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Road deaths and rage? This is South Africa

13.04.2015

IT’S that time of year… again! We’re all getting back to work after a lovely break over the Easter holidays. Unfortunately, our reality check normally includes frightening statistics about road deaths over the period accompanied by a dollop of road rage and traffic frustration upon returning to the real world.

The statistics are out and they’re grim! There was a massive increase in road deaths over the Easter period this year with 287 deaths in over 200 collisions across the country. This means there were 139 more fatalities than over the same period last year and it also signifies that the deaths per day exceed the national average.

On the topic of road rage, which is experienced during holidays and during our regular trudge to the office, what are the physiological symptoms of this rage, which has caused death and serious injury over something as minor as cutting in? Some of you might be saying, “Cutting in being minor you say, how dare you!” But, as you say that, your body is triggering the same responses as seen in a road rage situation.

When that taxi goes through a red light, the SUV cuts in front of you, the sedan turns at the traffic light when it’s red, when that hatch back takes a couple of seconds to pull off at the traffic light or that bakkie tailgates you on the highway, you will experience the following: your muscles tense, your testosterone levels (ladies you too) shoot up and the left part of your brain is activated.

This is followed by increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, which forces more oxygen, adrenaline and sugar into a the bloodstream,  while your breathing gets heavier. It is this dose of chemicals all combining at once that give people that rush, which causes road rage. This manifests itself in very convincing rude hand gestures with an accompanying angry face, swearing, flashing of lights, hooting and even physical provocation which - if you watch on YouTube - is hilarious on film but quite scary, in person.

Apart from the physical effects, there’s the emotional side of it. We seem to think that Joe/Jane Soap in front of us has a personal vendetta against us when committing and offence towards us. We think that being cut off is a personal insult and it’s this reason why people sit in traffic steaming, mulling over ‘that person’ who cut them off, which leads to the whole situation escalating.

Also remember that road rage comes as a result of stress; we don’t just snap. Rush-hour traffic makes us very anxious and that leads to stress, which makes us susceptible to provocation and out-of-the-ordinary behaviour. Both these physical and emotional effects take a toll on your body. If you suffer road rage frequently, you run the risk of heart disease and other undesirable health problems.

In the event of an incident where you can feel the rage building up inside you, I have two suggestions that might help you calm down. First, try and play some soothing music, maybe even download a stand-up comedy podcast or something.  Secondly, take a deep breath and count to ten, slowly and remember, there are people, not cars in front of you and as we know, human beings are impulsive so cut them some slack and save yourself an aneurism.

Article written by Sean Nurse
13.04.2015
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