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Road rage.

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RESEARCH NOTE Number 25, February 1996-97 ISSN 1323-5664 Road Rage Anger Breeds Contempt Growing reports of violence and retributions on the nation's roads, following well-publicised Ameri-can trends over the last few years, are cause for concern. Some commentators suggest that this 'road rage' phenomenon threatens social cohesion and requires prompt amelioration. Otherwise, Australia's roads may become battlefields for antisocial behav-iour. Aggressive and violent behav-iours have occurred on our roads for many years, but lately the in-cidence appears to be rising. This is probably because stress from growing traffic congestion causes anger, frustration and fear. The private anonymity of vehicles seems to promote antisocial re-sponses. A clash between an age-ing car fleet and more powerful new cars may also contribute. While psychologists may term such aggression 'need for domi-nance' or 'territorial defence' stemming from overcrowding, these terms do not help us solve the problem. Australians have been long used to wide open spaces and do not readily accept crowded roads and traffic jams. Road rage exists in many forms, from mild to very extreme. It in-cludes verbal abuse; rude gestures and horn use; tailgating and self-ish lane changing; and extends to dangerous manoeuvres, argu-ments, deliberate collisions, fights and even murder in a few well-

publicised cases.

Besides the psychological trauma and possible injury, indirect ef-fects are speeding, ignoring road signs, poor lane discipline and lack of courtesy. Road rage may also be costly in terms of higher fuel consumption, tyre and brake wear and the repair of collision damage.

Aggressive Driving

A Scottish study found that one quarter of drivers had given chase to others who had offended them in some way, while eight per cent had actually had a fight with other motorists. The British Automobile Association reports that nine per cent of drivers were victims of either verbal or physical attack last year. American surveys sug-gest that young male drivers dominate road rage.

The Australian Associated Motor Insurers crash index shows ag-gressive driving as the cause of an increasing rate of rear-end colli-sions and incidents due to failure to give way. This is despite a gen-eral fall in the road toll, improved driver training and better roads. While such events may not di-rectly represent road rage, they do suggest related factors.

Pedestrians and cyclists are not excluded from road rage. Harass-ment can be directed at them by aggressive motorists or their pas-

sengers. Some pedestrians and cyclists may not obey road rules, causing annoyance or even danger to motorists; while motorists may forget that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers have equal rights to road space use. Nonetheless, there is no nationwide set of rules to address road rage, or for road safety in general (see box) despite some effort in that direction.

National Road Safety Law

Local, State and Federal Govern-ments together handle road safety programs. However, they are yet to agree on uniform road laws for all parts of Australia. Among cur-rent proposals are a 50 km/hr speed limit on suburban streets, left turns against red traffic lights, bicycles on footpaths, bus priority and school zone speed limits of 25 km/hr. Note that not all States use speed cameras for law enforce-ment. The Australian Transport Council considers these and other road safety issues.

Since 1991, the National Road Transport Commission has devel-oped uniform and consistent rules for vehicles designed to replace the basic traffic Regulations in all States and Territories. However, the rules await adoption. They do not cover more serious offences such as drink driving, fines and demerit points, driver licensing and registration, or bus seat belts. Changing to the new rules would involve a once-only cost of new signs, line markings, and educa-tion to total $75 million.


Road safety is a social health is-sue that accordingly deserves wide discussion in the commu-nity. It requires clear guidelines and driver training. Victorian magistrates want the specific power to suspend licences for road rage behaviour and to require offending drivers to attend anger control and defensive driving courses. In the long term, tech-nology may provide some con-trols in the form of ITS (see box).

In the short-term, though, road rage victims need some defensive and survival techniques. Police and road safety education pro-grams advise victims of aggres-sive drivers to avoid eye contact and keep their distance, and drive to the nearest police station if necessary. Motorists should keep

doors and windows locked and never carry weapons. Drivers could use or pretend to use a mo-bile telephone to request police or other assistance.

In the case of very bad drivers, one suggestion is that people should be encouraged to report bad road behaviour. While one or two reports may not amount to much, if a report database shows certain motorists being reported by a large number of others,

something is obviously wrong. A national telephone service could provide this database. The new NSW road rage hotline on 133 112 is a step in this direction, but requires expansion and wider use.


Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) include electronic toll-charging devices, highway message signs and on-board vehicle navigation sys-tems able to assess road and traffic conditions. Red light cameras and speed radar and laser detectors are common examples. More advanced ITS may involve vehicle speed controls and convoy flow regulation that ensure proper separation between all vehicles.

ITS aim to utilise electronic technology and communications in vehi-cles and along roads to improve safety and traffic flows. Experts claim that ITS could reduce traffic congestion by twenty per cent and acci-dents by eight per cent by the year 2011, although at a high cost. Over the next decade though, we may expect improvements such as systems for handling navigation, vehicle monitoring, emergency signalling, congestion avoidance and adaptive cruise controls. Such physical re-strictions may well help curb road rage in the long term but they are still years away in full practice. They also have 'fail-safe' implications in the case of failure.

Matthew James Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Group Information and Research Ser-vices

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Views expressed in this Research Note are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Infor-mation and Research Services and are not to be attributed to the Department of the Parliamentary Library. Re-search Notes provide concise analyti-cal briefings on issues of interest to Senators and Members. As such they may not canvass all of the key issues.

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