Age of rage

Road rageBig egos, bigger cars, big-time heat and excessive pollution. Couple that with loud music, traffic jams and shrinking roads — the monster is out on the summer prowl. Data tells you that there have already been 26 deaths due to road rage in Delhi so far and the number is growing. SANGEETA YADAV speaks with road safety experts and traffic police personnel who tell her that with no separate law in place for violence on the road, this is fast becoming a cruel killer

Hit mercilessly 22 times till his head started bleeding, Aman Malhotra, a video editor at a reputed media house was assaulted and beaten on the Noida Expressway. His crime? He stopped a passing car and told the driver not to litter the road with an empty Coca Cola can. Aman was hospitalised for over 40 days and still has difficulty in writing reports. His culprit, 37-year-old Manish Dhani, is a product of St Columba’s and Hans Raj College. The topper in his batch, Dhani is working with a software company in Noida. His monthly take home is a handsome six digit figure.

Dhani’s wife had just delivered a baby girl and Dhani was on his way to see her on her one month birthday on the day of the altercation. His wife had told reporters the other day that Dhani was a super sensitive and a doting father. No one in their household could explain what went wrong with him that particular day! Dhani got away with a Rs50,000 bail bond and still continues to work in the same company. His wife refused to talk to this journalist at their Nirmal apartment in Mayur Vihar. She said ‘they don’t want to recall the nightmare’.

According to a recent report by the Delhi Traffic Police, more than 26 deaths due to road rage have happened thus far. And Delhi tops the chart with more than 70 per cent of the cases. Bangalore comes a close second.

“The number of injuries caused due to road rage will be much higher and it is on a growing curve. We receive as many 30 calls in a day with complaints of driver tussles on the road. The calls come in mostly in the afternoon or in between 10 pm to 7 am. Motorists are usually the first ones to lose their temper at a drop of a hat,” Anil Varman, Superintendent of Police, says.

He tells you that the figure could be way bigger if the cases were reported duly.

“Most of the road rage cases are settled with a mutual agreement and a friendly shake of hands. It is only the very serious types that get reported,” he explains. Varman recalls the Gurgaon traffic cop being mowed down near the Zakhira flyover as the worst case of road rage. “Our cop was dragged for 150 metres because he stopped the car for flouting traffic norms at an important juncture. That was the saddest case that I can recall. It was inhuman,” he says.

On April 26, a South Delhi-based chartered accountant and his wife were beaten up by two unidentified men in Vasant Kunj. The couple were going to their home in Mehrauli and got stuck in a huge traffic jam. Their fault was that their car bumped into a Nissan Micra car behind them while reversing. Talking about the sudden raise in road rage incident, an officer of Crime Branch said that “nowadays, vehicles are a symbol of newfound wealth and when any small matter like someone bumping into their car accidentally is taken as a prestige issue,” the officer added.

Despite the cases of road rage going up in the last three years, the Delhi Police still do not keep separate accounts of these incidents. When asked about the lacuna, the officer said: “We can’t do anything much in the absence of a specific law dealing with cases of road rage.” Mina Singh, who was once followed by a man for 3 km because she had grazed his car at the red light, says road rage could happen to the most sanest person on the planet.

“It takes only a few seconds to get into a brawl in the middle of the road with a stranger. Be it due to unnecessary honking, over speeding, tailgating, running a red light, or a minor accident, people tend to get angry and lose their cool. It all starts with abuses, verbal insults, obscene gesturing but then all hell breaks loose when the argument takes an ugly shape of road rage and situation goes out of control. A conflict over a petty issue becomes a major dispute resulting in injury, damage of the vehicle or even death,” Singh says.

As per Delhi Traffic reports, Delhi registered 34 cases of road rage in 2011, 49 cases in 2012, 53 cases in 2013, 93 cases in 2014 and 26 cases in just five months this year. Monika Bhardwaj, Additional DCP West, blames it on the ‘horrifying traffic sense of Delhiites and a stressful lifestyle to go with it.

“Just to travel an average of 5 km, people violate at least 10 traffic rules. Add to this an extremely stressful lifestyle and we’ve a heady cocktail. Aggressive behaviour spells doom on Delhi roads. I’ve a huge issue with the basic traffic sense in people who live in the metros. As a police officer, it’s my responsibility to correct the people who flout traffic norms. But if I start doing that, I would not be able to reach home in two days. Until and unless traffic violations are controlled, road rage can’t be controlled,” Bhardwaj says.

Road rage, especially in Delhi, has spiraled in the last decade where people don’t think twice before using aggression over petty issues. The Noida toll plaza is one such place where one frequents road rage mishaps. Manav Sharma, an MBA from Bihar, employed at the toll plaza says ego plays a huge role too in road rage.

