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Sympathizing Road Rage 17

RoadRage

Photo courtesy of Spanish Flea 

Friday’s extreme road rage incident in Brazil where a motorist plowed through dozens of bicyclists has revealed something about our society. Something that we already knew, but seems to be hitting epic levels. Motorists are angry. They are frustrated with being stuck in traffic while reminiscing on the “old days” when you could always get to your destination in a consistent and reasonable time.

Those days are gone in many cities across North America where populations are ever-increasing and are comprised of a limited amount of road space. Drivers spend more time in their car than ever, and their frustration and anger has not gone unnoticed.

But getting angry at a person on a bicycle is counterproductive for motorists. The last thing a motorist should want is to intimidate a bicyclist and force them off their bicycle and into an automobile. The more people on bicycles, the more space there is for motorists.

This frustration and anger is evident in the comments received on our article on the Brazil incident.

However, most motorists who left comments condemned the actions of Ricardo Neis – who accelerated full speed ahead through a group of more than one hundred people on bicycles. What Neis did is akin to pulling out a gun and indiscriminately shooting people, so it would take a troll or a sociopath to not condemn this attempted mass murder.

Sympathizing with the madman

But many of them nonetheless sympathized with Neis, saying the Critical Mass riders were asking for it by provoking drivers – some of them sharing their own stories of being delayed by Critical Mass.

It seems North Americans have a tendency to sympathize with drivers who use their cars as weapons – perhaps because they are often in a similar situation where they feel like slamming into someone else who did something to make them angry.

It can’t be reasoned however that drivers are specifically targeting bicyclists with their frustration and anger because it seems drivers are angry at other drivers too. And buses, streetcars, taxis, traffic signals, pedestrians, and just about anything else that causes them to lose 10 seconds of their precious day.

Thus, it’s not surprising that drivers become angry when they encounter Critical Mass rides. Being delayed by people who are smiling, singing and having a good time makes some drivers seethe. At least when drivers have to sacrifice 5 minutes of their day to wait for a funeral procession, the funeral procession participants aren’t smiling and waving and having a great time on their way to the cemetery.

When it comes to Critical Mass, drivers seem to despise the “smug hipsters” that “cork” the intersections to clear the way for the Critical Mass participants. They take it personally, presuming that Critical Mass exists only to give a big fat middle finger to motorists.

Critical Mass participants don’t deserve to be run down

But whether you agree with Critical Mass is irrelevant. Nobody deserves to be threatened with death simply because they are participating in an event that happens to hold up a handful of drivers.

And although Critical Mass might not be important to a motorist, it’s really important to a lot of other people. It’s an opportunity for people on bicycles to enjoy exclusive access to the streets we pay for – for just a couple hours once a month.

A good friend here in Toronto sometimes participates in the Critical Mass rides with me. He’s not a “smug hipster”, or an “in-your-face” bike courier. He’s just a 37-year-old father (who coincidentally is from Brazil). He brings with him his wife and his 7-year-old son when he attends the Critical Mass rides.

Sadly, the Critical Mass rides are the only opportunity where it’s safe enough for a 7-year-old child to ride on our streets.

You can only imagine how thrilled his son is on these rides, cruising along downtown streets in between tall buildings without having to worry about being squeezed to the curb by automobiles.

It’s actually quite magical – and very important to my friend and his son.

And if riding on the streets on a normal day in Toronto is dangerous for a 7-year-old, then one can only imagine how dangerous it would be in bike-unfriendly Brazil. Critical Mass is likely one of the few opportunities Brazilians can feel safe on their streets (or so they thought).

Sense of entitlement

All road users seem to have this attitude that their time is more important than anyone else on the streets. This self-centered attitude is what causes our blood to boil anytime we are delayed from getting where we need to go.

When I was younger I used to get angry while driving (road rage is in fact contagious). But about 6 years ago, I was angry that I was late and traffic wasn’t moving. The friend asked me what was the point in getting so angry – there’s nothing you can do about it, so you might as well stay calm and not have your heart rate go through the roof.

It takes a bit of self-discipline, and there are times when I’m tempted to snap on a driver that drives aggressively near me, but staying calm is almost as contagious as road rage. Getting angry all the time will literally take years off your lifespan.

Perhaps we can learn from the Chinese. Road rage is virtually nonexistent there. There seems to be a common understanding that everyone is in the same situation and everyone needs to get where they are going, but no one person thinks they are above the masses (excluding government officials of course). It’s this sense of entitlement that we have here that seems to result in our anger.

