Road Rage

In June 1999 Kevin Duncan was brutally bludgeoned to death with a hockey stick on Ou Kaapse Weg in Cape Town. The motive for the crime was road rage. Last month a cyclist lost his life when he was struck by a car that had been forced off the road by an enraged taxi driver.

A survey conducted by market research company Synovate in 2005 showed that South Africa has the worst record of road rage incidents amongst the 10 countries sampled, and indications are that we are becoming worse. Causes of road rage are ascribed to the “me first” mindset of South African drivers, congestion on our roads leading to frazzled nerves, lack of enforcement of traffic rules, and poor training of learner drivers.

Congestion on our urban highways is such that commuters spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars getting to and from work. This time spent in oozing traffic is time that they would prefer to spend with their friends and families, which leads to resentment against their fellow motorists who–they feel–are responsible for wasting their time. The growth in the number of vehicles on our roads far outstrips the number of new roads constructed, or the upgrade of existing roads.

The two methods of reducing congestion are to construct and upgrade roads, and to take commuters off the road by providing viable alternatives to driving in the form of public transport. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Gauteng highway improvement project and the Gautrain will have the effect of reducing the number of incidents in that jurisdiction.

On our national roads congestion would be significantly reduced were we to spend money on the improvement of our long-distance rail network, particularly for the carriage of freight. Apart from congestion, heavy goods vehicles are responsible for most of the deterioration of the national road infrastructure.

Another engineering solution to the problem of congestion is the introduction of “smart” roads. How often have you been stopped at a traffic light when there is no traffic on the cross-road? In Lexington, Kentucky, traffic delays were reduced by 40% and accidents by 31% when coordinated traffic controls were introduced.

Our traffic authorities do not enforce the traffic rules. Cops are often seen ignoring flagrant violations of the rules of the road; just last week I passed an accident on the R300 near Mitchell’s Plain where the Metro cops were ignoring taxis driving in the emergency lane, despite the fact that these taxis were preventing an ambulance and fire engine from reaching the scene of the collision. Dr Ricardo Martinez, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. says, “The best countermeasure we have is a cop in the rear-view mirror.” But that only works if the cops actually do something to enforce the law.

The K53 driving test does not emphasise defensive driving techniques. Learner drivers are instructed and tested in their technical driving skills–which is fine as far as it goes–but the dimension of motoring etiquette and courtesy is lacking. Young drivers come onto our roads with confidence in their driving skills, but that confidence is not accompanied by the humility that comes from training in the “soft skills” of driving. In the U.S. high school children undergo compulsory driver education instruction, a course that should perhaps be instituted here as well.

Road rage amongst males is a way of showing social dominance, similar to the breast-beating of male gorillas. Children must be educated to realize that violence is not a legitimate means of establishing social standing, and that it will ultimately have an effect opposite to the one they hope to achieve: jailbirds are regarded as the lowest members of society.

Given that changes to education, infrastructure and policing will not happen overnight, what can we each do to eradicate, or at least decrease, the incidence of road rage? Arrive Alive have a ten-point plan on their website, which includes suggestions such as listening to music and counting to 10. I would suggest that it might be wise to adopt a fatalistic attitude: accepting the fact that the traffic problems are not of your making and are not under your control. It is far better to let an incompetent or rude driver get away with his actions than to escalate the situation until violence is done, either by yourself or the other party.

If you are the target of an enraged driver, your best course of action is to get away. Sam Harris, in an article on the principles of self-defence, says “If you want to preserve your health and stay out of prison, you must learn to avoid or defuse conflict.” Physical violence leads to injury or even death, and that is something to be avoided, even if it means losing face. Graeme Eadie, the perpetrator of the hockey stick attack on Ou Kaapse Weg, received 15 years’ imprisonment for his moment of rage, and his victim lost his life. It is far better to be late for work or an appointment than not to arrive at all.

