Road rage is one of the most frightening ways in which angst and ire, arising largely from lifestyle stressors, seek forceful expression in 21st century Urbania. The cold-blooded killing of a teenager, Aditya Sachdeva, by Rocky Yadav, the son of politicians, was brought into our homes and workplaces with high-profile visibility. But it is, by no means, an isolated instance of the aggro out there.
Since the turn of the millennium, there has been a sharp spike in guerrilla warfare on our roads. Assaulting fellow commuters, sometimes fatally – with bare hands or with revolvers, iron rods, concrete blocks, broken bottles, hammers, screw-drivers, stones, pocket knives, helmets, hockey sticks and heavy canes - all of these are a matter of record in India. Swords have been used to smash windscreens, rounds from revolvers have been fired in the air – and, now and then, into another human being.
At one level, it is possible to see road rage as the outcome of all the environmental pressures on the road – the exploding number of vehicles, pot-holed stretches, bad weather conditions, sudden diversions on your regular route, and VIP movements that hold up traffic.
But, between the guy who’s leaning on his horn and the driver ahead of him who’s contemplating homicide, lies an attitude. The fact that senseless road rage can, and often does, erupt without reasonable provocation underlines the phenomenon of epic intolerance – the road rager is sometimes objecting not to someone’s errant behavior, but just to that other person’s being there in the first place. Out of my way, is what he’s saying!
Dealing with road rage thus becomes a matter of perspective (A traffic snarl may be annoying, but it’s hardly “terrible”: World War II was terrible); of cultivating tolerance (A grazed fender does not constitute grounds for life-threatening violence), and if the other party is sincerely conciliatory, is it really so difficult to meet him / her half-way – one fellow human to another?
Add to this certain practical steps that you can take to pre-empt avoidable snags, and you’ll be well on your way to taming the raging beast. Here are some ways to get started.
Prevention is better than pique. You know that you may encounter speed fiends, traffic foul-ups and parking problems. Leave with time to spare, planning your commute to factor in delays due to unpredictable causes. Check out the traffic advisory ahead of time, particularly on days when snarls or diversions may be expected on certain routes.
Fill up with fuel before you’re running low. Alcohol, drugs or chronic sleep deprivation can seriously impair your impulse control ability. And just one drink can induce fatigue. If you’re under the influence of liquor, or if you’re feeling drowsy or edgy, find other means of commuting or have someone else drive.
Reduce your stress level, increase your comfort quotient. Increased stress leads to increased hostility on the road. Take pre-emptive steps to defuse the stress. For instance: Improve the comfort level in your vehicle. Unclutter your car, make yourself comfy with back pillows. Comfort is also enhanced by correct ergonomics. For instance, to ensure shoulder comfort, it’s important to tilt the wheel down. Holding the steering wheel in its highest position forces the shoulders to contract and hurt.
Listen to soft music to keep frayed nerves at bay. Research shows aggressive music begets aggressive behavior. Starting out with a becalming prayer or mantra won’t hurt either. Put office problems and home worries on the back burner. Learn relaxation techniques; deep breathing, for instance, will help get you through aggravating situations like traffic jams. Before a long trip, give your vehicle a complete check-up. A stalled vehicle is guaranteed to ruffle the most steady nerves.
Don't become part of the problem. The best way to cope with aggressive drivers is not to be one. Everyone has the power to set an example; use that power. Some ways that you can:
1. Be a courteous driver yourself.
» Use your horn sparingly around pedestrians, at night, around hospitals.
» Resist the impulse to start honking madly the moment the light changes color. (The measly seconds you save will not make any worthwhile difference to your overall commute time).
» Avoid inflicting loud music on neighboring vehicles. Avoid stopping in the road to talk with a pedestrian or another driver.
» Avoid taking up more than one parking space.
2. Use safe driving techniques.
» Watch your speed limit. Forget about winning. No one wins in a road crash.
» Make sure you have established a safe following distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
» Avoid tailgating – i.e, driving so closely behind another vehicle that you cannot stop or swerve with ease in an emergency. Tailgating is a major cause of crashes that can result in serious injuries.
» When entering traffic or changing lanes, make sure that you have enough room.
» Avoid weaving in and out of traffic. Zig-zagging between lanes merely to advance one car length ahead is risky road behavior, besides being annoying to other drivers.
