A bad person need not be bad on roads — experts dismiss popular concept on road rage, say it is not a psychiatric phenomenon.
Khaleej Times / Kelly Clarke/Staff Reporter / 6 July 2015: Picture the scenario. You’re driving a car along Shaikh Zayed Road when another driver swerves into your lane, cutting you up. How do you react? If you see red and blow your horn, then it’s likely you’re a rule follower. But for those of you who quietly tut to yourself before quickly forgiving the actions of the other, there’s a good chance you’re the type of person that tends to focus less on rules of life. Road behaviour in the UAE is an all too common conversation here, and it is often a reckless decision that changes an individual’s innate behaviour in a split second. From screeching tires to blowing horns, and foul expletives to tailgating, we have all been guilty of road rage at some point in our lives.
But is road rage a psychiatric phenomenon?
According to Jared Alden, Counsellor at the German Neuroscience Centre in Dubai, the answer is a ‘big NO.’ “I think road rage effects everybody. If you witness and react to bad behaviour on the road, the likelihood is at least 20 other people around you witnessed it too. This isn’t an isolated reaction.” Conventional thinking on road rage indicates that the vast majority of those who deliberately act in an aggressive manner on the roads vent due to the careless driving of others. However, the question has been raised as to whether such behaviour could be the result of an undiagnosed mental disorder or not.
In a 2007 report by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, on the psychology behind road rage, it stated that previous literature had demonstrated “an association between road rage and psychiatric morbidity”. According to Alden, although we are vulnerable to road rage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has a mental disorder. “I don’t think there is a link between the two. People just react in different ways, to different situations.” He said that people with a high sense of right and wrong tend to react more when it comes to bad road behaviour, and often, they personalise the actions of others.
“Rule-based people tend to be shocked when people do something wrong. They need to recognise that these behaviours by other motorists are random, not personal.” As the population continues to increase in Dubai, Alden has witnessed an increase in the number of patients coming to him for stress-related advice — and at least 10 per cent of patients make a reference to their driving behaviour. Along with the population increase comes crowded roads, and with crowded roads comes a higher risk of accidents, he said.
“In any city, traffic congestion increases in centralised areas. But if you look at the London, the average speed in the city is 11mph. In Dubai, the average speed is much higher and this increases the risk of accidents, and therefore speeding incites bad behaviour on the roads.”
Naturally, many people make a habit of pushing his/her feelings to the back of their mind, but this mentality creates a ticking time bomb, proving right the analogy: ‘Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there’. As a result of this emotional gag, a person becomes more susceptible to emotional outbursts when exposed to heightened situations, like unruly attitude from other road users. “People become more vulnerable when they don’t vent their problems. This leads to the increased risk of things ‘blowing up’ in a split second when a situation becomes too much. That’s why many people exude road rage behaviour,” Alden said.
But what used to be a largely male problem has now crossed gender lines. Put both men and women behind the wheel while running late for something, or in no mood for courtesy, and their behaviour remain the same. Women are just as capable as driving as aggressively as men, but Jared believes it is still a male-dominated demeanour. He said this particular demographic is more willing to take risks and though those in their late teens and twenties may be tarred the most with this brush, men in their forties are also as aggressive as the yougsters.
Put out the fire
To deal with this bubbling anger on the roads, Alden says it is important to work on the model of ‘fire fighting,’ and once you feel upset, it is important to keep those feelings under control. People should give themselves enough time in advance to complete a journey so as not to “set yourself up to fail”, and knowing the state of your emotions before getting on the road is key to reducing the risk of road rage.
“Question your stress levels and evaluate your mood. If your emotions are unbalanced due to an argument, or worry of an appointment, then delay the journey or take alternative transport,” he said. So, next time you’re behind the wheel and feel that ticking time bomb getting ready to explode, remember these tips and don’t become another statistic.