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Tips to keep road rage at bay

The uncertainties of the past couple of years have been stressful. We’ve all had to learn how to adapt to being isolated and then how to integrate back into society under changed circumstances. The last few months have been marred by further uncertainties with rising interest rates and an increase in fuel and food prices. This has left many people feeling anxious and close to the end of their tether.

However, taking a cue from the current weather, we need to stay as cool as a cucumber, particularly while navigating our roads. Road rage accounts for a large proportion of murder and assault in South Africa. The South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics for 2021-2022 noted 3 846 murder, 4 232 attempted murder and 64 094 assault with grievous bodily harm cases related to arguments or misunderstandings, road rage, or provocation. This is 16% of the total number of murders, 20% of the attempted murders, and 39% of all cases of assault with grievous bodily harm for the year.

What might begin as a slight altercation could quickly escalate into a situation that changes lives forever. Follow these tips to keep anger, aggressive driving and road rage at bay:

Roadworthy vehicle
Make sure that the car you are travelling in is roadworthy. A car that suddenly cuts out, breaks down or is spewing out smoke is not only hazardous but distracting and annoying for other road users.

Safe driving
Always obey the rules of the road. They are there to keep you and other road users safe. For instance, a solid white line on the road by blind rises or by road crossings and turns, indicates that road conditions are not safe for you to overtake. Reckless driving can annoy others and spark a road rage incident because you are putting their lives in danger.

Practice courteous road use
Be courteous to others on the road. Impatience or aggressive driving could incite anger from fellow drivers, lead to an accident or cause a distraction that opens an opportunity for a criminal to strike. Another person could be in a hurry, having a bad day, or be slowing down in front of you for a reason you can’t immediately see, for example, a small child or dog on the road.

Be aware of how you are driving. Don’t follow other vehicles too closely, pull in front of another car, brake check or copy the bad driving behaviour of others. Rather keep your distance, always use your indicators, allow others in front of you, smile, and say thank you. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it.

Avoid distractions
It’s incredibly irritating when someone in front of you isn’t driving properly because something else is holding their attention. Avoid the distraction of a heated conversation, using your phone, eating, personal grooming or rubbernecking, which could distract you enough that you slow down, lane creep or slam on the brakes. Besides the obvious safety hazards that could arise, these actions could antagonise someone. Focus on your driving so that others don’t get upset with you.

Don’t engage or respond
If you’ve done all the above, yet still seem to have attracted the ire of another road user, don’t retaliate, or try to teach them a lesson. You will make the situation worse if you react, so rather stay calm. If they cut you off, let them in. If they are following too closely and aggressively, let them pass you. If they are trying to get a rise out of you, act oblivious. If they insist on following you, lead them to a police station. You can’t change their attitude; you can only change your own.

If a situation escalates, it can distract and unnerve other road users leading to further aggression or dangerous driving. In the best-case scenario, a few words and gestures are exchanged before everyone goes on with their lives. In the worse case, cars are damaged, people are injured, or somebody dies. This will negatively affect or destroy the lives of those involved and those close to them. And often it’s an innocent bystander that is most affected.

“Remember to be cautious at all times when travelling on our roads to ensure you reach your destination safely,” says Duma Ngcobo, Chief Operating Officer at Tracker. “Practice defensive driving with the sole intention of avoiding a collision or a confrontation. This means adhering to road rules, practising courteous road use, and avoiding distractions. You don’t know what emotional state another person is in or what they have with them in their cars, so don’t react to an aggressive driver. It is never worth it.”