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Anger Behind The Wheel - Transcript

A radio program about road rage.

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Beth Williams: Welcome to Motoring Week. My name is Beth Williams and we have a full program for you this afternoon. Later on, we'll be taking a look at the very latest arrivals on the in-car satellite navigation market and talking exclusively to the head of mechanics in the Ferrari Formula One team. But first today, we will be speaking about the phenomenon that has, at some time or other, affected us all - road rage. You know the deal, some reckless, thoughtless motorist cuts in front of you on the highway or pulls out without looking and all of a sudden, the red mist descends and we seem to lose control of our thoughts and actions. Neil Adamson from the North West Motoring Association is here to speak to us today about road rage in general but in particular about a survey his organization has just carried out. Neil, welcome to the show.

Neil Adamson: Hi Beth.

Beth Williams: First off, I have to ask you. Do you ever feel road rage when you are out driving?

Neil Adamson: Haha, no, I don't. Thankfully, I manage to keep control of myself while behind the wheel although our survey's findings show that many of the motorists we encounter on the roads are only one minor accident away from losing their cool.

Beth Williams: Right, tell us something about your findings, Neil.

Neil Adamson: We asked the question, "Have you ever felt like getting out of your car and confronting a driver you considered to be at fault for an accident or traffic incident?" We were astonished to find that some 68% answered in the affirmative and some 23% actually had left their vehicle for some incident or another.

Beth Williams: Wow, those figures are high. There's clearly a lot of risk involved in acting like that, wouldn't you say?

Neil Adamson: Let's put it this way. Every year, some 40,000 motorists die on American roads. We have estimated that somewhere between one half and two thirds of those deaths occur in accidents which have some element of aggressive driving involved. It's been calculated that as many as one third of these aggressive driving related accidents involve a motor vehicle being used deliberately as a weapon.

Beth Williams: So the definition of road rage goes beyond what a lot of our listeners might assume, that is, for drivers to get angry at the maneuvers of another motorist and to physically confront them outside the vehicle.

Neil Adamson: Road rage clearly involves that type of incident. Only last week in L.A., a father of three was shot when he left his vehicle to remonstrate with a motorist who had changed lanes carelessly and almost caused a collision. You'll find people are more and more wary of leaving their vehicles - people are quite often so afraid of road rage, carjacking and so on, that they lock themselves in their vehicles and nothing will convince them to leave. But, and here's the big but, road rage also includes staying in your vehicle but using it as a weapon against someone you consider to have slighted you in whatever way. Most road rage incidents we have looked into have involved motorists aggressively pursuing other cars with their own and often smashing into them to drive them off the road or just get a little bit of revenge for a perceived insult. The situation is getting out of control.

Beth Williams: What do you think is contributing to this problem, Neil? Are people just becoming more aggressive and ruder in their everyday dealings with other people on the streets? When I knew you were coming on the show to speak to us about this problem, I asked my father if he could remember incidents similar to the modern phenomenon of road rage and he said you wouldn't get much more than someone honking the horn loudly. We seem to have taken it all to another new, dangerous level.

Neil Adamson: I think there are a lot of socio-economic reasons behind this huge increase in aggressive driving behavior we are seeing. Here is one statistic you might find interesting. In the last twenty years or so, the number of miles of American highways has increased something like 1%, which is, of course, a tiny amount. However, in the same time period, there has been something like a whopping 40% increase in vehicle numbers.

Beth Williams: And I suppose the result of that is ever greater competition for physical space on the roads and a consequent rise in stress levels among drivers.

Neil Adamson: Absolutely. Our roads are getting clogged up to an ever increasing extent, travel times are taking longer and people are sitting in near stationary vehicles getting very hot and bothered. This not only means people are more likely to react in a negative way when confronted by what is perceived to be inconsiderate other drivers, but it also means that, given 50 yards of clear road, drivers are more likely to cut in front of others, run red lights and so on, in an effort to make up for lost time in a way. That doesn't make it something we can condone but it does help us to try and understand some of the motives that lie behind this trend.

Beth Williams: What can be done in the way of driver education to try and combat this problem, Neil? My own son is attending Driver's Ed at high school at the moment and, I have to say that the amount of time being devoted to this particular problem is minimal.

Neil Adamson: You're right, this whole issue has to be taken into the public education system but we also need constant education through the medium of police warnings or TV and radio messages. People have to understand that using one ton of steel automobile as a weapon, especially at high speeds, can have absolutely catastrophic results. Let me tell you about one tragic case. I spent last Tuesday with a very polite, soft-spoken young man up in Oregon State Penitentiary who's currently serving a 74-year sentence for five counts of third degree murder. He had been waiting at a red light when a mother with her 4 daughters pulled up in front of him in a large off-road vehicle. Now this guy was pretty ticked off that she hadn't waited behind him. It's a situation I see from my downtown office window 50 times a day and this story goes to show what can result when tempers are short and nerves are frayed. So the guy chases the mom and her kids and ends up pushing them off the road, where, unfortunately, they crashed through a row of trees and into a river some 60 feet below the road.

Beth Williams: My word, that's just awful....

Neil Adamson: Well, yes, it is. "Unforeseen consequences" is an expression I've heard more times than I can tell you. A car traveling at 60 mph will impart a huge amount of force and these unforeseen circumstances do happen very often. Now, this prisoner's life has been destroyed and he told me last week to mention his case on this afternoon's show, I suppose, to try and illustrate how 10 seconds of road rage can destroy lives all around, not only those of the victims in the car but also that of the perpetrator.

Beth Williams: Neil, what advice could you give our listeners? We've just had an e-mail from Hank in Sacramento saying he had a guy pull a knife on him this morning when he gestured to get out his car at a stop sign. "The world's gone nuts" is his final thought on the matter.

Neil Adamson: We have to make allowances. We live in such a rushed world that we are asking for problems if we always leave for work at the last possible moment. I give myself 20 minutes for a drive that usually takes 10. If I arrive ten minutes early, I go and get a coffee in the restaurant across the street. If we continue to live our daily lives right at the limit, then when things go a little awry, which of course they do, then we find ourselves getting frustrated and likely to release that fury on the first person to cross us. In your father's day, people also drove badly but I just don't think there was this fuel of anger ready to fan the flames.

Beth Williams: Neil Adamson from the North West Motoring Association, thanks for joining us today. If any of our listeners would like further information about this really important issue, contact us and we'll send you our information packet for today's program.

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