BEST OF 2021: Are Canberra drivers becoming more aggressive?

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Man honking a horn

It doesn’t take much to bring out the worst in motorists. But is it getting worse? Photo: Region Media.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2021. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2021. Today, Zoya Patel takes a look at the ‘mean streets’ of Canberra.

I never thought I’d say it, but the streets of Canberra seem to be becoming meaner these days. In the last month, I’ve experienced or been told about incidents on the roads that are more than just annoying, they are borderline sinister if not illegal.

A few weeks ago, a car tailgated me while I was driving at the speed limit on the Barton Highway, coming from Murrumbateman to Gungahlin. The driver ducked around me at a lane merge and went over the double lines to cut in front of me. I beeped my horn (because it was flat out dangerous). He slammed on his brakes – causing my car to skid to a halt and my passengers to dangerously jolt into their seat belts before he sped off. I was shell shocked. It was more than just aggressive, it was downright dangerous.

Then this week, a friend was driving behind a car towing a trailer with various items in it when one of the tables stacked on its side flew out of the trailer and impaled her car, jamming into the radiator. By some immense fortune, the car didn’t flip or skid, and she was able to stop without being injured. But the other driver drove off! They didn’t even check to see if she was OK and uninjured. They were clearly more concerned about avoiding a fine for their unsecured load. My friend is stuck with a massive bill and no witnesses.

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And on another recent occasion, on the Federal Highway as it filters into Watson, I watched a car and a motorcycle engaged in a clear bout of mutual road rage, careening around each other, with the car getting closer and closer to the motorcycle in a way that looked extraordinarily dangerous. Both were clearly at fault, but the consequences could have been extremely dire, and the risk didn’t seem worth them making whatever point it was they were trying to.

Are we losing sight of how dangerous the roads can be and letting our emotions take over? These incidents are genuinely scary because any of them could have resulted in death if just one thing went wrong – if the road was a little slippery, if the car tyres were just on the wrong side of worn out, if the driver was a little less capable …

After the near-miss with the rude driver who cut me off and then almost caused a collision, I was jumpy in my car for weeks, scared that I would somehow offend another driver and have them react in an equally extreme way.

But those nerves are nothing compared to when I tow a horse float, which I do most weekends.

I anticipate people speeding past me, cutting in front because, God forbid, their schedule be put back by the two minutes they might have to wait to overtake safely. It puts us all in danger and really doesn’t seem worth it.

Maybe it’s always been like this, but compared to driving in other cities, I always felt Canberra drivers were generally more reasonable and calm. Our lack of traffic (compared to bigger cities) created a more sensible culture of driving because everyone can always get where they need to go, and usually within 20 minutes.

Is it just me, or are drivers getting more aggressive? Are we becoming complacent about how risky dangerous driving is and the consequences it can have? Do we need to change the way we monitor and police the roads, or is it time I invest in a dashcam and assume the responsibility myself?

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Many Canberra drivers do not even see pedestrians, let alone consider their needs to know where the driver plans to go. However, other Canberra drivers are delightfully considerate. Like all places there’s a mix of good and bad drivers, with most in the middle.

What does seem to be specific to Canberra drivers is the belief that it’s fine to speed well over the limit, to ignore stop signs and fail to use indicators when turning. Again, there’s a positive side in that most Canberra drivers do stop at pedestrian crossings, unlike many from other places.

There are simple solutions to reduce the road congestion problems of Canberra. One option which will no doubt happen is reducing the size of the public service as the size of government debt means that there have to be major savings. A 2nd option is the we can move many government agencies to other parts of Australia. Alice Springs would love to have a boost in population and it is in the centre of Australia and ideal for dealing with the different time zones of our continent.

Wow, this opinion is full of Canberra drivers saying Canberra drivers are no good….does anyone else see the hypocrisy in this?
I guess most people on this opinion are expert drivers.

Scott Anthony2:45 pm 09 Jan 22

If you want safe roads you need actual POLICE PATROLS, so these jerks think they might just get caught… Right now you can get away with murder on our roads, the AFP are only interested in speed and alcohol and if you have a ‘dash cam’ of the incident, they might take a look… seriously, we’ve never had LESS police cars on our roads, and never had MORE jerks on our roads… You do the math…!!

