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Confessions Of A Bad Driver 27

Road Rage

Road Rage photo by Irish Typepad

I grew up in a car-dependent town, in a car-crazed family, within a car-addicted culture. It’s no wonder that I first learned to drive at 12-years-old and had already owned 2 cars before I turned 16 years old (the legal age to drive).

As such, I often drove faster and more dangerously than I should have. I would often get enraged at other drivers or angry at traffic congestion.

I wasn’t willing to accept any blame for the traffic congestion and I wasn’t willing to employ self introspection to realize that the things that other drivers did that made me angry were probably things I do as well.

This is how our society conditions us. The media confirms our preconceptions by blaming someone other than ourselves. Our grievances are reinforced over and over again, and there is always a villain, but it’s never us.

Traffic congestion is always somebody else’s fault: It’s the construction, the traffic signals, streetcars, cyclists or the bike lanes that create traffic congestion. We aren’t conditioned to accept blame ourselves even though it’s me sitting all by myself in a car causing congestion while driving on a road that allows me to drive on it as often as I want at no cost.

One day in 2005 I was late for a wedding and I was enraged at the traffic congestion surrounding me. A friend was in the car with me and she told me that there was no point in getting worked up about it. Getting angry isn’t going to cause the traffic to disappear. “You might as well just stay calm and enjoy the ride. We’re going to be late either way, so you might as well be in a good mood than angry.”

That always stuck with me. My perspective had already been evolving after moving to Toronto in 2002 and using a bicycle to get around the city, but my views on road rage changed after this brief conversation.

Duncan from the BikingToronto blog “Duncan’s City Ride” had his epiphany in 2009. Duncan explains it in a post entitled “Changing My Point of View” which was posted in March 2011:

I’ve recently realized that I was a bad driver.

I remember sitting in my car in traffic, judging and hating everyone around me, “You call that a signal, idiot?!” “Get off my ass jerk or I’ll just tap my brakes a little harder and see how you like the taste of my bumper.”

Yet, the minute I arrived at my destination and stepped out of my car all my rage was lost. I couldn’t talk in that tone, in those words to my co-workers, I couldn’t treat the cashier at the grocery store with the same disdain.

And for some bizarre reason this all felt perfectly normal. Outside the glass and steel of my car everyone was out to annoy me or run me into a wall. But once I stepped out of my car I couldn’t blame anonymous others.

But now, after a few car-free years and experiencing a lot of road travel on a much smaller vehicle, I have finally realized that the problem was me.

In the one fender bender I was involved in it was everyone else’s fault but my own. The other driver braked too hard, the road was icy, the light was still yellow. Now I realize that I was traveling too fast for the conditions, that I was following too close and that I had no right to proceed through a yellow light without slowing down.

But it has taken me a very long time to come to this realization. It has taken a combination of no longer driving cars and reading about the way we behave in cars to come to the conclusion that I was a bad driver. But I was actively looking for reasons why my car made me miserable. It wasn’t just the price of gas and constant maintenance costs. It wasn’t just the insurance charges I felt too were too high, after all I thought I was a good driver. There was an underlying issue here and thankfully more and more people are studying why our cars can change perfectly decent people into rage-aholics.

Read the full article on Duncan’s City Ride

For Duncan, riding a bicycle was the primary trigger for his coming to the realization that he acted unreasonably behind the wheel of his car.

Those of us who ride bicycles on the streets every day see that anger and unreasonableness that permeates our culture. Drivers are constantly angry, and the media cashes in on drivers’ grievances by reinforcing the belief that drivers have been hard done by which perpetuates road rage even more.

Duncan also points out that the anonymity of hiding behind the glass and steel causes drivers to say and do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do in a normal civilized society.

Tom Vanderbilt explains it as the “online disinhibition effect”:

“Then there’s the anonymity in traffic – there’s no one to spread rumors or gossip about you about how bad your behavior was — not to mention the lack of consequences for acting like an idiot. It’s all strikingly similar to the way we act on the internet, in what’s called the “online disinhibition effect.””

