they feel they won't be protected or fairly treated.

"They tend to be more selfish and uncooperative. So what you'll see is drivers who believe that they need to get from point A to point B regardless of who is on the road."

He said driving habits often derived from a need to feel powerful.

"The psychological symbolism of a car is representative of the individual's power. And when we live in a country where very expensive cars are symbolically representative of what we wish was our power, we see behaviour that may actually overcompensate for the fact that we are really not that powerful - we were only able to overcompensate by buying a car that represents the power that we wish we had."

Once empowered, people's character could change drastically.

Timid people often became aggressive behind the wheel, said Dr Lavina Ahuja, a psychologist and consultant at LifeWorks Dubai.

"They make sure to stand up for themselves when they're in a huge, hulking car," she said, cautioning that "misplaced assertiveness can translate into road rage".

"People who drive really fast, or really slow, come across as inconsiderate. To them, those are their versions of assertiveness.

"But aggression breeds aggression. If someone is being aggressive you, you are aggressive back."

She warned that people tended to dehumanise the act of driving. "A car is an object and we don't really consider other drivers as other people in some ways. People sometimes make the mistake of expecting people to be more considerate to them on the road, but might not be considerate of others' mistakes. They see them as cars, not people."

Breaking the rules is often more acceptable in this region than elsewhere, she said. "When people don't have much understanding of a situation, they will choose how to behave by reverting to their social standing. Here, big cars are seen as a positive measure of social standing. If you have a big car, people get scared and move out the way."

halbustani@thenational.ae