x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bad drivers need therapy, says doctor

Experts blame aggressive road behaviour on stressful living far from home as well as a 'macho' outlook and religious misconceptions.

Dr Yousef Abou Allaban believes the courts should be able to compel traffic offenders to take anger management courses.
Dr Yousef Abou Allaban believes the courts should be able to compel traffic offenders to take anger management courses.

ABU DHABI // Anger management classes and stress therapy may be necessary to tackle the high fatality rate on UAE roads, according to one expert in mental illness. Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, the medical director of the American International Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in the capital, linked the aggressive driving on UAE roads to the country's breakneck development and stressful workplaces.

"The society here became really stressful, in terms of the demand at work, the family structure and lack of social and psychological support, and in terms of the pressure people have," he said. People "come here and they have what I would probably call a golden opportunity", he said. "You have to grab as much as you could, as quickly as possible and get out, because you don't know what will happen tomorrow, whether your job will be there."

He suggested companies arrange stress therapy sessions for employees. He also said the Government should institute court-ordered anger management classes for drivers who reach a certain number of black points. Because psychiatric therapy was taboo in the region, people would not go if it was not mandatory, he added. Dr Abou Allaban said the pace of development in the GCC had also notably led to a vacuum of role models for youngsters and the breakdown of traditional family structure.

"There is limited support," he said. "People here in general are disconnected from the rest of the family." The rebelliousness of youth compounded the problem. "Teenagers and early twenties people are usually rebellious. We all went through this," he said. "We don't want to take commands from anyone." Younger people were particularly vulnerable to the feelings of power that came with taking the wheel.

"During driving and that rush of adrenaline - the car becomes like ... I'm a superman, and I can do whatever I want to do." Driving fast caused a "sense of elation" that made individuals irrational, he said. In 2007, Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority cited a "lack of consideration for road users" as a leading cause of traffic accidents in the emirate. Earlier this year, the Dubai Police Driving Institute also started offering remedial classes to motorists handed black points for bad driving.

It has suggested that people who suffer from road rage listen to music or readings from the Quran. However, social and cultural influences may need to be addressed to fix the problem. Dr Meenaz Kassam, associate professor of sociology at the American University of Sharjah, said assertiveness was part of the UAE's "patriarchal society". A masculine culture encouraged "macho" behaviour, especially in young men, she said.

"They are considered effeminate and timid if they do not speed and break traffic rules." Young people are an important market in the Gulf region for car manufacturers. In 2008, according to GM Africa and Middle East, the average owner of a Hummer H3 in Kuwait was 22 years old. Mazen Yanbeiy, 23, a Syrian-born Australian national who was involved in an accident after another driver made an illegal U-turn, said a lack of driving etiquette was common.

"They never signal when changing lanes, and they drive right between cars. I have never seen such ill-mannered driving habits in either Australia or the United States." Part of the problem is that road rage, which the World Health Organisation claims affects just over 37 in every 100,000 residents, is contagious, according to Dr Abou Allaban. "Dangerous driving or road rage is two-way. It's not just the bad driver, it's also your reaction to it," he said.

"If you see someone who cuts you off, then you honk the horn and get angry yourself, but if you get angry yourself, who's going to get hurt? You." It was important to educate people to break the cycle and teach them how to calm down. "Take a deep breath, distract yourself by listening to some music or listening to the radio, say some words to vent your anger." Harder to counter, however, are misconceptions that abound in a region as steeped in religious traditions as the Middle East. Dr Abou Allaban acknowledged that a small number of drivers applied the word "inshallah" (God willing) in an improper way to justify any potential consequences of their bad driving as predetermined. newsdesk@thenational.ae

Driving is not a competitive sport. How much is really "won" by cutting ahead? Focus on getting from one place to another, and try to forget about time if you are late. Do not let yourself get drawn into a confrontation. Driving in the left lane more slowly than the prevailing traffic is asking for trouble. Regardless of your speed, move to the right lane if someone wants to pass you. Do not make obscene gestures. Avoid any visible sign that you may be angry. If someone cuts you off, slow down and give them room. Their aggression may escalate if you respond in kind. - Dr Yousef Abou Allaban