Friday, May 14, 2010

Road Rage: a bump on the road or more than that?

Year - 1988, Place – Patiala; a city in the northern state of Punjab. BJP MP and cricket star Navjot Singh Sidhu gets into a dispute with 65-year- old Gurnam Singh over a parking space. Sidhu and his friend then thrash Gurnam on the road until he dies.

This road incident neither covered on the front pages nor extensively debated on prime time, results from a human behaviour which all us have either witnessed or have been directly indulged in. Though it appears to be an event of violence out of personal vendetta, deeper analysis reveal it to be an act of freak violence termed as 'Road Rage’.  

Road Rage has conventionally meant aggressive or physical conflicts arising on the road between motorists. This conventional definition has often misled us to believe that only aggressive behaviour is road rage and other subtle and instinctive actions like honking and flashing lights excessively, gestures such as “showing the finger", shouting obscenities or threats, cutting others off in a lane, excessive braking, tailgating etc are all natural extensions of the driving process. This strange behaviour has often been met with indifference from people because of its representation as just a minor irritant even though it eventually manifests in the most violent and lethal form.

Lalit Kumar, a Sales Professional, who spends almost six hours on the road every day, says that a vehicle for him is a means of power and speed. The moment he feels himself losing control he promptly asserts himself on the road. He reveals that often he assigns an imaginary space around his motor vehicle as belonging to him and if that space is breached by others he feels violated. Psychologists have revealed that it's not often the damage to a vehicle that irks a driver rather it is the violation of this imaginary territorial space that creates a sense of powerlessness and defeat which leads to road rage.

Dhanya Chaudary, though not often on the wheels herself, admits, “We never learn to swear until we start driving.” Actions like swearing and showing the finger give motorists a means to break the shackles of helplessness and provide an opening to let the steam out. She, travels by company provided bus to office, has another interesting take on the subject. She feels that we tend to think about issues and frustrations back at home and office while driving and then at the slightest provocation resort to road rage. Quite often these thought processes tend to divert our attention from the road and a momentary lapse leads to a bump or a graze with other vehicles. Then, instead of accepting our mistake and apologizing, we tend to carry forward our frustration into actions of road rage. Lack of time or hurrying to reach our destination is another widely accepted reason which leads people to lose self-control and act offensively.

Pankaj Sachdev, Sub-Inspector (Traffic), on the other hand feels that it's the external factors that are to be blamed more than human feelings. Growing number of vehicles, narrow and pitiful conditions on the roads, traffic congestion, weather, pollution and noise levels are the primary reasons that lead to road rage. He opines that our feelings, however subconscious, get triggered by these factors and waits at a conscious level to assert itself at the slightest provocation. Road rage should not be confused with accidents. Accidents on road are generally attributed to losing control of one’s vehicle, which then leads to the mishaps. Road rage on the other hand has more to do with losing control of one’s emotions, which leads to erratic actions and in some cases might cause accidents. Though not all acts of road rage lead to accidents they build up a cauldron of negative energy in people, which is perpetually boiling, and ready to spill over on fellow motorists.

In India there is limited of no data on road rage as it is not officially recognized as a problem and any such incidents are usually bracketed as accidents or physical conflicts on road. But in western countries there is sufficient data gathered to prove that road rage is indeed a problem which needs deeper analysis and attention. A survey, administered by Response Insurance in U.S, revealed that 34 percent of drivers say they honk their horn at the aggressor, 27 percent yell, 19 percent give the finger back, 17 percent flash their headlights, and 7 percent mimic the initial aggressive driving behavior. Two percent of drivers admit to trying to run the aggressor off the road. When it comes to aggressive responses, men are more likely than women to do so (54% vs. 46%), as are drivers age 18-24 (67%) versus drivers 65 and older (30%). Drivers with children are more likely to respond aggressively (59%) versus those without children (45%), and cell phone users (59%) versus those who do not use a cell phone while driving (39%).

Driving on the road is not a competitive sport to be won. It's just a means of reaching from point A to point B. Also while driving don't consider your vehicle as an extension of yourself but just as a tool to get a job done. There are a lot of other little things which when followed can prevent road rage. Detach yourself from all problems in life while you are driving. With driving itself becoming a problem nowadays you don't want to multiply your woes. Instead listen to relaxing music while driving, maybe instrumentals like flute or harp, but avoid hard metal or rock bands. These usually tend to excite people and might prove counterproductive. Always try to give yourself plenty of time to get to where you're going, particularly keeping in mind traffic congestions. People always try to make up lost time, on other activities, by driving fast, leading to carelessness on the road. Respect your time on the road and allocate it the time it requires. Another strategy is to accept that you're running late, inform the other party expecting you that you will be late and that you can't do anything about it. One other major irritant on the road is ‘honking’. Sound the horn judiciously, only as a means of signaling to a fellow driver rather than to get the better off him. Nothing frustrates a person more than the indiscriminate use of the horn by a motorist behind him but the same person becomes so indifferent to the woes of the drivers in front of him when he has a free go at his own horn. Nobody wants to spend his/her whole day on the road and you don’t have any special reason to let the horn speak for your frustration. One another problem specific to Indian drivers is that they try to gain advantage, in a confrontation situation on the road, by making the first offensive move, even when one is clearly at fault; this does not always work to your benefit. Being apologetic or saying 'sorry' when you err goes a long way in preventing a confrontation, be it off the road or on the road. Last but not the least, follow traffic rules meticulously and encourage others to do so.

Driving is no more a pleasure or stress buster as it was earlier, but a chore that people desperately try to avoid, all because of the deplorable conditions on the road and the attitude of people using it. Who knows the next time you are scouting for parking in a mall or a movie hall and somebody might cut you to it. Then it is advisable that you keep your cool and not be aggressive because if the other person turns out to be a Navjot Singh Sidhu then you may have to pay with your life for that parking space. Unfortunately Gurnam Singh never saw it coming.

1 comment:

bhuji said...

Dad used to be frustrated while driving and would swear at drivers who messed with him. I found it hilarious as a kid.