Don’t Take It Out On The Roads

Published: The Hindu Business Line, November 07, 2003
By Pradeep S Mehta & Nitya Nanda

JAIPUR’S image of a city of non-belligerent road-users was dented recently. A minor mishap involving the cars of a bureaucrat and an MLA ended up in a major brawl.

This shows that road rage can grip anyone, even the educated and elite, that is, when road rage takes over, people tend to forget their dignity and status and stoop down to appalling levels.

According to the Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE), Indian roads are witness to over 230 deaths and around 3,500 serious injuries every day, implying an estimated annual social loss of Rs 55,000 crore. More appalling is the fact that a major case for this is neither bad roads nor negligent drivers, but the recently recognised phenomenon of road rage.

The uppermost question, therefore, is: Is it enough to observe traffic rules and be a careful driver, or must one yield to aggressive road-users?

Generally, aggression on the road overcomes a driver without warning and tends to destabilise so completely that it makes him/her irrational and impulsive. Drivers might end up doing things they normally would not — such as chasing, abusing, hurting and, at times, even killing. Not surprising, then, that it is referred to as the `mad driver’ disease, which is spreading fast on Indian roads.

It has been rightly pointed out that when people lack the cardinal three Cs — care, courtesy and consideration — while on road, they become potential aggressors as well as possible victims of road rage.

What is the cause of this terrible over-powering feeling of anger while driving? There are a number triggers, but the most obvious ones are high stress levels and suppressed anger.

Stress causes tempers to fly at the slightest provocation and, consequently, normal people behave abnormally. Dr Pradeep Aggarwal, a practising psychiatrist in New Delhi, sees road rage as an extension of urban lifestyle.

When people are unable to cope with the pressures of day-to-day life, they end up expending their frustrations while driving without realising how dangerous this can be.

These high stress levels and anger may lead to petty issues being blown out of proportion.

For instance, in Delhi, a policeman was beaten up by a cyclist for restraining him from crossing the path of a VIP motorcade, and, in another incident, two men were beaten up and shot at by a driver who was chastised by them.

Road-users, in general, lack traffic sense and courtesy. Wanton disregard of traffic rules — jumping signals, taking wrong turns, and so on — has become the norm rather than the exception. Also, as people find themselves in a hurry to reach their destinations, they indulge in mindless driving.

But the conditions — bad roads, pollution and the increasing number of vehicles, including two-wheelers and cyclists — are also to blame for the growing intolerance and impatience. In this context, the following excerpt from a UK newspaper brings out the scene on Indian roads rather well: “Travelling in India is an almost hallucinatory potion of sound, spectacle and experience. It is frequently heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, mostly exhilarating, always unforgettable, and when you’re on the roads, extremely dangerous.”

Apart from the need to reach the destination on time, it is competition between drivers that results in speeding.

Drivers, especially of autos and private buses, overtake recklessly just for the kick of it. Nearly everyday one hears of road-users being injured or even killed by reckless driving.

Drunken driving is another manifestation of road rage. Alcohol impairs a driver’s sense of judgment and also causes him/her them to behave rashly, thus endangering traffic safety. Recently, Delhi saw drunken occupants of a car beat up two cops who were trying to mediate between them and a Blue Line bus driver. Drunken driving is responsible for 60-65 per cent of the accidents.

Using mobile phones is a potential cause for road rage. If the conversation over the cell turns out to be unfavourable for the driver, it could affect the equanimity of the driver.

Curbing road rage is an inherent aspect of road safety. Apart from the financial and social losses, it is the harbinger of misery, suffering and grief, which cannot be compensated with money. Though the monster of road rage has reared its ugly head only recently in India, we must accept it and work towards harnessing it fast to ensure the safety of our road-users.

Copyright © pradeepsmehta. All rights reserved.