Inside road rage: What turns Singaporean drivers into monsters?
Is it the stress of life, the value we place on our cars, or poor driving skills that lead to frayed tempers? One driver gets help to deal with his rage, on the programme Talking Point.
SINGAPORE: All it takes is an “idiot driver” hogging the lane to set him off.
“It gets my blood boiling,” said the radio show caller who identified himself as Sin. “And the next thing I’d do is, I’d overtake him. I’d look at him, point the finger at him, call him to the side road, and then we settle it like men.”
Asked by 938NOW host Keith de Souza about facing the consequences, legal or otherwise, of his actions, he said: “I don’t care.”
“If a man is angry, he’s angry,” he said simply.
Sin, who has been driving for more than 40 years, is not alone. Videos of road rage incidents on Singapore’s roads have been viral fodder on social media, while related court cases have made the headlines.
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According to a survey by insurer AXA, one in two Singaporean drivers feel that the roads have become less safe compared to three years ago – citing more aggressive drivers as the top reason.
So what is it that is setting off seemingly normal people once they get behind the wheel?
In a recent episode, the programme Talking Point delved into the question by getting into a car with a a driver who is candidate for road rage. (Watch the episode here.)
Mac, as he wanted to be known, does not look like an angry person. In fact the 42-year-old project manager’s friend, Siva, described him as “a really awesome dude” – except for his “horrible temper” that “translates into his driving”.
Mac admits that getting angry while driving is normal for him. He said:
I believe that’s how it is on Singapore roads; a lot of people are stressed.
“Sometimes, you start the day with certain emotions after leaving your home or workplace. The first few guys who cut in without signalling, you try to be ‘okay, never mind’.
“But then it happens again – and it hits you to the maximum. You want to show some sign language to tell him that this is not okay.” Once, he even got out of his car to snap at the other driver.
Talking Point host Steven Chia soon got a taste of Mac’s impatience. A bus on his left moved too slowly for Mac, and he sped ahead to cut it off – earning a honk from the bus driver.
Asked if he felt that was “slightly aggressive” driving, Mac sheepishly agreed. “I was also thinking there was a car following behind me … I could be wrong."
Asked why he thought there was so much road rage in Singapore, ROADS.SG founder Aloysius Fong noted that cars were very expensive here.
“And so, the car will always be a treasured item. If you come close and you threaten my car or me, I will react straightaway,” he said.
His director, Jason Lim, also attributed it to a sense of entitlement.
One type of driver, in particular, is often generalised as acting entitled: Those who own flashy and expensive cars.
Mr Lester Tang, marcoms director of Sports Car Club (Singapore) – which educates its 120 members to be gracious on the road – agreed that there’s the impression that if one has a high-powered sports car, one must be an aggressive driver. “(But) sports car or not, road rage is a personality thing,” he said.
Club president Rosalind Choo said she is not an angry driver, but has been the brunt of other drivers’ aggression. Once, she accidentally knocked another car while opening the door of her Lamborghini and apologised for it.
“The next thing (the other driver) said was: ‘Don’t think that driving a supercar is a big deal.' I don’t know where she got that from.”
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Can road rage be reined in?
There is no specific law here that deals with road rage, but it is treated as a criminal offence once it becomes a case of voluntarily causing hurt. The number of such cases that involve road rage has actually dropped by nearly 30 per cent – from 90 in 2013 to 66 in 2017.
On a personal level, though, grappling with one’s anger demons can seem daunting. One 938NOW caller described it as something that “takes over” a person. “You're out of control. When it happens, you are not yourself,” said the man, Mr Chan.
But Mac was open to giving it a go at the Singapore Counselling Centre, which sees more than 70 clients a month who need help managing their anger.
Mr Warton Ong, a professional counsellor, suggested an easy deep breathing technique – inhaling through one’s nose, holding for about four seconds, and exhaling slowly through pursed lips.
“When we’re triggered, our breathing becomes very chaotic,” he explained. “It inhibits the way you think, feel and act.
Once we’re able to stabilise our breathing, then we get the thinking brain back in action.
"And we’ll realise, ‘I need not retaliate, because that will endanger my life’.”
Mr Ong also showed Mac what he calls “thinking traps”, such as “should statements” – telling yourself that things should be the way you hope or expect them to be.
Mac agreed that sometimes he is too quick to judge and blame others. He reckoned that he should focus more on his driving and less on others’.
DID HE IMPROVE?
Mac said he would try to apply Mr Ong’s suggestions in his daily driving routine – and after three weeks, Talking Point put his patience to the test.
With senior instructor Mr Low Kar Yoong from the Singapore Safety Driving Centre secretly taking on the role of a bad driver, Mac was put through a few scenarios.
In one, Mr Low drove slowly and uncertainly in front of Mac, who decided to overtake the road hog. Mr Low sounded his horn and Mac waved him off.
Mr Low then cut into Mac’s lane and jammed on his brakes. Mac high-beamed him and sounded his horn.
Finally, Mr Low cut into Mac’s lane again and made an abrupt left turn, and Mac did not react – he stayed calm.
“I put myself in that position ... Sometimes we miss a spot and you want to turn. It could be me,” he reasoned.
Giving his assessment afterwards, Mr Low said he thought Mac responded pretty well, pointing out that he “didn’t do any dangerous manoeuvres like overtaking me abruptly”. He added: “Some horning or high beams is fine to prevent accidents from happening."
Mac shared that he felt calmer than the first time Mr Chia had sat in a car with him. The counsellor’s advice had proven useful.
“Normally I would have used colourful words and pointed my middle finger. But today, I was taking a deep breath and trying to focus on my driving and my safety,” he said.
Watch the Talking Point episode on road rage here.