I’ve lived and driven on 4 continents and never experienced so many Type A personalities on the roads. Aggressive, dangerous and stupid.

OpenYourMind12:42 pm 30 Jun 21

What I find amusing with this discussion is that when the topic of cyclists is raised, there is the usual noise about cyclists breaking the law…eg. ‘I once saw a cyclist run a red light or I once saw a cyclist riding two abreast’. Certainly my anecdotal evidence is that such events are relatively rare.
Meanwhile a mention of crappy car driving and there’s 231 responses clamouring to say how bad Canberra car drivers are. Remind me, where’s the problem.

Jenny Graves3:33 pm 09 Jan 22

It wasn’t a cyclist in the article, but a motorcyclist, which is a very different animal.

I have said it before, but I am absolutely positive that ACT drivers are taught to turn left from the outside lane, by speeding up, cutting across across your front, especially when there are no cars behind you, except them

Linda Peverill7:17 pm 27 Jun 21

Twice now at the Wanniassa Shops in Canberra I have been almost run down… The first was in the actual car park, walking across to get to the other side where a foot path was heading towards a bus stop… An elderly male proceeded to just keep driving towards me, brushing my hip and thigh as he drove past… There were witnesses, but none cared, as long as it wasn’t them, why would they care… I had an awesome black and blue bruise, and some pain for a few days… The second incident, I was headed towards the Wanniassa Shops from the bus stop… I had gotten halfway across the small two way road there, when a young male on a motor bike proceeded to just turn the corner onto the road and practically run me down… I had a woman stop near me in the car park, ask am I alright and offered to go after the nasty little runt… I just stuck my rude finger up at the motor cyclist as he drove off and apologised to the very nice lady for my rude finger behaviour and thanked her over and over for her offer, but I didn’t want to trouble her over some nasty little runt… Pedestrians have right of way in a shopping centre car park, for those idiots that are in such a hurry… What about the elderly, or children that dart off and run out from all kinds of places??? Are these nasty runts going to care when they actually take an innocents life, just because they didn’t want to wait a few seconds or minutes for someone to cross or a car to reverse??? Think before you act drivers… You are driving around in a deadly weapon, that causes death and serious injuries…

Lisa-Marie Iorfino11:38 am 27 Jun 21

I’m originally from Sydney, where almost every driver is forged into a cut-throat opportunist.
When I came to Canberra nearly a decade ago I wept at how peaceful the roads were, how polite the drivers (though the rain seems to panic people a bit..me included I guess).
Now though, I’m seeing a sad pattern of increasingly head-up-the-arse behaviour on our roads. My hypothesis, more ex-Sydney drivers coming to Canberra not knowing that we have the capacity to chill here.
Maybe that’s it. I don’t know…
…all I’d say to inconsiderate/dangerous drivers is there’s space, everything is such a short drive away, just breathe and be kind; and remember that you are just a squishy meat-bag full of organs in a huge metal vehicle surrounded by other squishy meat-bags…! Why not play nice?

I have always felt Canberra drivers were agressive, self centred and rude.

However, it is definitely worse now, if that was possible since the population has grown so much in the past two decades.

There is a road going into Gungahlin where 90% of drivers clearly show they don’t read road signs. They drive 60 in a clearly signposted 80 area. Then you have the lazy idiots that expect you to have ESP and NEVER use their indicators! Not to mention Right-hand lane-huggers! I have NEVER seen any cops around here only speed vans! If we had more of a Police presence then I’m sure it would be a different story!

Georgina Harriss10:57 pm 24 Jun 21

When you get cut off by an inconsiderate driver who overtakes you at an intersection, and you beep to let them know they almost caused an accident, then they stop their car and get out with a baseball bat and threaten you. Only leaving once they realise you have dash cam footage. It’s crazy out there!!

Just as bad as the tailgaters are those who drive ten km/hr below the limit and those who take far too long to take off at traffic lights.

HiddenDragon6:43 pm 24 Jun 21

The road ratbaggery is probably about as bad as it has always been, but some of the aggression I see on our roads makes me glad we have fairly strict gun control laws.

