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