And instead of sympathizing with a motorist who tried to murder dozens of bicyclists, perhaps motorists here in North America could sympathize with the people who are showing their young kids a world that they didn’t know existed for just a couple hours at the end of each month.

That would be more productive for everyone, and it might even add a few years to their lifespan.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13299453772790771792 Henry

    I had road rage too, James! Driving in my car sucked, I was always in a rush to get somewhere. One day I realized I could make my ride 100x more enjoyable if I put something I loved in my car – my stereo. $2000 later, I started driving slow. I loved cruizing around in my car. I never rushed. I always took the long way. I know it wasted energy, but hats not the point. I was loving every minute of it I was willing to spend it in my car, alone, driving friends around, or with my girl. I calculated the time spent in my car, it was about 15 hours a week. Over 5 years thats over 3500 hours. I enjoyed all of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05722018090415432366 BikeBike

    Our culture has been sold this “myth of motoring freedom” for the better part of 60 years and this myth has become a deeply ingrained part of the psyche of many people. Every car commercial on TV shows empty roads, no traffic, and beautiful scenery – all of which reinforces the myth of motoring.

    Its a big lie and I think people are starting to realize they’ve been duped but don’t know how to adapt – leading to rage occasionally.

    Just a guess…..

  • http://ironicallyenough.com/ Bryan

    I’m the same way about car audio, and that’s a holdover from my teenage gearhead years. To me that’s really the only advantage of having to use my car, is that it’s an enclosed metal box in which I can practice my singing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15589492356827998591 Ryan

    Very well written James!

    I hear (well read) many comments which have praised this incident. In a weird way I’m glad this hasn’t made mainstream news in Canada (CBC etc.)…yet.
    The comments on a typical “new bike lane” story are disturbing enough, I can only imagine what they’d be for this.

    People really do need to separate CM and this incident.
    What if this happened during the Santa Claus parade? Would people harp on about how “they shouldn’t be there”?

    As for road rage in general? Those “good old days” actually saw little road rage. My Dad grew up in Toronto during the 50′s-70′s and people got along just fine in cars and on bikes.
    I think we need to find out where Canadians (or North Americans) went wrong…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14411108063216855210 Erik Sandblom

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14411108063216855210 Erik Sandblom

    Another explanation for motorist road rage is that you can actually stop a motorist. They are so big and clumsy they can’t go around you, which can be frustrating. A cyclist is much harder to stop (unless you are prepared to injure them). A determined cyclist can swerve to avoid hindrances and even climb a small fence if necessary.

    So cyclists are easier to intimidate but harder to stop. Motorists are harder to intimidate but easy to stop.

  • Anonymous

    In the so-called ‘good old days’ there were much fewer cars on the roads. In the ’50s and ’60s (according to my parents) people let people drive while they’d been drinking and you got laughed at if you wanted seat belts in your car. In my case, a car trip that I could do in half an hour just fifteen or so years ago may take over an hour these days. Maybe I’ve allowed 45 minutes to get from A to B, but it’s been an hour and I’m still not there yet, and I know people at my destination are getting pissed that I’m late. At least these days I can ring them on my cellphone to let them know, but I’d still have to pull over and do that, and I’m in middle of the 427, and it’s spring so there’s construction…AAAHH! Oh, I understand how the drivers feel all too well.

    It’s not out of entitlement. The drivers do NOT want to be there, believe me! But more people have cars than ever before, but there isn’t room for any more roads in Toronto, nor should there be. The automobile is a victim of its own success.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10269615938898501712 She Rides a Bike

    I think the other myth is that we can’t or won’t change our relationship with cars. I’m certainly not anti-car since we own one and use it but I’d like for their to be greater acknowledgement that man people use bikes, their feet and public transit as their primary mode of transport – or would if the option was available to them. I sympathisze with the frustration of being stuck in traffic but think the problem would be less so if so many people were not convinced they had no other choice. I had to be lead to the bike and public transport options and it all began with necessity. I very quickly learned the positive side effect was that I never needed to suffer through my own road rage again.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14798460540823687770 hotarunohikari

