11 June 2018

Canberra road rage: Machetes, assaults, abuse and a culture of entitlement

| Glynis Quinlan
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Road rage

There have been a string of road rage incidents in Canberra in the last few months – with three in the past month alone.

A man forcing a car to stop in Hughes and then striking it, a female driver assaulted after a collision in Conder, an assault while two cars are stopped at the traffic lights in Braddon, the road rage version of dodgem cars in Belconnen, a station wagon ramming a car in Mitchell with the driver then striking the car with a machete… these are among the string of road rage incidents which have taken place in Canberra in the last few years.

The past month alone saw a black Toyota Kluger deliberately veering into a smaller car in Kambah and two drivers abusing each other after a crash on Ginninderra Drive, while in Queanbeyan a 70-year-old motorist was struck in the back of the head with a garden shovel.

Then there is the tailgating, the rude gestures, the honking and the verbal abuse which never makes the police radar.

Despite the growing use of dash-cams and the likelihood that road rage offences will be ‘caught on camera’, the road rage in Canberra and surrounds shows no signs of lessening.

It is difficult to determine whether road rage is increasing in Canberra as ACT Policing does not keep any separate statistics on the issue because it encompasses a broad range of offences from traffic offences to property damage to assault.

However, the regularity of news reports on road rage attacks and incidents means it continues to be a major issue on our roads.

Motorists engaging in road rage need to be held accountable

ACT Officer-in-charge of Traffic Operations, Station Sergeant Marcus Boorman is emphatic that people who engage in road rage don’t belong on Canberra’s roads and should be held accountable.

“The term road rage is very broad. If people engage in conduct that is dangerous, not only do they commit some significant and serious traffic offences, they will be subjected to criminal offences,” Station Sergeant Boorman said in an interview with The RiotACT.

ACT Officer-in-charge of Traffic Operations, Station Sergeant Marcus Boorman is emphatic that people who engage in road rage don’t belong on Canberra’s roads. Photo by Glynis Quinlan.

He said he believes many people don’t report road rage incidents because they think there’s nothing that can be done but that isn’t the case.

“What I would do is encourage people that if they’re ever involved in any sort of incident like this or observe dangerous driving or erratic behaviour on the road, to report it to police but in doing so, give us as much information as they can,” Station Sergeant Boorman said.

“One of the key issues is the registration plate of the vehicle involved because that gives us somewhere to start.

“We will do everything we can. I wouldn’t like anyone to be intimidated on the road.”

Station Sergeant Boorman said that if there is enough evidence then the police will prosecute but if there isn’t then they can still talk to offenders and that may stop something else from happening down the track.

“It’s paramount that you keep yourself and the occupants of your car safe and so don’t engage, take down the details and call the police.”

Canberra’s car culture of impatience and entitlement

The RiotACT asked Station Sergeant Boorman if he thought Canberra had a different ‘car culture’ to other places which contributes to road rage.

He agreed, saying that Canberra drivers have problems with patience and a sense of entitlement.

“We have a very good road network around the ACT and we don’t have the volume of traffic that other big capital cities do and so our gridlocks aren’t like Sydney and Melbourne,” Station Sergeant Boorman said.

“I think Canberrans are used to getting everywhere fairly quickly, they don’t have to travel great distances and I think sometimes they get a little bit frustrated when they’re slightly inconvenienced.

“I think another issue in the ACT which can cause road rage incidents is people who want to travel so closely behind the car in front. I’ll just push this person along, push this person along – they tailgate. So that person slows down, so they get frustrated and they make poor decisions.”

Photo of driver honking in traffic

Station Sergeant Boorman believes Canberra motorists are used to travelling everywhere quickly and get frustrated if they are slightly inconvenienced.

However, Station Sergeant doesn’t think Canberra is any worse than other places when it came to ‘hoons’.

“I wouldn’t say in Canberra that we have a hoon culture or a particular road rage culture,” he said.

“Unfortunately there is a certain idiot element in any community and especially when it comes to driving cars.”

Driving a two-tonne weapon

Station Sergeant Boorman said that some drivers forget when they get in a car that “nine times out of 10 you’re driving a two-tonne weapon basically”.

“I think some drivers have a real disconnect with reality sometimes when they are driving cars because they don’t stop to think what the reality will be if they travel at an excessive speed and all of a sudden they have to come to a sudden stop,” he said.

Road rage is common and often seen by children

One of the most recent studies on road rage applying to the ACT reveals that it is not only common here but it is also frequently witnessed by children.

A survey of 1,300 people in NSW and the ACT conducted by the NRMA in June 2015 found that over 70 per cent of motorists had been exposed to road rage in the previous 12 months and that almost one-quarter (22 per cent) of incidents occurred when children under the age of 15 were present.

The survey also found that almost one-in-five (19 per cent) of motorists admitted to committing road rage.

NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said no form of road rage was acceptable, especially when there were children present.

“It is frightening how quickly a moment of road rage can escalate into an impulse action that ruins lives, or worse, takes them away,” Mr Khoury said.

“This NRMA research serves as a timely reminder that it’s far better to take a deep breath and count to 10, rather than lose control behind the wheel.

“The NRMA is also concerned about the fact that so many cases of road rage occur when children are in the car.

“Aside from the obvious distress this could cause them, when the perpetrator is behind the wheel of the car they are in it also sets a terrible example.”

The personality traits fuelling road rage

A 2014 study by then Australian National University researchers Vanessa Beanland and Martin Sellbom looked at some of the personality traits that can fuel road rage – including the traits of people who engage in road rage and the traits of those whose driving errors may unintentionally spark road rage.

“Not surprisingly, deliberate driving violations were best predicted by the traits of 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,” Ms Beanland and Mr Sellbom wrote in an article about their findings, first published in The Conversation.