» Make slow, deliberate U-turns.
» Use vehicle turn signals for all turns.
» Acknowledge the signaled intentions of others.
» Stop for red traffic lights, don’t run them.
» Avoid rubber-necking, i.e, driving slowly by the site of an accident (or a place where one or more emergency vehicles have arrived) and turning your head to look on with curiosity. Slowing down to look at an incident is a natural human reaction, but it causes traffic delays, congestion and temper-flare-ups
» Avoid using your cell-phone while driving; it’s a recognized hazard on the road. It’s also a traffic offense in many Indian states; some extend the ban even to the use of a hands-free unit. Engaging in stressful or emotional conversations on your cell-phone can be particularly distracting and cause you to engage in careless driving.
» Other distracting habits at the wheel are eating, drinking, primping, driving a car with a child on one’s lap.
» Approach intersections and pedestrians at slow speeds to show your intention and ability to stop. Yield to pedestrians.
» Use headlights in cloudy, rainy and other reduced-visibility conditions such as twilight, darkness, fog, smoke and snow.
» Use moderation in judging safe speed. Slow down enough to maintain a safe stopping distance, but do not slow down so much that you become a risk to drivers behind you.
» Do not brake abruptly unless it is necessary to do so for safety reasons.
3. Don’t up the ante. If you find that someone’s road behavior is getting to you, consider your response options, and then go with the one that affirms emotional maturity rather than one that brings you down to the level of the offender. For instance, if someone’s tailgating you, the reasoned response would be to (as soon as it is safe) signal and pull into another lane. Don’t make aggressive or obscene gestures to other drivers when they offend you with their driving or when they make such gestures themselves.
Avoid challenging another driver – or accepting the challenge thrown by another driver. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone on the road. The way to come out on top is not by swallowing the bait but by refusing to bite.
IF YOU DO GET INTO A SPOT WITH A ROAD RAGER
Don’t allow yourself to act reflexively. Taking a deep breath not only reins in that rush of stress chemicals, it also allows you the mental space to assess your options, enabling a rational response rather than an aggressive one.
Be polite and courteous, even if the other driver is not. Politeness quickly defuses the escalating tempo of road rage.
Put the other person’s behavior in perspective by making it “his problem”, not yours. He probably has things going on in his life that are causing pressure. Also, give him the benefit of some doubt. He may have been driving that way because of an actual emergency. Even presuming that you’re in the right and the other guy’s a numbnut (in your opinion), your stance and tone should be authoritative rather than authoritarian.
Watch your body language. Avoid, for instance, talking to the other person with your hands on your hips.
Give the other person space. Avoid making any move to touch him, even if you mean it as a conciliatory gesture. It can be misconstrued as an invasion of his space, even as an intended attack, and can provoke a hostile response, taking the situation into the more difficult territory of physical aggression.
Never underestimate the other driver’s capacity for mayhem. The average car is not bullet-proof, an aggressive driver will follow you, and you’ve got to get out of your vehicle eventually.
If you think things are getting out of hand, get help. Call (or get a co-passenger to call) police. Don’t roll down your window, and don’t pull to the side of the road.
Above all, do not get out of your vehicle. You’ll put yourself in a position that’s simply too vulnerable, given an atmosphere that may be vitiated.
In one chilling incident in Delhi, a businessman, Ravi Chaudhuri, got out of his car to protest it being grazed by another driver, Jagral Singh Sahney. To prevent Sahney from driving off, Chaudhuri stood in front of his vehicle. In response, Sahney mowed Chaudhuri down right where he stood, then ran his car, not once but several times, over his screaming victim who later succumbed to multiple fractures, including a broken skull. In another incident, 22-year-old Priyadarshini Sule was dragged 20 meters along the Western Express Highway in Mumbai. She had got out of her vehicle and grabbed the steering wheel of another car whose driver had inflicted a wide scratch on her vehicle while trying to overtake it. He accelerated and dragged her along the highway, then hit her in the chest in an attempt to push her off.
Never forget that it takes two to start a fight. Remind yourself that getting angry isn't worth it. Would you want to lose your life over a grazed fender or a parking space?
(The author, a former editor of 'Health & Nutrition' magazine, now works as a counselling therapist)