HAVE you flipped the bird at another driver, screamed profanities at a slow car, tail-gated someone for sneaking into your lane or repeatedly blasted your horn at a cyclist?

These acts might not seem overly aggressive or dangerous, but each one is the kind of behaviour that could end in your death or the killing of another road user.

Over the past few months, Australians have seen some appalling behaviour on our highways and streets, including the shocking incident where a NSW Central Coast male driver allegedly punched a female road user in July.

Three people were charged over the incident that was filmed on a dash cam and they are yet to face trial.

And in May another road user captured a man thumping a Brisbane ute driver in the face 20 times. Police are still looking for that attacker.

There have also been some high-profile court cases where alleged road attackers have been put on trial over the deaths of people due to violence that started behind the wheel.

While these  incidents give the perception that road rage is on the increase, the issue has long been a problem across our country.

McRindle Research's 2008 study, Australians on the Road, revealed drivers feared other roads users above everything else.

The study found the things that really made drivers' blood boil were the types of problems we all experience today - speeding, tail-gating, lane hopping, failing to indicate, and failing to give a courtesy wave when other drivers do small favours.

Motoring groups, researchers, insurers and transport industry lobby groups say while violence on our roads is a massive problem, it's frustratingly hard to track because there is no data providing a clear link between accidents and road rage.

This is because most violent road rage acts are treated as assault or manslaughter by the nation's judiciary and policing systems.

However, there is research that gives us an idea of who is most likely to get aggressive on our highways and motorways.

Research shows young men are more prone to road rage.
Research shows young men are more prone to road rage. Tony Martin

A number of studies have shown that male drivers are more likely to commit acts of road violence, but a 2016 research paper revealed women are "angrier" than men when they get behind the wheel.

University of London behavioural psychologist Patrick Fagan surveyed 1000 British drivers about their responses to given road scenarios.

Dr Fagan found women were 12% angrier behind the wheel than their male counterparts.

He explained this could be due to women's "evolutionary" need to protect "their young".

"Evolutionary theory suggests our early female ancestors had to develop an acute sense of danger for anything that threatened them and their young if their cave was undefended while men were out hunting," Dr Fagan said in his research paper.

"That 'early warning system' instinct is still relevant today and women drivers tend to be more sensitive to negative stimuli, so get angry and frustrated quicker."

Citing other sources, Australian Road Research Board's Jerome Carslake said some researchers found "competitive" young men with high frustration levels and low regard for others were a major concern on Australian roads.

"But road rage can happen to anyone," said the National Road Safety Partnership Program manager.

"If you drive emotionally you are nine times more likely to be involved in crash.

"The moment your mind comes off driving your risk goes up."

Mr Carlsake said angry drivers were "selfish" drivers.

"People just seem to think that when you get in a car there is no consequence if they make a mistake and you get complacent and that leads to a crash," he said.

Australian National University's Vanessa Beanland and Martin Sellbom studied the personality traits of 300 young road users to work out what sort of person has "aberrant driving behaviours".

"Deliberate driving violations were best predicted by ... impulsivity, irresponsibility, risk-taking and hostility, whereas tendencies towards experiencing negative emotions - such as anxiety, brooding and emotional instability - were the strongest predictors of attentional lapses and driving mistakes," the pair said in an article for the Conversation.

The University of Sunshine Coast and the RACQ last year joined forces to look at how driving impacts the physical and emotional health of road users.

Using a specially designed simulator, road users' bodies were measured for signs of distress as they drove through a range of scenarios.

"The research shows an adverse psychological and physiological effect for people who experienced bad driver behaviour," RACQ spokeswoman Lauren Ritchie said.

"Ultimately, that research showed that stressed drivers - people who are frustrated behind the wheel - stayed stressed for a longer period of time than we initially thought.

"You're blood pressure goes up, your cortisol goes up and it stays with you, so if you have a bad morning you end up having a bad day.

USC road safety and psychology expert Dr Bridie Scott-Parker was the person who conducted the simulator research.

Dr Scott-Parker said it was also obvious that a lot of drivers would do things behind the wheel that they would never consider doing outside of their vehicle.

"There is this notion of territoriality," she said.

"We own this little bit of the road that we are driving on right now ... we think this is our bit of the road.

"We're isolated in our car, we're insulated from other people.

"Could you imagine standing in the line at the bank and suddenly doing your nut because someone cut to close in front of you in the line?"

Peak motoring groups like the RACQ and NRMA invest a lot of money, time and effort into campaigns designed to improve road user interactions.


Dash cams can help hold bad drivers to account.
Dash cams can help hold bad drivers to account.

A NRMA survey in 2015 found two-thirds of its members were the victims of road rage while 80% witnessed other road users being attacked.

"The problem you have got with road rage is people react to the first emotion," NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said.

"It could be verbal or - as we've seen in recent times - it becomes physical.

"People react to the first bit of rage that they feel and they live to regret it."

Truckies, slow vehicle pilot drivers, school crossing guards and road workers bear the brunt of some of this country's worst abuse.

The problem is so bad that the Australian Trucking Association is urging state and territory governments to ensure learner drivers and motorcycle riders are made to learn about the particular needs of heavy vehicles, including slower breaking times.

ATA chairman Geoff Crouch explained that some drivers "underestimated the needs of heavy vehicles".

"They don't take into consideration the fact that a heavy vehicle is slower off the mark, they underestimate that a heavy vehicle coming up to an intersection or lights needs to start slowing down a lot sooner.

"And quite often the drivers will get very frustrated at the slowness of the heavy vehicle and that can lead to road rage.

"The solution comes to greater emphasis and education of the needs of heavy vehicles at the licensing level for when new road users get their L-plates and their P-plates."

Cameras could save lives

A SMALL piece of popular technology could be the solution to road rage.

Drivers across Australia are installing dash cams so they can record their drives in case they end up in accidents or have other road issues.

With more than 500,000 followers on its Facebook page, Dash Cam Owners Australia shows the popularity of the small devices that range in price from $60 to $250.

DCOA followers upload footage they film in their day-to drives, showing accidents, close calls between vehicles, bad road user decisions, acts of road rage and even people breaking into or damaging parked cars.

"The rise of the dash cams mean that bad behaviour is easily captured," RACQ spokeswoman Lauren Ritchie said.

"We expect to get a point when they are standard in vehicles - maybe that will make us better drivers if we all think we are being watched at all times."


The NRMA's Peter Khoury said dash cams, GoPros on helmets and street-based CCTV were becoming essential tools in the war on violent and aggressive road users.

"More and more people are getting caught because of technology," Mr Khoury said.

"That technology is now being used to charge people.

"It's a good thing because it means if you get out of your car and bash someone you have more of a change of being caught."

Australian Road Research Board National Road Safety Partnership Program manager Jerome Carslake said as soon as people realised they were being filmed they changed behaviours.

He said the devices were particularly popular with truck drivers who often installed camera warning signs on their vehicles so risk-takers are aware their bad actions could end up being broadcast in a courtroom.

"They are running all the time and the film can be uploaded when there is a G-Force event where the truck hits something or brakes or the driver presses a button," Mr Carslake said.

"The driver can pass the recording that shows the vehicle number plate and the speed the other vehicle is doing to authorities."

- NewsRegional

News Corp Australia

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