I read an apt analogy about road rage a while back, but I can’t figure out where I read it. I have a feeling it was penned by Jeff Mapes in his 2009 book “Pedaling Revolution”, but I can’t seem to find it in there. Nonetheless, it went something like this:

When a driver gets angry at a cyclist for “slowing him down” and yells profanities and/or passes dangerously close just to make a point, it’s like someone standing in the checkout line at a grocery store and screaming profanities at a little old lady because she is taking too long to retrieve the money from her purse to pay for her groceries.

In other words, we do things behind the wheels of our cars that would be socially unacceptable anywhere outside of a car.

It’s about time we acknowledge this as a societal issue, accept some blame, and start to view this behaviour as unacceptable behind the steel and glass.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

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  • Dragan Jovanović

    I think the point isn’t in whether you will shout out what you think. The point is what do you think in that moment. And if you’re just politically correct enough to not shout at that stupid sluggish old lady, that “correctness” doesn’t make any important difference, and you’re still an asshole.

    I don’t agree with one more point you made.
    I lived and pedaled in Belgrade city which is full of road rage for 10 years, and there I started hating motorists. There I also got used to scream and shout on them. Now I live in small town where motorists are relatively well-behaved (that’s why I moved in fact :) ), and it happens very rarely that someone rages at me. But still I find myself relatively frequently yelling at them (even if they are outside the car (standing on the road and opening car door for example)), though I am not behind a glass wall.

    • Jackcoming

      Actually, the point is in whether you shout out what you think. The “correctness” is the only important difference between an asshole and not. I think it’s what you do, not so much what you think. But, that is only what I think, so….

  • Dragan Jovanović

    I think the point isn’t in whether you will shout out what you think. The point is what do you think in that moment. And if you’re just politically correct enough to not shout at that stupid sluggish old lady, that “correctness” doesn’t make any important difference, and you’re still an asshole.

    I don’t agree with one more point you made.
    I lived and pedaled in Belgrade city which is full of road rage for 10 years, and there I started hating motorists. There I also got used to scream and shout on them. Now I live in small town where motorists are relatively well-behaved (that’s why I moved in fact :) ), and it happens very rarely that someone rages at me. But still I find myself relatively frequently yelling at them (even if they are outside the car (standing on the road and opening car door for example)), though I am not behind a glass wall.

  • Alicia

    Great post! Thank you.

  • Alicia

    Great post! Thank you.

  • Archergal

    Back in the 80′s, I was relatively new to driving on big freeways in heavy traffic. I used to get very frustrated at all the stop-and-go. For a while, I’d pound on my steering wheel to vent my rage & frustration, until it occurred to me that I might actually damage my steering.

    So I turned to pounding on my dashboard. That worked fine until… I cracked the dashboard. I was driving a 1974 Pontiac Ventura — no airbags, and the plastic of the dash had probably been made a bit brittle by the sun. But still…

    That was a wake-up call for me. I had to live with that stupid dashboard the rest of the time I had the car. It was a reminder to me that getting that mad is Just. Not. Worth. It.

    I still have a bit of a bad temper, but I try to rein it in these days.

  • Archergal

    Back in the 80′s, I was relatively new to driving on big freeways in heavy traffic. I used to get very frustrated at all the stop-and-go. For a while, I’d pound on my steering wheel to vent my rage & frustration, until it occurred to me that I might actually damage my steering.

    So I turned to pounding on my dashboard. That worked fine until… I cracked the dashboard. I was driving a 1974 Pontiac Ventura — no airbags, and the plastic of the dash had probably been made a bit brittle by the sun. But still…

    That was a wake-up call for me. I had to live with that stupid dashboard the rest of the time I had the car. It was a reminder to me that getting that mad is Just. Not. Worth. It.

    I still have a bit of a bad temper, but I try to rein it in these days.

  • Tallycyclist

    I use to get very frustrated whenever I drove anywhere for the very same reasons you explained in this article. It’s amazing how self-entitled people can get when protected in a steel shell. Now, I have never vented my anger on other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. At worst I’d yell to myself if I were alone in a car; the presence of passengers quells my frustration significantly.

