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Commentary: With Singapore-Malaysia travel back in full swing, so are road rage and bad driving

Incidents of road rage and bad driving at the Malaysia-Singapore land border have gained notoriety on social media. Drivers who were desensitised to casual aggression in the past might now be more easily goaded, says SUSS’ Omer Ali Saifudeen.

Commentary: With Singapore-Malaysia travel back in full swing, so are road rage and bad driving

Malaysians travelling to Singapore said they encountered massive traffic jams on Tuesday (Apr 2). (Photo: Telegram/SG Custom & Msia Road)

SINGAPORE: Despite the backlog at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, I got my passport renewed after some time, and have been harbouring ideas of simple weekend getaways to Malaysia.

Unfortunately, viral clips of road rage and bad driving at the border make me think twice. There was the woman who ripped off a licence plate of a car that scraped hers, and a man who angrily flashed a Malaysian passport while cutting in front of another car, en route to the Johor checkpoint. 

Why does crossing the border seem more harrowing these days? Perhaps we’ve forgotten such bad behaviour used to be the norm.

Prior to COVID-19 shutting off trips across the Causeway and Second Link, people got used to the jams, queue-cutting and occasional vulgarities and rude gestures. We all know of vehicles that drive on designated bus or emergency lanes, then merge back into the car lane after clearing some distance.

Now with land borders fully open, are more frustrated but travel-eager individuals being reintroduced to the same conditions? Indeed, drivers who were desensitised to such casual aggression in the past might now be more easily goaded.


Add to this mix whatever emotional baggage one might be carrying along to the trip. It has been proven in a US study that driving while angry or sad increases the risk of harmful incidents on the road by as much as ten times.

Vehicles form a long queue to enter the Woodlands Checkpoint in Singapore early on Apr 1, 2022, before crossing the Causeway into Malaysia's southern Johor state, as both countries reopen their borders to all fully vaccinated travellers. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

Research in Germany revealed that driving while angry leads to an increase in instances of deliberate aggressive behaviour which can result in more frequent accidents or instances of road rage.

In the case of sadness, French researchers found it is akin to a case of cognitive distraction, as the driver spirals into rumination over the depressing issue and focuses less on their surroundings.

While it is not realistic to only drive when perfectly calm, being cognisant of how you feel before you go on the trip would at least guard yourself from losing control due to a provocation.

Circumstances also play a role. According to routine activity theory proposed by American criminologists Marcus Felson and Lawrence E Cohen, crime occurs when there is a convergence of a motivated offender, an attractive target and the absence of capable guardianship.

Let’s look at the last factor first. In most of these cases, the altercation is over and any remedial action involving the authorities takes place after the incident. With chock-a-block traffic at the Causeway and Second Link, a “guardian” to enforce rules or keep the peace cannot simply materialise anytime they are needed.

Now add to this mix a “motivated offender”: The driver who has been stuck in the jam for hours, only for another driver to break out of the long line of sufferers to cut in ahead.

Finally the “attractive target”. The offender feels this target deserves the reciprocal aggression and is someone they can take on. They could be enraged by another provocative action, say an insult or a gesture following the lane-cutting, that it triggers fixation on the target.


So what can we do in these situations that are almost unavoidable at land checkpoints? Recently, when I was travelling in a private hire car, another driver suddenly cut into our lane.

Instead of cursing and swearing, my driver said, “I think I am learning to be a better person.”

I was surprised and asked why he said that. He replied that in the past, it would take even smaller aggravations to tip him into a rage.

But over the years, he learnt losing his cool was just not worth it – it would sour his trip and create risks for his passengers. More importantly, every time he let slights go, he felt himself becoming a better person all-around.

This is laudable, but obviously easier said than done. It can be very hard not to reciprocate an aggressive action on the road.

One strategy is to displace any negative reaction or thought with a reminder of what your broader goal is – in this case, to get to your destination safely without any incident.

If there is a way to safely move away from the initial aggressive action, then quickly do so. Remember reciprocally responding to any aggression is a sure-fire recipe for the situation to escalate. If you need redress, take down all necessary information and pass it to the relevant authorities subsequently.

So the next time you are stuck at immigration and you witness errant behaviour, tell yourself this: The jam cannot last forever, but the repercussions of any rash act would.

Instead, picture that nice meal you might be having with your family or friends at the end that long journey. Isn’t that something better to look forward to?

Dr. Omer Ali Saifudeen is Senior Lecturer, Public Safety and Security Programme at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).

Source: CNA/el