Young male drivers the most aggressive

Young male drivers

Younger male drivers aged between 22 and 39 are the most aggressive on our roads.

Younger male drivers aged between 22 and 39 are the most likely to exhibit extreme aggression according to a 2017 national study into aggressive driving on Australian roads by Monash University Accident Research Centre.

The study found that 36 per cent of male drivers in this age group reported having chased another driver when angry at least once.

“Aggressive driving was associated with drink-driving, speeding, and the use of a hand-held phone, suggesting it may be part of a larger suite of problem behaviours,” the report said.

The report found that aggressive driving was prevalent in Australia and that there was an association between this aggression and being involved in crashes, with 96 per cent of drivers involved in a crash also reporting aggressive behaviour.

Do you think road rage is getting worse on Canberra’s roads? Is Canberra’s culture fuelling this? Let us know about your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.

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A lot of salutary contributions here especially from those who’ve experienced road rage and trauma. In addition, I think we should remember that although access to private transport is almost a necessity in Canberra, it is a privilege, not a right. We are granted a license to drive (if we pass the tests) and we must drive not only according to the letter of the law but with competence and courtesy.

If we can’t be competent, we should give up driving no matter how much we need to use a car. If we are too tentative when merging for example, there is a high risk of a crash. Someone will come up from behind too fast without realising we have stopped which, of course puts them into the wrong – but, we contributed to the situation and must accept that and its consequences. Driving slowly is often criticised. But, it is lawful and often necessary. Conversely, it is not our right to impede others. If we are holding up traffic it’s only sensible to move over or park safely, if we can, to wait for the others to pass.

If we can’t be courteous similarly we should not drive or we will be on the giving/receiving end of an accident. We need to accept that other drivers may be forgetful, distracted, tired, drunk, incompetent, lazy, self-centred (ie. just as in other parts of life). Sometimes, the slow driver can’t safely park and let us pass or they are selfish bores who just don’t care of the effect of their actions on others. Either way, with courtesy rather than the finger, we will get to our destination, in time, which is better than not at all.

Has anyone else noticed that whenever a topic on road safety related issues emerges here it attracts a large number of responses that pretty much say the government is doing nothing and the police are missing in action.

So where are the elected representatives or responsible ministers? They are presiding over large scale lawlessness, if the views expressed here are correct.

Blen_Carmichael1:28 pm 13 Jun 18

What’s that old saying? “Anyone who drives slower than me is an idiot. Anyone who drives faster than me is a lunatic.”

Crazed_Loner9:45 am 20 Jun 18

Pretty much. Thanks, George Carlin for nailing it.

Blen_Carmichael1:27 pm 13 Jun 18

There is a lot to be said – when you’re the motorist who inadvertently does wrong to another – for acknowledging your conduct with a ‘sorry’ wave. That said, do so with all five fingers, less you give the impressing you’re extending the finger.

“The report found that aggressive driving was prevalent in Australia and that there was an association between this aggression and being involved in crashes, with 96 per cent of drivers involved in a crash also reporting aggressive behaviour.” Aggression after a traumatic incident that evokes our basal insticts!!!? Omg!!! In general, fund psych’s/counselors not traffic cops.

No, Grimm and others. Poor driving by others is NOT the cause of road rage. The cause and blame invariably lies with the perpetrator. If you cannot tolerate other people not driving the way you think they should, YOU shouldn’t be on the road.

Complaining about poor driving is like a sailor complaining about the sea. It’s just part of the deal.

So you should be able to continue ignoring the road rules, lacking any courtesy and driving as if you own the road and everybody else should deal with it? Nice sense of entitlement there. Please hand in your license.

You miss my point. There will ALWAYS be bad drivers. Being able to deal with that fact is part of being a good driver.

wildturkeycanoe3:59 pm 17 Jun 18

Also, being a good driver involves courtesy and not doing dumb stuff that can send the driver you just cut-off into a frenzy. I can tolerate a driving error, but when idiots pull into the right/overtaking lane causing me to have to slow down to below the speed limit, then they continue to sit there next to the car they were following, effectively causing a rolling road block, with no intention or possibility of turning right for the next several kilometres-excuse me for blowing my lid after you didn’t get the hint when I toot my horn, flash my lights and sit on your bumper! Arrogant so and so’s…..it cuts both ways.

Great article covering a very current issue. I wonder if the good Sgt Boorman left his direct number so people experiencing road rage could contact him to report their experiences rather that deal with the wall of indifference his organisation has erected to discourage such reports.

There should also be some investigation into the causes of road rage. Generally speaking, people don’t just go into a rage for no reason.

Every day I see horrible, dangerous driving and complete lack of consideration on the road, and yes, some times it is frustrating and anger inducing.

People who refuse to use indicators. People jumping on their brakes constantly for no apparent reason. People doing well under the speed limit on a straight stretch of road with 20 cars backed up behind them. People doing 60 (or any amount under the posted limit really) in the right hand lane of an 80 or 100 zone. People who let their car idle up to speed rather than use the accelerator. People driving around with their fog lights on and bad HID conversions blinding people. Trying to push in 1 car further ahead at a form 1 lane, rather than just using a zipper formation and not holding up traffic. Pulling out in front of people so they almost have to lock up their brakes to avoid a collision because you couldn’t wait for reasonable space between cars before entering the road. This stuff isn’t policed anywhere near as much as it should be. Expecting everybody else to be patient because you are a bad driver is just inconsiderate.

Deal with some of that and you’ll probably see road rage incidents drop like a rock. I don’t think many people get in their car looking for a fight.

Agree our roads are mostly excellent – and we’re not used to waiting. The attitude of “me first” is on display at all times.

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