    I am disappointed by this post. It reads like a condemnation of empathy (which is what you are describing when you say sympathy). Frankly, we must have empathy. Empathy/sympathy is what allows us to see the world though others eyes and make the connections that work toward peaceful coexistence.
    There is, perhaps, a fine line between empathy/sympathy, and sympathy/support, but there is a line.I get why this guy would be irritated by the CM ride, even if the cyclists were acting saintly. However, I think his reaction is appalling. I also get why cyclists are pissed off by this. However, I think the comments that call for “war on motorists” or “Militarizing the CM ride” are even more appalling.
    Why are they BOTH appalling? There is no peaceful coexistence though violent actions, whether they injure people or property, and cyclists and motorists have to find ways to coexist. Those advocating for either side must do our best to encourage empathy for the other. Learn to understand why they are angry, then you can approach and deal with the sources of that anger.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    @hotarunohikari: My issue is that it is sympathy (or perhaps extreme empathy) that gets drivers off the hook for killing people with their automobiles. Yes, some of the comments on the post were empathetic, but others were sympathetic, and other people actually justified his actions (but this wasn’t the focus of this article of course).

    If he chose to use a gun on those bicyclists, I suspect people would be less sympathetic, but for some reason because he was in a car, some people seem to sympathize with him (others empathize of course), but why do we treat automobiles differently than guns when they are both used to intentionally kill or maim people?

  • http://www.tramscrolls.com.au/ Bus scrolls

    I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information. I’ll definitely add this great post in my article section.

  • Gnarles Bikely

    While I sympathize with those who are held-up by critical mass rides ( Trying to get home after a long friday afternoon, etc), the point that’s being made is that we are traffic too, right? Perhaps if the corkers would block the ‘mass’ ride when the light turns red, allowing cars through the intersection, we’d be showing respect. We aren’t going to win the respect of motorists if we don’t follow their rules, but perhaps they will see the need for bike lanes so we can “all just get along” -and “stay out of their way” at the same time.We say WE ARE TRAFFIC, so lets not all be against it either.

  • anonymous

    Though reasons may be different under different circumstances, I think it’s the ‘culture’ that we, in North America, have had for decades that has facilitated this impatience which ultimately leads to road rage. For one thing, our system is very uptight about things like being on time, working long hours, etc. To behave differently is seen as lazy. We really have forgotten how to relax by and large, and I know many people who have the impression (despite never traveled there) that Europeans are lazy because they have longer breaks, vacations, etc. Add that together with steel boxes that are antisocial (esp. when only single occupancy) and it’s very easy for us to get angry over things which to me are seemingly ludicrous. Subtle things like right-turn-on-red also add to the impatience, which sadly doesn’t even save that much time, if at all.

    I’ve been to Denmark and Bonaire, and the people there are way more laid back and slower-paced than here in the US. They are not in such a hurry to get into the future. I’ve also spent considerable time in Taiwan and encountered absolutely NO road rage whatsoever, EVER. And mind you people there DO NOT follow traffic rules much at all. Stop signs are road decorations only, red lights mean go if no cops in sight and you can squeeze through the intersection, one way streets are 2-way when you feel like taking a shortcut and it’s okay to stop in the middle of a 4-lane thoroughfare and do a reverse maneuver if you missed your location, etc. Many times this means hindering movement of other drivers and yet there was no road rage. The difference in mentality is really quite something. Imagine that kind of driving in the US with our current driving culture. Assuming that collisions can even be avoided, you’d probably see fist fights at every other block.

  • anonymous

    Though reasons may be different under different circumstances, I think it’s the ‘culture’ that we, in North America, have had for decades that has facilitated this impatience which ultimately leads to road rage. For one thing, our system is very uptight about things like being on time, working long hours, etc. To behave differently is seen as lazy. We really have forgotten how to relax by and large, and I know many people who have the impression (despite never traveled there) that Europeans are lazy because they have longer breaks, vacations, etc. Add that together with steel boxes that are antisocial (esp. when only single occupancy) and it’s very easy for us to get angry over things which to me are seemingly ludicrous. Subtle things like right-turn-on-red also add to the impatience, which sadly doesn’t even save that much time, if at all.

    I’ve been to Denmark and Bonaire, and the people there are way more laid back and slower-paced than here in the US. They are not in such a hurry to get into the future. I’ve also spent considerable time in Taiwan and encountered absolutely NO road rage whatsoever, EVER. And mind you people there DO NOT follow traffic rules much at all. Stop signs are road decorations only, red lights mean go if no cops in sight and you can squeeze through the intersection, one way streets are 2-way when you feel like taking a shortcut and it’s okay to stop in the middle of a 4-lane thoroughfare and do a reverse maneuver if you missed your location, etc. Many times this means hindering movement of other drivers and yet there was no road rage. The difference in mentality is really quite something. Imagine that kind of driving in the US with our current driving culture. Assuming that collisions can even be avoided, you’d probably see fist fights at every other block.

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