© Mark Widdicombe, 2012

4 Responses to Road Rage

  1. Con-Tester says:

    SA drivers are some of the worst I’ve seen anywhere. In general, if they aren’t totally oblivious to what’s going on around them, they are pushy, impatient and living in a bubble of delusion where they call the shots and simply can’t be told anything by anyone. I think in terms of driver education it’s wrong to assume that SA drivers would actually want to learn anything that would have them defer to someone else. So what’s to be done? Make the consequences of breaking the rules really disagreeable, that’s what.

    Besides diligent traffic policing, law enforcement and proper learner driver education, the penalties for transgressions need to be made as unpleasant as reasonably possible. Fines alone are ineffective, as historical trends keep showing. The points demerit system won’t do it either. Ya pays ya munny and ya loses ya points and ya just forgets about it. I think what’s needed is to cut into offenders’ free time, for example by way of requiring them to do community service. Failure to comply merely escalates the community service component until they catch and arrest the offender at a roadblock (as presently happens).

    However, from a legal perspective, the new traffic law enforcement mechanisms put in place in Gauteng recently run counter to the presumption-of-innocence principle on which our law is founded. You have to request and fill in several forms if you wish to contest a fine, and failure to submit the appropriate forms is construed as an admission of guilt. Thus, there is now a burden of disproof on the hapless motorist, which is a disincentive for the Mr Plods to do their work conscientiously. Mrs Con-Tester got a hefty speed fine in the post some weeks ago. In the photo, the number plate is very blurry to the point of illegibility but it looks like it could be hers. The car, however, is very clearly not the same make and model. We had a real fight of it to get the Metro morons to rescind the fine despite the incontrovertible fact that it wasn’t her car. The fine should never have been posted in the first place if the daft and indolent cunt that identified the registration number had checked the photo to see if the make and model of car is what it should be. Also, speed trapping was, is and probably will remain a racket that has nothing to do with road safety or driver education. There is no crime that I can see in driving over the speed limit when circumstances allow it (which I think could be reliably specified with a little effort). Being caught on the N3 outside Heidelberg at 10:30 a.m. doing 145 km/h when there’s one vehicle about every two kilometres just does not qualify as “exercising discretion” and the German Autobahn serves to illustrate the point further.

    Thus, the “authorities” themselves are in dire need of upgrading in terms of their priorities.

    When I was a youngster and roads were less congested, I rode a motorcycle for many years. About two years ago I bought a new one and it has reduced the rage factor to almost zero, commuting between work and home. Let the twats with four wheels bash heads while I just cut past them. Interestingly, taxi drivers are on the whole the most courteous towards bikers (other bikers I’ve asked agree), probably because they don’t see you as a threat and understand that if they let you past, you’re out of their hair in very short order. In this context, it may be beneficial to require that motorists provably drive a motorcycle for a certain minimum time and/or distance before they can qualify to drive a motorcar. Nothing that I know of quite engenders road awareness and an ability to anticipate like having constantly to think for six or more others around you with the question What idiotic thing could that car possibly do next that could endanger me? topmost in mind.

  2. Beechmount says:

    Back in the early eighties, I was on a business trip to Houston, Texas from Colombia, South America. One evening the news reported that a lady had ever so slightly hit the bumper of a car in front of her, during the rush hour commute. The driver, a man,stopped his car, went over to the lady and without further to do, shot her dead, after wich he returned to his car and left as if nothing had happened.

    Last week in Toronto, a taxi driver lost it and deliberately run over a longboarder (skate boarder) and killed him.

    Road rage is becomming so common that one has to learn to live with it-and like you said, the best defence is just to get of of the way.


  3. A friend says:

    Yesterday he did it again. He attacked a 67 year old man right outside Plumstead fisheries in Cape Town

  4. Angered reader says:

    This guy must seriously be put behind bars and soon. If I see him in person I will beat him like he beat his victims. I see its a trend for this guy to beat on the aged. I would not be surprised if he beats his wife and kids in the same manner. I stay in cape town and I stay near plumstead, so this guy better be watching over his shoulder every day as of today.

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