    Now I very occasionally drive and bike everyday for all my trips. The kind of frustration I get these days on either vehicle is the realization of how unlivable and people-unfriendly our cities and roads have become. At best you get congestion with driving. As cyclists and pedestrians you’re viewed as a burden by many drivers and are subjected to disrespect and harassment and ridiculous waiting times just to cross one little street. As if it wasn’t already bad enough having to share roads with drivers who don’t want me on it, I get a red wave with the 7 traffic lights I pass going to work everyday; only 6 will be red if I’m lucky. None (or most) of this would be unnecessary if every street weren’t designed for cars and only cars. We like to claim in the US that we’re the land of the free, but I guess that excludes mobility when not in cars.

  • Tallycyclist

    I use to get very frustrated whenever I drove anywhere for the very same reasons you explained in this article. It’s amazing how self-entitled people can get when protected in a steel shell. Now, I have never vented my anger on other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. At worst I’d yell to myself if I were alone in a car; the presence of passengers quells my frustration significantly.

    Now I very occasionally drive and bike everyday for all my trips. The kind of frustration I get these days on either vehicle is the realization of how unlivable and people-unfriendly our cities and roads have become. At best you get congestion with driving. As cyclists and pedestrians you’re viewed as a burden by many drivers and are subjected to disrespect and harassment and ridiculous waiting times just to cross one little street. As if it wasn’t already bad enough having to share roads with drivers who don’t want me on it, I get a red wave with the 7 traffic lights I pass going to work everyday; only 6 will be red if I’m lucky. None (or most) of this would be unnecessary if every street weren’t designed for cars and only cars. We like to claim in the US that we’re the land of the free, but I guess that excludes mobility when not in cars.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    Regarding your little old lady at the grocery example, that might have been in Robert Hurst’s Manifesto book. He discusses road rage quite a bit there.

  • http://www.cyclelicio.us/ Cyclelicious

    Regarding your little old lady at the grocery

  • Keith

    So very true. Quite an astute observation. It’s time that people take responsibility for there actions. I think there is a further “disinhibition effect” or maybe a cognitive dissonance caused by the fact that the forces behind driving mass, speed, etc are effectively incomprehensible. Much in the same a human mind interprets information as random when it becomes sufficiently complex (and it’s not very complex at all see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life) concept such as speed and mass are incomprehensible when they exceed what millions of years of human locomotion have equipped us to deal with. Here is an interesting article about objective and perceived motion. http://www.purveslab.net/research/explanation/motion/motion.html

  • Keith

    So very true. Quite an astute observation. It’s time that people take responsibility for there actions. I think there is a further “disinhibition effect” or maybe a cognitive dissonance caused by the fact that the forces behind driving mass, speed, etc are effectively incomprehensible. Much in the same a human mind interprets information as random when it becomes sufficiently complex (and it’s not very complex at all see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life) concept such as speed and mass are incomprehensible when they exceed what millions of years of human locomotion have equipped us to deal with. Here is an interesting article about objective and perceived motion. http://www.purveslab.net/research/explanation/motion/motion.html

  • Tkeen

    Road rage is not difficult to understand – people in cars don’t want to be there, and are frequently in a hurry to get where they want to go, and are being delayed and possibly made late. Traffic congestion has got a lot worse quite recently here in Toronto and travel times across town have more than doubled over past 15y or so, to my experience.

    People tend assume that driving is the fastest way to get to where they want to go, when it may not be so. One NYC website had a video where three people raced from a starting spot in Queens to a finish in midtown Manhattan… one in a car, one on a bike, and one by transit. The cyclist finished first, and I believe the motorist came second. How would such a race go to downtown Toronto?

  • Tkeen

    Road rage is not difficult to understand – people in cars don’t want to be there, and are frequently in a hurry to get where they want to go, and are being delayed and possibly made late. Traffic congestion has got a lot worse quite recently here in Toronto and travel times across town have more than doubled over past 15y or so, to my experience.

