'It's shocking': Victoria's worrying culture of aggressive driving

Gayle Howard, who was nearly run off the road by an aggressive driver in road rage incident. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Gayle Howard, who was nearly run off the road by an aggressive driver in road rage incident. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Years after it happened, Gayle Howard still replays the terrifying incident in her mind.

The man in the rear vision mirror, barrelling toward her, honking, yelling and shaking his fists while pushing other motorists off the road.

Ms Howard still wonders what would have become of her if she hadn't turned her eyes back to the road in time to see a bus stopped just metres in front of her car.

"I had flashbacks about that for years. I've never been so terrified in my life," she says. "I felt absolutely sick, sick to my stomach thinking because of some idiot, my life could have ended that day.

"He would have screamed up the road and I would have been embedded in the back of that bus. I kept thinking of that. He would never have been caught."

Ms Howard's account of road rage is repeated with alarming regularity across Victorian roads.

A study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre has found aggressive driving is "prevalent" on Australian roads. It follows a spate of serious road rage accidents this year which have hospitalised Victorians.

A staggering 18 per cent of drivers in the survey admitted to deliberately chasing another driver to intimidate them, a figure concerning both road authorities and police.

In Victoria, 86 per cent of drivers say they expressed anger on the road, concerning experts who warn dangerous behaviour is becoming part of our driving culture.

Report co-author Dr Amanda Stephens, an expert in aggressive driving behaviour, said people became angry behind the wheel when they perceived other drivers were deliberately getting in their way.

Examples ranged from low level honking and verbal abuse, to tailgating and chasing another driver.

"It's almost becoming part of our driving culture," she said, describing some of the results as "shocking". "If you're in a lift with someone else and they're slow to get out, you don't tut at them, but on the roads you do."

"I think it's increasing because we're accepting the behaviour more. Eight out of 10 drivers said they'd acted aggressively out of anger. It's everywhere."

More than 35 per cent of men aged 22 to 39 have pursued another driver at least once.

More than half of female drivers aged 26 to 39 have tailgated, compared to 60 per cent of men the same age.

Assistant police Commissioner Doug Fryer says drivers have stopped being courteous to one another. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Assistant police Commissioner Doug Fryer says drivers have stopped being courteous to one another. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer said the behaviour he had seen of other drivers, including young women, was "absolutely frightening".

"It's a problem any time anyone loses their cool when they're sitting in two tonne of steel.

"We have seen death on our roads where we have seen people lose their cool end up killing someone.

"This isn't someone just shouting but ramming another vehicle and that has fatal consequences."

Mr Fryer said a decrease in driver courtesy had become an issue, and mentioned motorists pushing in at the end of slipstreams as a common example.

"For me, it's about being respectful to each other on the road and understanding each one of us is in a vehicle which weighs a couple of tonnes, and when we lose our cool, it can have fatal consequences.

Transport Accident Commission road safety director Samantha Cockfield said discourteous driving was a "perennial issue" and the TAC was working on educating young drivers.

"It's incredibly concerning that people do display aggressive behaviours on the road and they are unable to have impulse control," she said.

Ms Cockfield said the graduated licence system had helped reduce accidents involving young drivers but kiboshed suggestions a "Bloody Idiot" style advertising campaign was needed to tackle aggressive driving.

"It's a very small group that display these behaviours. The more we educate people about using the road and that everybody has the right to use the road, the more courteous and less aggressive people will be."

Dr Stephens said she didn't want to discourage motorists from using the roads and said as drivers aged, they tended to become less aggressive.

"The majority of drivers the majority of the time will probably try to deal with any anger or frustration in a positive way, but we do have a group of drivers who don't have those coping mecanisms."

The study surveyed 2916 drivers. Data was collected in 2014 and is being presented for the first time.

- The Age

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