Our car is heading into the city when a woman dashes across the intersection while the pedestrian light is red. The driver directly behind us leans on his horn. “That wasn’t a honk to say ‘I’m here,’” says former police driving instructor Richard Gladman. “That was a rebuke.”
A driver’s impulse to honk at an errant pedestrian is to assert they are ‘right’, explains Gladman. It is an example of the type of low-level frustration that can – and does – escalate into full-blown road rage. And it’s happening every day on our overburdened roads and highways.
Road rage is increasingly common, with more than 70 per cent of drivers in Australia and 20 per cent in New Zealand having experienced road rage in the past year. According to a survey by the NRMA (National Roads and Motorists’ Association), almost one in five drivers admitted to committing road rage, and 22 per cent of these incidents happened with children under the age of 15 in the car.
The most common form of abuse for the ‘average person’? Leaning on the horn came in top at 75 per cent, followed by abusive ‘hand gestures’ at 44 per cent and mouthing abuse at 31 per cent. Disturbingly, after being a victim of road rage, more than 40 per cent of respondents reported losing confidence while driving.
Last November, New Zealand AA asked its members to rank the most annoying behaviour on the roads – and running a red light topped the list. Other road-rage-inducing behaviour included drivers in the slow lane speeding up at the overtaking lane, tailgating, driving while using phones, not indicating, driving slowly and lane weaving. But our list of irritations didn’t just appear in recent years.
Driver anger has a long history. British magazine The Oldie unearthed a case of ‘carriage rage’ dating back to 1817. It was an early indication that we humans can have trouble handling frustrations on our way from point A to point B. But the current term was coined in the late 1980s when news anchors in the US reported a grisly spate of freeway shootings.
Today, with an ever-increasing number of cars on the road, more and more motorists find themselves trapped in traffic and at the mercy of another’s anger – or their own.