“Last week, we were having an argument with a mini truck driver because he didn’t have the right exemption papers. It must have been hardly five minutes but the person in his Skoda who was right behind this truck, got down and came charging at us. He was abusing the driver left, right and centre. The issue which was big on his mind was, how dare he let the owner of a highly paid sedan wait?,” he recalls. Manav tells you that the person behind the wheels was the owner himself, dressed in style and sporting all possible brands he could.

So, why do well-placed people lose their cool and tend to misbehave at the slightest of altercation?

“The main cause is the uncontrollable anger that people appear to demonstrate when stressed on the road. And the heat adds up to the aggression which bursts out on the road. People are full of unsaid and unexpressed anger which comes out in these situations,” Yogesh Dutta, COO, CP Plus, an advanced surveillance and security systems solutions, tell you.

Agrees Reetesh Riku, psychologist, who has been jointly working with Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) for conducting research activities on road safety.

“No one has patience to wait for a long time while travelling. In-built anger and lack of patience are the biggest reasons for road rage. And it has been found that the teenagers lose their cool very easily during road accidents. Emotional stability and the attitude towards driving matters a lot,” Riku says.

With a large number of teenagers reported to be involved in road rage cases, what is astonishing is the fact that their parents allow the child to get away.

“We got a PCR call at about 2:30 pm on April 12 at the Vasant Kunj main road. A Wagon R had hit a bike at a red light and the two were at each other’s throat. The biker must have been hardly 16 and had no papers on him. The boy driving the Wagon R was a little over 19. This is how the teens in India flout norms and get away with it. We booked the biker for no show of papers but he was immediately bailed out by his father,” Varman points out.

He says that children are taught from an early age that they can easily get away from a petty violation or act of road rage. According to the statistics compiled by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 66 per cent of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving. Thirty-seven per cent of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm. Boys under the age of 19 are the most likely to exhibit road rage. Half of the drivers who are on the receiving end of an aggressive behaviour, such as horn honking, a rude gesture, or tailgating admit to responding with aggressive behavior themselves. Over a seven year period, 218 murders and 12,610 injuries were attributed to road rage.

As per the report titled Aggressive Driving Case Studies and Mitigations in India’ Driver’s aggression can be an erratic and potentially dangerous behaviour called Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). It’s significantly different from foul temper and it affects up to one in 20 people more men than women.

“One could even point a finger at our hectic lifestyle. People are so occupied with their gadgets that they pay less attention to what they are doing at the moment. The pollution and temperature also has an integral part to play in making people very temperamental. All the negative energy and heat bursts out on road through rash driving and getting into unnecessary brawls with other drivers. However, you can’t say it is all due to the heat. Our 2010 research report suggests that it has been observed that the even in the cold and raining season, people tend to get into the fights with other drivers on petty issues,” Neelima Chakrabarty, senior principal scientist, traffic engineering and safety division, CRRI, tells you.

From the survey conducted in 2010 by CRRI, it was observed that 38 per cent road rage incidences were triggered due to high speeding accompanied with wrong inside overtaking and 25 per cent due to tailgating by any of the parties (victim or aggressor). Other types of violence involved during road rage incidences were red light jumping 13 per cent, hitting from the back 13 per cent, high speeding with overloaded vehicle 4 per cent, aggressive honking horn 4 per cent and driving under influence of alcohol 4per cent.

The Special Commissioner of Police for Traffic, Muktesh Chander has another explanation to offer for the increase in road rage cases. Chander says traffic jams are providing impetus for road incidents.

“People tend to get jittery and lose their cool especially if they are time bound but there is nothing they can do about unscheduled traffic jams.  I would advise people to leave for their destination much in advance,” Chander, says.

Have the CCTV cameras in every nook and cranny of the city resulted in curbing violence on the roads? Riku says the cameras only assist the police in post-accident cases. It doesn’t act as a deterrent for unruly people who lash out in the middle of the road without giving it much of a thought. According to the police the serial offenders (who display violence on the road) are also serial traffic violators. A recent survey by the Delhi Police’s Traffic Wing found that the behaviour of motorists on roads was only worsening.

Persistent honking (25 per cent), continuous flashing of headlights (27 per cent), aggressive driving (25 per cent) and rude gestures or verbal insults (23 per cent) trouble commuters and fellow motorists alike, the survey found. The fine is a pittance. Worse, the passersby rarely call the PCR or note down numbers, making it impossible for the police to track down the accused later. DTC bus drivers with a nasty temper come a close second.

The study done by Riku shows that 80 per cent of the DTC driver have colour blindness and are not fit for driving. Most of them don’t even know the rules. This not only causes road accidents but also leads to a lot of violence on the road. The need of the hour is the assessment and evaluation test on drivers.

