The science of road rage: Why rage behind the wheel?

Road rage incident along KL-Seremban Highway last month leaves one dead with police probing case for murder.

In a recent and horrifying incident that has been widely discussed on social media, what should have been a harmless traffic accident turned ugly and tragic when a man was killed in an instance of road rage.

Rather disturbingly enough, this is not the first time violence has broken out as a result of traffic trouble, and it will most certainly not be the last.

Whoever you believe is more at fault for the aforementioned incident, it is alarming to note that mild-mannered, law-abiding citizens can be driven to enraged lunacy as soon as someone cuts into their lane without signalling.

While it is natural to be angry, it is certainly not worth putting your life or the life of others at risk by venting your rage through dangerous means.

But what is it that causes Malaysians to go berserk as soon as their feet touch the gas pedal?

Traffic nightmares

If there’s anything Malaysians can agree on, it’s the daily commute to and from work that is an accursed part of life.

For the millions in urban areas, it’s a necessity to leave home early in a desperate bid to beat rush hour traffic, even if it still ends in being rooted to the spot along congested roads anyway.

With anger rising, all it takes sometimes to completely lose your cool is an inconsiderate driver doing something foolish on the road.

Unfortunately, Malaysia has an unending supply of imbecilic road users, leaving it difficult not to fly into a rage every now and then.

Almost everyone has at least honked in anger, shot death glares and flipped the finger at some point, or been on the receiving end of these displays of anger.

Man smashes pregnant woman’s car after a crash that happened last year in Penang.

Why the rage?

Here’s an interesting comparison to make: Look at the lines that snake out of the doors of government departments.

Like drivers stuck in traffic, people waiting in line are usually restless and stressed; but unlike drivers, they’re less likely to lose their cool only because they can see that the people queueing are just that – people who are as bored as they are.

On the road however, drivers are less likely to humanise their fellow road users, and are in fact, more likely to see them as competitors of sorts.

In addition, the aggression one displays on the road may in reality be a result of stress at work or at home.

However, this is a “chicken or egg came first” situation as those who engage in acts of road rage are also quite likely to lash out in anger at home or at the workplace due to the stress experienced on the roads.

Studies have shown that angry drivers are proud and narcissistic; unwilling to share the road with others and feel threatened whenever they think their “control” of the road is being challenged.

Road rage is normally a sign of an inflated ego or a lack of emotional intelligence as the road rager loses all sense of rationality and gives in to his more aggressive tendencies.

Defending against the enraged

If you happen to be the frequent target of road rage, perhaps there’s something wrong in the way you drive and you ought to remedy it. However, it is also equally possible that the road rager is reacting disproportionately to a perceived misdemeanour of yours.

So, what can be done if you happen to be chased by a nutcase flipping the finger, flashing his headlights or honking incessantly?

Well, the most important thing is not to make eye contact with the aggressor. Doing so might further aggravate matters as the road rager might take it as a sign of defiance and intensify his efforts.

Don’t even think of returning their rude gestures.

If you’re familiar with the area, take evasive action by turning off at the next exit if you’re on the highway or by losing them at traffic lights if in a town or city.

If you belief they intend to physically harm you, shoot off to the nearest police station, which should be enough to scare them away, and lodge a report.

It is also helpful to have a dashboard camera in your car for video evidence in the event something untoward does happen.

But doctor, I am the enraged

Are you the one with anger issues? It is not too late to change your ways.

Learn basic breathing techniques, and practise these whenever you spot an idiot on the road.

Tune-out the antics of other road users with a song you like; rage-out by singing along and aloud.

Remind yourself that it is not worth expending your energy on those who do not deserve your attention.

All that matters is getting home safely, not teaching someone a lesson, no matter how much you think they deserve it.

Think about those you care about.

They are all that matter.