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Changing The Mindset

Changing The Mindset

Yes, the writing on the wall is clear that things have gone too far when one recollects the brazen manner in which a 30-year old police constable on duty, who tried to stop a speeding car at a traffic checkpoint in Gurugram, was dangerously dragged on the vehicle’s bonnet for at least two-and-a half kilometres. However, thanks to the potholes, the driver had to slow down helping the hapless cop to jump off the car.

The above incident is neither the first of its kind nor unlikely to be last either. More so because, urban stress coupled with emotional vulnerability seems to be taking a deadly new toll. Although it is unclear as to why some people, especially, when they get behind the steering wheel, tend to become more aggressive.

Less than a fortnight ago in Gurugram, an educated couple - an engineer and a chartered accountant - had attacked a traffic policeman for daring to stop them after they jumped the traffic signal. Such brazen disregard to traffic rules is only part of the problem. Then there are such offenders, who have no qualms about going on a murderous rampage even when they are squarely at fault. They endanger the lives of not only fellow motorists, but also of the law enforcers who try to catch them red-handed.

But why?

Because they can. It’s another story.

There are endless such shocking instances.

Well, it is rather appalling that in a civilized society, life and death literally seems to rest on a hair trigger called road rage. Is it a larger symptom of a general anger problem? Annual crime data compiled by National Crime Records Bureau for 2016 shows that 513 murders were reported in 29 states and 7 Union Territories in which the motive of murders was registered as “road rage”.

It is difficult to understand as to why some people’s fuses get lit when they put the key into their ignitions?

Road rage, defined as a situation, where a driver or passenger attempts to intimidate a pedestrian or another driver or a passenger or to damage their vehicle in a traffic incident or injure, can even go to the extent of killing the other person. It is a growing menace which can also cause one to drive in an aggressive fashion. Road rage can have dire consequences; it can be reckless driving accompanied by an altercation.

What are the causes? Why do some people are always seething with anger, ready to explode?

Even as the source of anger and aggression among drivers is less understood, research suggests that such aggressiveness tend to increase owing to traffic congestion, poor driving of others etc.

According to studies, there are four stages of road rage. But the situation can rapidly escalate to the worst. Initially road rage can display non-threatening gestures, prompting the driver to pull a face or use a rude gesture to show annoyance. In the next stage, it can take shape of aggressive driving, usually occurring when a driver perceives he has been wronged by someone, be it tail-gating, honking, blinking lights etc. Then comes the threatening behaviour, such as cursing, yelling and even threatening following a traffic-related dispute. Finally, it is deadly - direct confrontation with weapons or firing gunshots or hitting vehicles with objects or chasing a vehicle etc.

Our metros literally are becoming melting pots in psychological terms. It is testing times. While unexpected traffic jams have become a regular feature on our city roads, needing urgent corrective measures, absence of road sense/policeman actually compounds the problem. This often leads to many road rage perpetrators displaying exceptionally high levels of aggression for little or no apparent reason. Thus many of us are highly impatient on the road - even if the distance we have to commute is short.

Many people lose their patience, become bored, anxious and angry especially when they have to wait on the roads. These events will often involve the actions of another driver, such as a slow driver, a driver changing lanes without indicating, or other behaviours that is interpreted as a threat or an obstacle. An AIIMS study has concluded that younger drivers, particularly men, are more likely to experience road rage. This finding is supported by previous studies that found young male drivers are three times more aggressive than older drivers, resorting to reckless, faster and dangerous driving, which raises the chances of road rage.

Usually road rage is triggered by a specific event like frequent traffic jams, over crowded roads, driving the wrong way, taking illegal turns, defective traffic signals, sudden restrictions because of VIP movement, bottlenecks due to illegal parking of vehicles by roadside, poor conditions of roads, potholes, oversized road humps, ubiquitous beggars/hawkers at traffic signals.

The stress of commuting in urban areas not only adversely impacts both the lifestyles and health of people but equally affects their productivity as well. It is also linked to other disorders and musculoskeletal problems. At the society level, it is civic sense that can help bring about an attitudinal change. It is all about having consideration for the fellow human being, by being polite, showing concern to the elderly, women, children and importantly driving in one’s lane without honking.

When on the road, it would be best to simply concentrate fully on one’s own driving and not take to traffic problems personally. Zebra crossings must not be abused and traffic signals ought to be respected because road safety is everyone’s responsibility and most importantly lives depend on it. Changing the mindset is imperative – it’s now or never.

(Published on 26th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 35)