ChrisinTurner3:48 pm 24 Jun 21

I am amazed at the number of ACT drivers who cannot consistently drive their vehicle in between two white lines.

Finagen_erection1:46 pm 24 Jun 21

Let’s all take a deep (mindful) breath and remember is Canberra – the capital epicentre of self entitlement, self serving, self indulgent people.

Then don’t forget (in between your next mindful breath) that Australia has primitive driving standards.

Bring both of those together and hey honk that horn, ride that bumper and rev your claptout Commodore.

Zoom zoom

The only thing you missed, was their resentment of other road users, especially bikes and pedestrians. One person in a car is not more important than 1 person on a bike or walking. It’s just one person and we all need to negotiate the roads. Consideration for other perspectives is really what’s missing in many Canberrans. A narrow blinkered attitude.

I think most people havent towed a horse float. You have 1-2 tonne weight on the back of a vehicle, and horses arent exactly the best travellers. When I see a float I always give it more space as it takes a lot longer to slow down and moves have to be down slowly and carefully.

I’m always amazed at how stupid some drivers are by either driving right up your rear end when wet ( people who do this should lose thier licence, as its seriously irresponsible ) or cutting in front of trucks then slowing down.

Seems people also have no concept of understanding of the basics of physics.
ABS will *not* save your sorry ass when you slam on your brakes and a truck, which cant stop quickly like a car, collects you and your kids……

People need to go back to basics and think a bit more.

Totally agree. I’ve driving in Canberra since 1975 and in the last 10-20 years I think the level of aggression and lack of consideration has skyrocketed amongs Canberra drivers. I find them generally, not by exception, but generally rude and pushy. Tailgating and cutting you off are regular occurences. I also use a horse float from time to time and have experience regular incidents that reflected total lack of consideration, even when I pull to the side to allow traffic to pass. I recently slowed on a roundabout having observed a driver who was supposed to give way to me, approaching at high speed. He took exception to this and followed me for two kilometres 2 metres from my bumper. When I stopped he told me to wait until he parked so he could bash me. I had a 1 year old child in the car – go figure. I was so stressed I drove off but forgot to get his number plate. It is a really scary place out there now. We need more active policing in Canberra, on the roads anyway.

Tradies in utes are the worst.
Lost tack of how many times you get tailgated.
Lights in the high beam position due to the height of the ute, just for added fun.
You get tailgated, then they turn off…what is that?

Many tradies in utes (esp males in their 20s & 30s) are inconsiderate and have poor driving skills, not thinking about others on the road. They seem to be particularly ignorant of pedestrians. When they come out of nowhere at speed without indicating their direction, straight through a stop sign and nearly hit someone walking across the road, they abuse the pedestrian who was crossing safely until they sped onto the scene whilst breaking every road rule possible. Blind? Perhaps, or drunk, or drugged. Dangerous, abusive and immature.

I think drivers are becoming less competent and more impatient and self-entitled, combined with very little police traffic enforcement. People also view “aggression” in situations where other drivers have had to take evasive action for their dangerous driving i.e. the drivers that cut them off, pulled out in front of them at the intersection. If someone has needed to use their horn at you, you’ve probably done something idiotic.

Driver training is too lax, add in people from overseas can either drive on their overseas or gain a licence with zero training or even English comprehension.

Driver road rule knowledge is woeful. The number of people who incorrectly think using an indicator requires all other drivers to give way is terrible, people who don’t know you can’t legally change lanes into another driver’s safe stopping distance, or that it’s illegal to speed up at on overtaking lane, when they must keep left unless overtaking, every car must come to a complete stop at a stop sign etc etc.. i need to turn left right, I’m in the wrong lane, I’ll block the lane until someone lets me in, instead of accepting the mistake, driving on and taking the next exit. I could go on all day.

Exiting from the right lane at the last possible moment forcing those in the left lane to brake heavily is becoming the norm in this town. And on-ramp merging behavior is beyond clueless. Glenlock provides a near continuous example of how not to drive. Leave a gap people, then everyone won’t have to come to a dead stop on an arterial road.

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