“All the drivers should be assessed on various intervals on the psychometric parameter that includes aggression towards driving, the alcohol addiction, alertness, attention, concentration, reaction time and death perception. But unfortunately, we don’t have such a system in place in road safety rules,” he tells you.

The Delhi Traffic Police is also planning to have large scale deployment of surveillance camera as well as automated enforcement cameras which can detect offense automatically and print a traffic violation ticket without a warning.

“We are in the process of getting automatic enforcement cameras as early as possible. It will be installed at every red light and the moment anybody flouts the traffic rule, it will click several photographs and record videos and sent it to the central server which will process the number plate and generate fee receipt automatically,” Chander says adding if the driver is caught in any road rage incident, their license must be reviewed. “Their medical history should be checked to see the aggression parameter and see if the driver is a habitual offender,” he says.

If you have been hit by a car there is no better way to deal with that crime other than to call the Police and let them take it from there.

“It’s dangerous to get into a verbal altercation with anyone and take the law in your hand. We aren’t living in an anarchist society. There is a certain procedure we follow and people should learn to respect that,” Chander informs.

He tells you that a quick redressal system is going to be placed and that should ease everyone’s tension.

“Drivers presume that nothing will happen to them even if they have been involved in a road rage incident. But not any longer. We’ll very soon have a system in place which will track down such offenders and punish them severely with a heavy penalty,” he says.

Another thing that gives rise to uncontrolled aggression on the roads is loud blaring music. The police feels with a little bit of self-anger management, it will help to keep road rage cases in the bare minimum.

“Make small but necessary lifestyle changes like taste of music for instance. Opt for soothing trance numbers which have a say on your temperament. If you are getting angry and irritated, follow the old practice of anger management i.e. count to the number 100,” Chander adds.

There have been many campaigns which are run by the private organisations and NGOs. One of them is by CP Plus.

“Road rage can be extremely catastrophic, hence it is important to keep track of what’s happening on the roads and prevent people from indulging in unnecessary fights for petty issues. Through our ‘Say No to Road Rage’ campaign, we wish to make people aware of the repercussions that their rage can bring in others’ lives. CP Plus emphasises on how a proper surveillance system can regulate such incidents. The need for security and surveillance systems in India has moved from being a sporadic need to an urban necessity. A human attitude undergoes a behavioural change if he is aware about the security camera placement hence the probability of avoiding road menace goes up,” Dutta says.

‘Don’t know what happened to him’

Driving through the busy NH10 Rohtak road amidst heavy traffic and dusty roads, one reaches Mundka village — a place that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It is here that the latest of road rage incidents have occurred which resulted in a bloody death of a bus driver. Passers-by, slow down when they cross this village and pay a visit to the ‘area’ where a biker and his mother beat the driver to death.

A few twists and turns later we reach the residence of Vijay Singh, the offender who has been booked for murder. An old man sitting outside his home gave us the highlights of the events — “It was a Sunday morning when this incident unfurled in front of our eyes. The bus hit Vijay’s bike and his mother fell on the road. She got a few bruises. Vijay got annoyed and started beating up the driver with his hands, the fire extinguisher and his helmet. No one was allowed to intervene as the mother and son kept bludgeoning the hapless driver,” he recounts. Tau tells you that he was very shocked to see that avatar of 19-year-old Vijay. “He is a simple and sober boy who hardly got into a brawl with anyone in the village. His mother, Roshini too was a very calm and reserved person. Vijay is a bright student, having appeared for his Board exam. The family had high hopes of him,” he says.

Even Vijay’s neighbours had a good word to say about this disciplined boy who was respectful towards his seniors. The conductor of the bus had a different tale to tell. According to Manjeet Kumar, who filed the FIR, the mother was the one who kept urging her son to keep beating driver. She kept shouting — ‘Maar bete Vijay, isko sabak seekha de taaki isko pata chale ki hum Mundka gaon ke rehne wale hai’. (Hit him Vijay till he bleeds. No one should dare to do this to anyone in Mundka village). When we reach his home, a daunting figure greets us at the doorstep. Vijay’s father ushers us inside the home. He has been prancing up and down not knowing what to do. “They were limping, had injuries on their head, face and hand and their clothes were torn. The driver collapsed due to a heart attack,” he says. The family is worried about the mother, who is also taken into police custody. “My wife is illiterate and she was made to sign papers. We tried to meet her but refused to talk. She has not eaten a morsel since she was jailed,” Raj says.

He can’t afford a lawyer. “They are charging Rs6 lakh as fee. I can’t afford that. My elder son gets Rs8,000 for driving cluster buses and as a post office clerk, I earn Rs20,000” he says.

(The article was published in The Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/special/age-of-rage.html)

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