Friday, November 07, 2003

The aetiology of road rage

Tug Dumbly is spot on when he derides the sloppy phrase that is “today's busy world”. Yet a related pervasive myth successfully attributes the main cause of road rage to increased traffic, tighter work deadlines, and so-such. Bullshit.

Road rage incidence has exponentially increased in the last decade or so, without a similarly-scaled shift in the basic ecology of car-opolis. There may be more cars on the road, but there are also more toll-highways (what used to be called “freeways”) in the big cities. The Great Fencing-Off of the inner suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, which closed many streets to through traffic, has long since stalled, so stopping further wholesale enclosures.

What has changed is income (and property) inequality, and so with that, everyday social relations. This anecdote about a Formula One driver recently “falling prey to a road-rage attack” illustrates my point. Australian-born, but European-based Mark Webber seems genuinely stunned that his (and/or his taxi-driver’s) decision to double-park in a Melbourne CBD street – rather than to pull-up kerbside a bit up the road – provoked the reaction it did.

The “10 seconds” time that the consequent delay caused (to probably a dozen or so cars) is not the point. Everyone knows about how long it takes to get out of a taxi and pay the driver, so Webber was just exacerbating the situation, in vocalising the obvious. Webber’s unconscious sarcasm (“he drove up the road like his life depended on it”) is also telling. Yes, it is unlikely that any lives were directly imperilled by the delay caused, but that is not the point, either.

You were being an arsehole, Mr Webber. Roads are public space, an ever-diminishing category of land-usage in Australia. Why can’t Melbourne drivers be more like the Europeans? whines the unctuous Webber. I’ll tell him why – in Europe (I’d bet), drivers only double-park because they need to, although such need is also much more common than in Australia. Only in Australia has the unnecessary disruption of traffic, such as by double-parking, been somehow recently given some kind of privileged status, such that to object to it is called “road rage”.

No, it’s not life and death, Mr Webber. It’s about something just as important in today’s age – respect for the rights of others. I’m talking a respect which is gratuitous and unconditional; which can’t be calibrated or discounted by units of time (which really means money, anyway).

Mr Webber, what you’re really saying is: why should anyone get concerned over a trifle, with this “trifle” being your lazy reluctance walking an extra 10 or 20 metres? We don’t “need more education and more patience" – we need fuckwits like you to value the uncommoditised rights of others as highly as their own imperious, squillionaire personages.

In Europe, "they've got bigger fish to fry”, says Webber. Well, good on ‘em. In Australia, there are millions of small fish, whose entire day is spent trying not to get eaten by much-bigger fish.

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