Let’s ponder on the Great Levellers. The obvious Grim Reaper who’s just picked your name out of the hat. The equally obvious substance addictions that make a slave of your mind and then your body. The lavatory. Which doesn’t bear thinking about in the same way as recognising our parents as the biological reason for why we are here at all.
And Road Rage. Always foolish. Frequently dangerous. A game of roulette with a potentially life-changing price tag. A game where victim and aggressor interchange roles capriciously.
Here in SA, we like our “road rage”. We like it a lot.
A recent article by CAR editor Hannes Oosthuizen (September 2011) spoke of the ‘Forgotten Safety Feature’ (power) and described a hapless and under-powered Dodge Caliber embroiled in and losing overtaking skirmishes with an obstructively driven Hilux bakkie. A lengthy duel of the tortoises. A power-boost button for the Caliber and cars of its ilk is the suggested fix. Now while I get the point of this boost-button concept in critical moments, I’m concerned that we’ll then get to witness ‘battles of the boost-button’. Taking us back to where we started. In any case, power without caution is deadly. History is rich with examples.
For me, the real rub was the alternative observation. The anti-social, deviant and in my personal view criminally culpable actions of the Hitler-Hilux driver. Conducting a vehicle as a weapon of antagonism. A case of “bloody-minded rage”. What if there had been a prang? Surely foreseeable to your ego-maniac bakkie driver as the Caliber driver was pushed to ever more desperate overtaking risks, judgment clouded by frustration. Poetic justice is not in favour of the bakkie driver, but cold legal fact will be, for it will be the Caliber that will find itself out on that bridge too far.
Years back, a well-meaning colleague imparted a gentle warning at my self-proclaimed “God’s cop” hooting tendencies. Figure this. I have found myself driving from church on a Sunday evening and lashing out with an angry hoot at some perceived transgressor on the way home. I might as well not have bothered with church.
Said my gentle colleague, “Don’t you realise that by and large, people are driving as best as they can?” And, “Imagine your nervous mom behind the wheel of that car that prompted your angry hoot.” And, “ Do you really believe that you are of necessity in the right during these episodes?” Of course I was, surely? And then a bit later I wasn’t so sure. And then a bit later still, having exhausted all the self-justification avenues, I felt painfully sheepish and disappointed in myself. I’m willing to bet on it that this is a familiar path trodden by many a road-rager. These days I get into the car and consciously tell myself to stay away from the horn before each trip. It’s hard work to maintain, though.
There is one traffic situation that remains the red flag to awaken the raging bull in me. Doesn’t happen often, thankfully. The thwarted parallel park move. A case of “dumb oaf rage”. You see a nice space, indicate, dip in and out to set up the reverse angle. And. And that is when the berk behind is up your backside. You can’t reverse. And by the time your dimwit has realised that backwards is actually a direction, it’s game over. Two others have joined the queue, and the whole thing is off. You curse and move on. Set and match.
Driving on public roads isn’t much fun in the 21st century. Even in our vast SA. When can you last remember a journey from Joburg to Cape Town or Joburg to Durban and having enjoyed the free flow joy of motoring abandon? Me neither. Those obstructive trucks are to blame and for that we have a mismanaged railroad system to thank. In cities, there’s always the ping-pong effect of evading this, shuffle lanes that, perceived rights reprisals the other. You begin a journey with the worry of what may be in store today. Like inexplicable congestion, the angst of availability of parking at the mall, at the gym, at the beach. We’ve become tadpoles in a shrinking puddle of water where the joy of driving is castrated and the inevitable motoring confrontations are cues for road rage.
Which does leave me wondering on the ever faster and improving special cars (we all know what they are instinctively) being turned out in a manufacturing race to Armageddon. Who buys these cars, is my fall-back rhetoric. Which I immediately answer in a doff-your-cap nod the Dubai way. Where to drive them- not conduct, you understand – in SA can mean special trips to a precious road far away. Which entails planning. And anyone with a wife/significant/family will encounter rightful resistance. And then there’s the “how”. Inter-lane darting and light-to-light blasts are a compromise and gets other motorists ruffled and nervous like a barracuda would do in a shoal of minnows.
There is blame on the traffic authorities who prefer to discount dubious fines – does this happen anywhere else in the world – than adopt a sensible approach to traffic violations that could spark road rage. I would conspiratorially argue that some of us are cherry picked as plump pastures for alleged traffic violations. Those of us who have a permanent address or access to e-mail for instance. We are at the business end of the baseball bat of a legal anomaly where guilt is presumed, innocence must be proven. Which is so onerous that you end up just paying. Sms messages are passed off as legally binding letters of demand where receipt is assumed upon despatch. Speeding fine summons come to us through the irregular postal services. Even our Courts, surely there to protect us, can’t seem to make a decisive job of slapping down the abuse of proper legal process as applied by our traffic authorities. See-saw law, I call it.
Last year, in the vicinity of a local flashing-red traffic light, I would have set a little test for our authorities. The light in question was out for 3 days during which time there was some “risible rage” compliments of the over-cautious, the stupid, the oblivious, with blatant chancers taking advantage. Some delectable road-side entertainment if you sat and watched for a bit. Mouth-off this, innovative finger patterns that, face-off another. I was personally treated to a Volvo XC60 (we’re alright, Jack, we’re in a Volvo) whisking through as if it was facing green. As I happened to be going the same way, and to the same Mall, as it turned out , I had the opportunity to ‘catch up’ with the driver. And so I met with a timid woman in her 60s with granddaughter seated beside her. Her excuse? “It had been like that since yesterday” , a statement registering a perfect zero on the relevance barometer. I was surprised to further discover that she “didn’t know” to treat it as a 4-way stop. Which upon reflection was a right fib. The point is this: where were the police who should surely be shaking down this woman and her followers? Not once did I see them stationed there. Too little money in it, I guess.
After this, I became acutely aware of the words of the highly strung youngster who mans the desk at our local Blockbusters. He drives a 250cc motorbike, you see, and confided that during this lights-out period he approached with trepidation for fear of our typical Volvo and friends. That he would only go if he could use the protection of a car going his way to act as shield. How’s that for a transgression on his rights to safe passage?
Mathematicians tell us of the existence of a concept known as the ‘Chaos theory’. Basically explained along the lines of why you are unlikely to see a weather report that predicts 100 per cent rain probability. There exists a pattern in there somewhere, but it cannot be unravelled. You could apply this to road rage. There’s no determinable point at which common sense ends and road rage takes over. And vice versa. None of us knows where, when and through whom (you could surprise yourself, for instance – I frequently do) the next rage attack might be vented. But come it will.
A toast, then, to the well-presented and coiffed middle-aged lady in her pristine A-Class Mercedes . She of the “Unbecoming Rage” with accompanying finger gestures to shame a gangster. And all because I inadvertently cut her up, easily done in my left-hand-driver . And despite my acknowledging white-flag hand of guilt.
Forget about myths suggesting that certain makes of car hold a higher road rage profile, either as targets or as aggressors. It’s us drivers who give our cars a bad name.
Road rage. Coming to a piece of tarmac near you, then.
Tags: road rage