    People tend assume that driving is the fastest way to get to where they want to go, when it may not be so. One NYC website had a video where three people raced from a starting spot in Queens to a finish in midtown Manhattan… one in a car, one on a bike, and one by transit. The cyclist finished first, and I believe the motorist came second. How would such a race go to downtown Toronto?

  • Simon E

    Tkeen, re. the assumption the driving is quickest, UK motoring TV programme Top Gear ran a ‘race’ across London. The presenters used a powerboat (along the Thames), a bicycle, a car and the London Underground tube system. The cyclist won, the boat was second and I believe the driver was last.

    I often think I would suggest to abusive drivers and those who cut you up while overtaking that they swap places. I’ll drive the large van at them while they quiver and dive for the gutter. I feel that it is a lack of willingness to empathise, along with the frustration and relative anonymity, that prompts this behaviour. Most of these people would not behave that way if their mother was beside them.

    • Tkeen

      Thanks Simon – found that segment on Google at http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/london-calling
      It’s no surprise the car came last on London’s overcrowded, medieval streets. As for the boat, well, the guy in the video used a racing boat on the calm, slow-moving Thames. You’re not going to do nearly as well with your basic inboard/outboard, especially on our choppy lake.(I’m still wondering how these races would fare in Toronto)

  • Simon E

    Tkeen, re. the assumption the driving is quickest, UK motoring TV programme Top Gear ran a ‘race’ across London. The presenters used a powerboat (along the Thames), a bicycle, a car and the London Underground tube system. The cyclist won, the boat was second and I believe the driver was last.

    I often think I would suggest to abusive drivers and those who cut you up while overtaking that they swap places. I’ll drive the large van at them while they quiver and dive for the gutter. I feel that it is a lack of willingness to empathise, along with the frustration and relative anonymity, that prompts this behaviour. Most of these people would not behave that way if their mother was beside them.

  • Tkeen

    Thanks Simon – found that segment on Google at http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/london-calling
    It’s no surprise the car came last on London’s overcrowded, medieval streets. As for the boat, well, the guy in the video used a racing boat on the calm, slow-moving Thames. You’re not going to do nearly as well with your basic inboard/outboard, especially on our choppy lake.(I’m still wondering how these races would fare in Toronto)

  • Karen

    Road rage is very familiar to me but many years ago I started using public transit to save money and realized how much I enjoyed my commute when on the bus. Actually, I enjoyed the experience of walk to my stop, dropping in the coffee shop for a cup to go and waiting at the stop. I got a lot of reading and “me” time in. Now I most bike to where I need to go and drive when the weather condition warrent. Biking and busing have help me realize the importance of slowing down. Rushing around is unhealthy and a waste of energy. Short of a job interview, nowhere I have to be is really that important.

  • Karen

    Road rage is very familiar to me but many years ago I started using public transit to save money and realized how much I enjoyed my commute when on the bus. Actually, I enjoyed the experience of walk to my stop, dropping in the coffee shop for a cup to go and waiting at the stop. I got a lot of reading and “me” time in. Now I most bike to where I need to go and drive when the weather condition warrent. Biking and busing have help me realize the importance of slowing down. Rushing around is unhealthy and a waste of energy. Short of a job interview, nowhere I have to be is really that important.

  • TOcyclist

    You are not Stuck in Traffic You are Traffic

  • TOcyclist

    You are not Stuck in Traffic You are Traffic

  • jacob montereal

    Thanks for sharing this, I can relate with it.

    mountain bike trails Philippines
    http://www.nuvali.ph/bikers-ready-nuvali-dirt-weekend-2011

  • jacob montereal

    Thanks for sharing this, I can relate with it.

    mountain bike trails Philippines
    http://www.nuvali.ph/bikers-ready-nuvali-dirt-weekend-2011

  • Jackcoming

    Actually, the point is in whether you shout out what you think. The “correctness” is the only important difference between an asshole and not. I think it’s what you do, not so much what you think. But, that is only what I think, so….

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