Pune: “18-year-old beaten to death, eyes gouged”
Delhi: “Trader’s nose bitten off”
Bangalore: “Goons molest woman, thrash her friend”
What do these horrifying news stories have in common? They are all instances of a growing epidemic known as road rage.
What is road rage and why does it exist?
Simply put, road rage is the act of a motorist behaving aggressively towards another motorist, onlooker, or pedestrian. The aggression can be verbal or physical, and going by the current trend, can cause extreme physical harm, even death.
Road rage is not a new occurrence. The term was first coined in the United States, in a Los Angeles news broadcast on a series of freeway shootings from 1987-1988. Commonly attributed to stress, it is pretty obvious that this is exactly why it is on the rise. Add to that our busy lifestyles, heavy traffic, poor roads, and a blatant disregard for traffic rules – and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t exist. Why, even the nicest people become quite mean behind the wheel.
Contrary to popular opinion, road rage doesn’t manifest itself only when one party makes a huge mistake while driving or walking on the road.
In fact, there are many cases wherein the aggressive person is the one who has committed a blunder, and oddly enough, blames the other person(s) for it. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out who’s the victim and who’s the perpetrator. In any case, violence is never the answer. Mumbai based biker Rommel Albuquerque shares one such harrowing incident with a truck driver on the highway from Mumbai to Pune. He narrates, “He didn’t look left or right and suddenly from the left lane he came into my line – the fast lane. We were both going at a speed of 80-100 kmph. I had to jam my brakes suddenly, and almost skid and flew off the bike as he came towards me. By God’s grace, nothing happened to me. But then I was so pissed off, I pulled up alongside him and we got into an argument.
Instead of accepting that it was his fault, he started blaming me and said that I should have seen him. I persisted and told him that he was in the wrong and he should see where he is going. Tempers were flying high and soon we got into a physical fight which onlookers had to break up. I ended up with a badly sprained finger. In spite of the entire incident, I don’t know if he learned anything from it. However, I learned that getting into a physical altercation with anyone is not worth it. At most, you can talk to the person, explain where they went wrong, and ask them not to do it again. You need to keep your cool because, at the end of the day, you alone have to deal with the consequences.”
Let’s get real: most of us break traffic rules and road rage is unavoidable. Even the most careful and polite driver will encounter it at some point in their lives. So how can you protect yourself from it?
Although it cannot be eliminated, road rage can definitely be contained. First of all, avoid being the perpetrator. As we all learned while preparing for our driving exam, drive at a reasonable speed, keep enough distance between you and other vehicles, and avoid bending or breaking basic traffic rules. Jumping the red light, overtaking from the left, not wearing safety gear, honking incessantly, etc. – these are definite no no’s, even if everyone around you is doing it.
Rommel recommends investing in premium safety gear – helmet, riding jacket, gloves, and riding boots.
Available in biking stores, he admits that although they are quite pricey, they will protect you in the most gruesome accidents. Honestly, wearing cheap safety gear is hardly better than none at all. Be prepared for mishaps by following the biker protocol a la Rommel: “I ride in the city everyday, from Bandra to Nariman Point. What me and a few other guys do is we gear up before we leave the house. We always wear a helmet, a riding jacket, and gloves. In case we get into an accident, we are not injured that bad because the jacket and gloves have armor, and the helmet protects our skull.”
If you do end up a victim of road rage, here’s what you should do
The first thing you must do is ensure that the situation doesn’t escalate. If someone is screaming their head off at you, do not join them – even if they are at fault. As hard as it is to do when you are seething with anger, take deep breaths and speak calmly. If you are in the wrong and they decide to point it out using colorful language, do not stoop to their level. Apologize for your gaffe or point out their mistake civilly (whichever is applicable) and drive away. Some people love to argue and provoke, and the best thing you can do for your safety and sanity is to not engage. Whatever you do, do not retaliate in kind. For example, if someone cuts you off, don’t try to cut them off to “teach them a lesson”. You never know what action or words could trigger violence.
In case there is some serious damage to your vehicle, don’t forget to exchange insurance information.
If the offender refuses to cooperate, Rommel recommends taking a quick photo of their license plate number and filing a police complaint. The insurance company will take care of the rest. He says, “Normally if you get into an accident, the first thing you are supposed to do is click pictures of the damage – your vehicle and the other person’s vehicle as well. Get their driving license number or vehicle number as evidence, otherwise, insurance won’t pay for the damage.” If somebody is hurt, depending on the nature of their injury, give basic first aid or rush them to the nearest hospital. Arguing with or driving away from an injured human is not only inhumane, but it is also a crime that can stir up some serious legal trouble. With the omnipresence of smartphones, someone is sure to record your actions.
The road doesn’t belong to anybody and everyone makes mistakes. If all of us prevent anger and ego from taking control of our senses, even the worst mistakes will not result in abusive language and bodily harm. Ultimately, we all want to reach our destination safely, right? Keep that in mind every time you hit the road.