Are you a Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde driver?

Brian Farrell

Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority has some advice when dealing with aggressive driving

Our own research tells us that while many people say they have experienced aggressive driving, few admit that they themselves are aggressive to others

The road can be a terribly unforgiving place. If you make a bad decision, at best it’s a wake-up call to pay attention and concentrate on the road. At worst, it could end with catastrophic consequences.
People can be very unforgiving of others too if they make a mistake on the road. Is it because of the busy, deadline-driven stressed-out lives we live? What makes us so intolerant of other road users? And what makes normally mild-mannered people turn from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde when they get behind the wheel of a car?
Sadly it seems that when we get behind the wheel of a car we tend to be less tolerant of others and more aggressive than we like to admit.
I’m not talking about road rage, which involves physical confrontation; thankfully such incidents are very rare. I mean aggressive driving, which is more commonplace than we think on our roads.
‘Aggressive behaviour’ means rude gestures, tailgating, flashing of lights, cutting drivers off when changing lane etc.
It tends to be carried out by drivers who are often impatient and angry with other road users. It’s also a feature of competitive personalities.
A victim can also become the culprit, when a driver retaliates or punishes a bad driver by, for example, braking harshly to punish a tailgater. Of course, all it takes is one of these incidents to flare into something more serious for it to end in tragic circumstances.
Our own research tells us that while many people say they have experienced aggressive driving, few admit that they themselves are aggressive to others. A survey we carried out a few years ago on aggressive driving found that two in every five drivers said they were the victims of aggression on the road. When asked if they ever directed aggressive behaviour towards other road users, only one in five admitted to ever having done so.
Women were most likely to have reported being the victims of such behaviour. Interestingly, younger drivers were more likely than average to admit that they were aggressive towards other road users, with almost a third of drivers aged 17-24 and drivers aged 25-34 admitting to aggression.
The highest level of aggressive driving was experienced in Dublin (43pc), not surprising when you consider the traffic volumes in the capital.
Research suggests that in traffic settings, drivers typically have two main goals: to arrive at their destination on time, and to arrive safely. When these goals are blocked due to circumstance or other people (e.g. congestion, or the dangerous driving of others), frustration and anger can occur. This, in turn, can lead to aggressive behaviour towards other road users. Aggressive behaviour is also particularly likely to occur in a driving context because of the anonymity provided by being inside a car.
Research also suggests that drivers are more likely to drive aggressively in relation to perceived lower status, and particularly learner drivers. A simulator study conducted in 2014 demonstrated that drivers were more likely to experience anger, and exhibit aggressive behaviour (in this case, tailgating) when their driving was impeded by a car with a learner sign, than when it was impeded by an identical vehicle without the learner sign. This is concerning as, of all drivers, learners need extra time, space and patience to safely complete their driving manoeuvres, due to their inexperience.
We can reduce aggression on the roads if we all drive with more care and consideration. We also need to allow for the fact that people do make mistakes. But it’s not up to you to punish them.
A good way to reduce the stress of driving, especially during the rush-hour commute, is to give yourself extra time to get to work or home. Don’t impose a time goal to reach your destination.
If you do encounter an aggressive or intolerant driver, first and foremost, avoid a confrontation and do not retaliate. Even if you’re in the right, get out of the other driver’s way. Don’t respond to any challenge or gesture. Pull in, especially if it means putting as much distance as possible between you and the other driver. Keep your emotions in check and your eyes and mind on the road.
Never be tempted to take the law into your own hands. Instead, report the aggressive driving incident to the GardaĆ­ through the Garda Traffic Watch number, 1890 205 805. If you have dash camera footage of the incident, let the gardai know this when you are reporting it.

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