Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Every week in the news we’re confronted with horrifying footage of road rage or dangerous behaviour captured on someone’s dash-cam. We’ve all been the person who gets cut off or tailgated. We’ve also been the driver who’s frustrated with how slow the traffic’s moving. It’s time to breathe, let it go and work on your car-ma. Words: Clair Morton
Why are we so worked up?
The simple fact is, we don’t like to go slow. This, according to Research Fellow for the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Automotive Safety Research, Simon Raftery, could go a long way to explaining motorists’ bad behaviour.
“Most people don’t drive for enjoyment, they drive to get somewhere,” he says.
“And when you’re waiting for things to happen – for the traffic congestion to ease or for the driver in front of you to speed up – time can pass very slowly. At the end of the day you might have only lost a minute or 2 but at the time it feels quite significant, and that can build up frustration because there’s no release.”
How we respond to that can depend on 2 things, “traits and states”. States refer to how you’re feeling at the time, while traits, which relate to a person’s general predisposition, determine how you interpret threats.
Actions speak louder than words
Most RAA members say they always give a thank you wave if someone lets them merge in front.
Mr Raftery says research has shown people who generally respond with anger are more likely to interpret innocuous situations in a way that provokes a negative reaction, and by extension are more likely to behave dangerously.
This isn’t the only theory that applies to drivers – in fact, there’s a lot of psychology that links back to how we behave on the road.
There’s our natural instinct to put our own needs ahead of others, and the ‘just world’ theory, which makes someone’s natural sense of justice kick in when they see someone flouting a widely accepted social norm.
“The typical case is when there are roadworks: you always get a handful of people who shoot up the closing lane,” Mr Raftery says.
“Normally it’s not okay to push in a line and the frustration other drivers feel may be an extension of that. Ironically, from a road management perspective, it’s actually faster and more efficient for people to use both lanes until the end, and then [merge like a zip].”
Where RAA stands
RAA road safety expert Charles Mountain says motorists need to be patient and realise other drivers are humans too, and that we’re all just trying to get somewhere.
“It’s amazing how something as simple as letting another driver enter the traffic stream, or giving a friendly wave when someone else shows good manners, can break down that barrier. It makes you feel good too.”
What else can you do to improve your experience, and that of other road users? For a start, make merging a smooth experience for everyone.
When we’re cocooned within our own vehicles, it can be really easy to de-humanise other drivers on the road.
“When you think about it, letting one car merge in front of you isn’t going to affect how long it takes you to get somewhere,” Mr Mountain says.
“Trying to block a vehicle from merging at the end of the lane can also be dangerous.”
And while your hackles may be raised if a driver speeds up behind you and sits right on your bumper, don’t get drawn into behaving badly just because they are. The best thing to do is to move to a different lane as soon as possible. If this isn’t an option, stay calm and continue to drive at the speed limit rather than slowing down to indicate your frustration.
Sometimes, bad things happen
We can try our best to be courteous drivers, but unfortunately we can’t control what other drivers do on the road.
SAPOL urges drivers who encounter aggressive driving behaviour to stay calm and continue to drive safely.
If you’re the victim of an emotion-fuelled incident on the road, don’t get out of your car. Pull over if it’s safe to do so, and call police on 131 444.
Alternatively, motorists should drive to the nearest police station and report the matter. Information that helps identify an offender, such as a registration number and driver description, will also help police properly investigate the matter.
What you can do
The next time someone does you a good turn, whether it’s a car letting you into a lane, and oncoming vehicle stopping to let you pay first in a narrow street, or a caravan pulling over on a country road to let you overtake, give a wave and make a note to pay it forward. You might make someone’s day.