The Fatal Cost of Road Rage

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Road rage is an insidious thing, and it always starts off with minor aggressive behaviour. Ranging from fairly benign expletives muttered under your breath, to driving beyond the speed limit, to flipping the finger at a driver who’s annoyed you, we all have varying reserves of patience built into our psyches. The stressors of daily life means that delays in traffic, time crunches and inconsiderate drivers could all be the tipping point in unleashing all this pent up frustration. An unfortunate bad day left unchecked could be lethal because of aggressive driving. What if your life depended on keeping cool?

Perhaps you might think you are exempt from aggression, and not the type to flip the bird. Are you still certain you don’t have other aggressive driving traits? Do you slow down at yellow lights? Are you always in a rush? Are you impatient while driving? How often do you horn out of anger?

Driving can sometimes bring out unexpected aggression in otherwise generally unaggressive people. Why then do people turn into assholes when driving? Aside from the rage factor, we repeatedly do inconsiderate things when we are inside our mobile bubbles. Cutting lines, stealing parking spots, not using turn signals, even jumping red lights. We don’t do that by accident; we knowingly and deliberately engage in these risky manoeuvres even though they put our lives - and those around us - at risk.

This is partly because cars exist in a unique netherworld between being in a public and private space. Much like the psychology behind internet trolls and cyberbullying, we often feel safe within the comforts of anonymity. Erica Slotter, a social psychologist at Villanova University says “That feeling of anonymity can sometimes mean that we behave in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise because we’re less likely to be held accountable.”

“When we feel anonymous, we lose focus of our moral compass and are more likely to behave badly,” Slotter told Gizmodo. “We also perceive very little threat of retaliation in these circumstances, so there is little cost [to] us [for] behaving badly.”

With driving being quite easily one of the most dangerous things we do daily, it is natural to feel a sense of righteous anger when an irresponsible or aggressive driver puts us in a potentially harmful situation. This problem escalates exponentially when anger turns into aggression - the tit for tat behaviour never works out well on the road, and has led to many accidents.

Consider this tragic incident. Kierra Shore, a 24 year old mother of twin toddlers, turned into a busy road and got onto the fast lane, ending up in front of Salim Ghazi, a doctor on his way home from the airport. To Ghazi’s great annoyance, he was forced to slow down, and attempted to pass Shore, but was unable to due to impeding traffic.

According to witnesses, he began to tailgate Shore in an effort to pressure her into moving over so that he could pass. Shore sped up to prevent being tailgated, resulting in a highway race at about 140km/h.

When a break in traffic on the next lane allowed him to pass, Ghazi overtook her, pulling back in front of Shore’s lane and tapped his brakes to prove a point. Shore swerved off the road, and crashed her car into a guardrail, and then a wall. She was partially ejected from her vehicle and killed upon impact.

Ghazi did not stop, and evaded any responsibility for days before his license plate was called in by a witness, and was charged with vehicular homicide. He claimed he did not know she had crashed, and was not charged with a crime.

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Avoiding Common Triggers

The most prevalent triggers of aggressive driving include:

  • Weaving in and out of traffic

  • Cutting into traffic

  • Speeding

  • Hostile displays

  • Tailgating

  • Improper lane usage

  • No turn signal

  • Erratic braking

If you find yourself in the presence of aggressive driving, take these steps to safeguard yourself, avoiding potential mishaps.

  1. Get out of the way of erratic drivers.

  2. Practice consideration of others on the road.

  3. Do not remain on the right lane when drivers are attempting to pass.

  4. Do not challenge aggressive drivers.

  5. Give the aggressive driver the benefit of doubt, which would help you to

  6. Remain calm.

This is not to suggest that the full weight of responsibility lies with avoidance - or an ignorant, inconsiderate driver triggering an act of retaliation. It is crucial for our safety to be cool-headed, responsible and skilled drivers ourselves so that we have the skills to keep ourselves away from harm’s way.

Countless lives have been lost in senseless deaths, simply because drivers were trying to one-up each other on the road. It is unacceptable, deplorable and it would be remiss to not give road rage the gravity it deserves.