Incidents of road rage are on the rise and with the mental health of South Africans ranking among the worst in the world, this could spell carnage on the roads says Dialdirect Insurance.
With reports of road rage incidents in Durban, Ackerville, Fontainebleau and Roerfontein added to numerous other cases in recent months, South African motorists are at risk of following a trend recently identified in the US, where Healthline reports that incidents of people getting injured or wounded due to road rage have nearly doubled, and that pandemic stress may be partially to blame, the financial services firm said.
This is dangerous fuel to an already volatile fire: Sapien Labs’ 2021 Mental State of the World report found that, across 34 countries, South Africa is at the bottom of the mental health chart, with 8% more South Africans saying that they are “distressed or struggling” than in 2020, it said.
“This helplessness, frustration and anger often spill over onto our roads. Drivers, passengers, pedestrians and even innocent bystanders can suffer substantial damage to property, be seriously hurt or even killed if the road rage isn’t defused in time,” said Anneli Retief, head of Dialdirect.
“It’s absolutely crucial to know when your ‘irritation’ or ‘impatience’ crosses a certain threshold, and to draw a very definite line when this impacts your life negatively or becomes an emotional and/or physical danger to others.”
The most common contributing factors to road rage, according to Karen van Zyl, certified anger and stress consultant from The Anger & Stress Management Centre include:
- Stress and anxiety: A person who is already dealing with stressors, like a busy schedule, financial worries or emotional problems, feels like someone else is pushing them over the edge. They revert to their self-protection brain system with a fight or flight response – an adrenaline-driven response that often leads to irrational behaviour.
- Goal blocking: The driver feels that another driver is standing in the way of what they want to do or where they want to go.
- Personal expectations: The driver wants other drivers to live up to their “ideal world” expectations and behave like they believe they would, e.g. “I always give someone a gap to join my lane, but the other driver isn’t letting me in, and I feel outraged.”
- Anonymity: Other drivers are usually unknown strangers. Drivers may also feel powerful and anonymous in the protective shell of their vehicle, so they behave more aggressively without thinking of the consequences of their behaviour.
Dialdirect and The Anger & Stress Management Centre provide the following tips to curb road rage:
- Prepare: Prepare yourself mentally for your commute, expect that at some point you may feel frustrated or triggered. Plan your trip carefully, use your GPS to find the best route and rather leave a bit earlier if possible.
- Soothing environment: Being comfortable, listening to some of your favourite music, proactively focusing on your breathing and even calming self-talk could help you to relax.
- Watch your thoughts and challenge them: Remember that the other driver did not wake up and plan to get on the road to frustrate you. Also remember that they may be distracted, anxious or stressed too and that drivers all make mistakes at some point.
- Abide by the rules: Speeding, not keeping your following distance, dangerous overtaking, cutting in, not stopping and other transgressions aren’t only dangerous in their own right, but often set the stage for conflict.
- Watch that hooter: A quick hoot to prompt, remind or warn another driver will often do the trick, whereas a long blast may escalate the situation.
- You are not the law: You cannot change another’s behaviour and you are not an authority who can punish bad driving. Trying to “teach someone a lesson” is more likely to get you in trouble as well, so try to remain calm and rational. If you feel that another driver is a threat to other road users, rather report them to authorities.
- Apologise, or accept an apology, and move on: Unfortunately, we tend to blame other drivers first, even if we are at fault. If you made a mistake, apologise immediately, as this is the quickest way of deescalating a situation. Also acknowledge and accept another driver’s apology. A hand raised to say “I’m sorry” or hazard lights blinked once or twice to apologise should be enough.
- Active destressing: Stress management through good sleep, frequent exercise, healthy eating, relaxation and lower alcohol consumption all contribute to reducing stress and irritability.
- When confronted by a raging individual: Don’t make eye contact and remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible. If an aggressive person chases after you, head for the nearest garage, shopping mall or another place of safety and call for help.
- If someone you know suffers from road rage: Say to them – ideally when they are calm – that you are concerned about them and encourage them to learn some techniques to handle tricky situations, it may make their time in the car more pleasant and safer.
“If you see the road as a good place to settle life’s scores, it could cost you anything from a couple of thousand rand to a prison sentence”, Retief said.