Road rage. Most of us have experienced in one form or another. From frustration at someone not indicating or pulling out in front of you unexpectedly, to that heart stopping moment when someone pulls up behind you, aggressively driving up your bumper and tooting and honking their horn. You may not have done anything to deserve it but someone has decided you are in their way and heaven help you they are going to let you know about it.
image courtesy of shutterstock
A survey carried out by motoring magazine Max Power in conjunction with the RAC Foundation found that 9 in 10 of us has been the victims of road rage at some point. Ninety percent of us know what it means to be sworn at, cursed or victimised whilst driving. The UK is considered to be the world's capital for road rage, with no other country reporting such high occurrences. Just last year, website Ingenie created the #redmist campaign to assess a drivers likelihood of experiencing road rage and some suggestions on how to deal with it.
If the figures are to be believed it is simply a fact of being a motorcar driver. Get behind the wheel and you are frankly asking to be called names and pushed around.
But why should that be the case? Have we gotten so inured to the daily realities of life on the road that we no longer see road rage for what it is? A crime perpetuated by people in charge of potentially tonnes worth of killing machine, many of whom would never consider behaving that way in any other area of their lives. Just last week West Somerset Coroner, Michael Rose approached the Home Secretary expressing deep concern about the rise in road rage related deaths.
I have seen so many examples of dangerous, disrespectful driving. At least five people in the last week have been on mobiles whilst driving. An elderly woman was called a cxxt by a taxi driver for daring to stick to the speed limit. A Mini and a Land Rover came within millimetres of a side on collision when the Mini raced onto the roundabout without looking, only to be chased by the Rover down the road. Our roads are frightening. Where I once enjoyed the freedom of getting in my little car and hoovering around on my daily errands now even the requisite school run trip is a source of fear and heightened awareness.
On a journey back from a meeting (which given that it was the M25 I no longer dare do myself) a taxi driver friend told me that his wife, who has always been a good driver, recently took the decision to stop driving after thirty years, as a result of an increasing fear that she would be hurt by someone furious that she refused to drive the way they want her to. Are we all really so stressed and impatient that elderly women need to be frightened on the roads?
Please don't mistake me; I am not some road saint, delicately picking my way through the nasty Chelsea Tractors, White Van Men and Boy Racers to swoon my way into my destination. I too have sworn and cursed when having to manoeuvre quickly or held up behind a tractor, but it doesn't make it right. It is my belief that culturally we have developed a sense of entitlement. We are entitled to get to where we want to be as quickly as possible. We are entitled to our way when we want it. But what of safety and the freedom to go about our business without abuse and intimidation? Are we not all entitled to that too?
There is a deeper, more personal reason for my attitude to road safety. You may already have clicked the link above, taking you through to the Cheddar Valley Gazettes story on road rage. If you have you will have read about how an innocent man, Richard Parker was driving to work and was killed by a man well over the limit, chasing after young boys. Richard Parker wasn't just someone on the way to work for me, another tragic story of a young man cut down in his prime. He was also the husband of my friend and father to her two children.
This time last year I woke to the news that the love of her life had been killed whilst simply going to work. In her words 'my life just changed forever', as did the lives of her two extremely young children. Anyone reading this may feel compassion for them, or sympathy but may not take it personally, much like I don't when reading stories of tragedy that don't involve people I know.
You feel momentary pity for the people involved and then move on with your lives. That is normal. But for my friend the moment stretches a lifetime. The struggle to resume 'normal' life occurs daily. And it will stretch for a lifetime for his family as it will the others who will face similar tragedies if we don't find a way to start truly showing respect to one another when we are behind the wheels of our cars.
Road rage in this instance didn't just take a man from his family. It took a good man. A man who was only on the roads that night because he swapped shifts to allow himself to take his daughter to her first day at school. A man who worked hard, devoting himself to his girls. A man who deserved better. Alcohol fueled road rage took a father, brother, friend. It stopped a man reading to his girls, laughing with his wife in bed at night, walking his daughters down the aisle. Love and consideration made Richard a special man and that in turn makes his loss a loss for us all, because there simply isn't enough goodness in the world for it to be wasted so needlessly.
Today, before you get in your car, please take a minute. Ask yourself if you need another pint, if you need to get there so quickly, if that person driving a bit slowly is really doing it to annoy you. Ask yourself if your journey is so important that somebody else's child deserves to lose a father, someone else deserves to pick up the pieces for the sake of two minutes of your life. And for goodness sake, if you feel yourself getting cross behind the wheel just stop. And breathe. Because it really isn't that important. Your life is.