Road rage is real, and though it may seem easier to pop a piston and seethe, if we can do something about it, why don't we?
“How is my driving?” taunted the four seemingly-innocuous words on the back of the light commercial ahead of me.
Absolutely crap, I seethed silently, wishing I were piloting an old beat-up bakkie with nudge bars up front to ram the offending idiot back into the lane from whence he came dangerously unannounced.
Of course once I’d calmed my building road rage sufficiently, I had to confess that like the king of pop once declared, I was a lover and not a fighter.
Aside from the fact that I don’t like getting into altercations or having my blissful state interrupted whilst driving, I realised my biggest crime at that moment on the road was failing to take up the invitation on the back of the offending vehicle.
Ever noticed that sign on the back of a truck, bus, taxi or some kind of company delivery vehicle?
It’s an invitation to observe and assess the driving habits of the man or woman behind the wheel. Should the occasion require it then, the invite is to be followed up with a telephone call to the vehicle or company owner or fleet manager.
And, I rejected the invitation point blank, too consumed by my rage and pessimism to actually follow through and report the incident.
It’s the kind of apathy that many motorists display on their daily trudge through traffic, succumbing rather to bouts of rage, plenty hooting, brake testing, flashing lights and a really well-manouvered middle finger for that coup de grace.
Aside from the instant gratification of exhaling expletives or throwing out a gesture or two, what is the real benefit of that instantaneous road rage?
The offending vehicle moves on and we switch routes, veering off onto another highway or simply getting caught up in the mix of other traffic issues before we even think about responding to that invite on the back of the car.
So, the truth of the matter is that, despite the highway histrionics, we would have accomplished very little with our off-the-cuff road rage responses.
Short of stopping cars, getting out and into a full-on brawl with fists, baseball bats or worse, many of us are simply ignoring the most obvious: start complaining.
And, I’m not just talking bitching and moaning – I mean real complaints with teeth.
Traffic authorities around the country have quick-access hotlines while countrywide a national traffic call centre was set up to give pedestrians and drivers an opportunity to report incidents of bad driving, irresponsible road behaviour, corruption involving traffic cops and even unroadworthy vehicles.
Being a responsible citizen
In addition to the bad driving hotline, the concept of registered traffic observers was also launched, with anonymous observers in all provinces attempting to do their bit by reporting offending motorists and road users.
Since the launch of the bad driving hotline and registered traffic observers system, tens of thousands of complaints have been lodged, with authorities issuing warnings as well as using the reported information to compile databases of serial wrongdoers.
So, while there are many of us out there, apathetic and even cynical about the effectiveness of such reporting, there are motorists and road users who take seriously the call to be responsible citizen.
Across the web, citizen motorists responding to websites such as baddriving.co.za are recording dates, times, car makes and details of offences in a bid to “name and shame” those behind the wheel.
And still, there are those who do like I did – reject the invitation, stew in my own anger and outrage before finding some other outlet on which to take out our frustration.
Oh, but why bother? The cops will never do anything. Traffic cops are just interested in collecting revenue from fines or speed trapping and will never call to order the real offenders on the road….
These and plenty other excuses are used to explain away the apathy and our own laziness as drivers who simply cannot be bothered to note dates, times, number plates, street names and place of the offence.
Change starts with us
Come on people – it's really not that painful or difficult.
And yes, the authorities may not always bare their teeth when it comes to policing such things as irresponsible driving, but the change of mindset has to start with us as road users first and not just the authority figures who manage the roads.
I don’t mind owning up to the fact that on more than one occasion I have in fact been that arsehole driver, uncaring, selfish and arrogant, cutting in or making a dangerous move.
But, I have generally found that one act of goodness or gracious, courteous behaviour on the road will lead to another one.
All of us who use our roads must take a collective responsibility in improving our conditions and safety.
Let's start this by joining those who name and shame the baddies and not be afraid to put our own number plates on the line as well.
Why should only the trucks and commercial vehicles have bumper stickers that ask "How am I driving?”?
Lets put that sticker and the bad driving hotline number of 0861 400 800 on our own cars as well and see whether this alters our habits and driving style. Let's start writing a new code of conduct for motorists and road users alike.
More than that, let's take not just responsibility but action as well.
Write up the complaints, log the calls and let's start enforcing the culture of good driving.