“You’re an idiot!” I shout loudly at the driver who has just illegally turned in front of me.
As I sit there shaking my head in frustration, I hear my daughter’s voice from the back seat.
“That driver is an idiot,” she agrees, also shaking her head.
Although part of me was secretly pleased that I had my mini-me’s support, the other part of me knew the reality: she is only six and road rules and driving behaviour aren’t really something she has much knowledge or experience in — well, apart from observing mine.
It made me wonder just what the impact of her witnessing that behaviour is likely to be.
How we drive impacts our children
“Children are absolutely like sponges and are always watching and learning,” says Dr Stan Steindl, clinical psychologist and Adjunct Associate Professor at The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology.
“As parents, we model certain behaviours, not least behaviours of calm, coping, patience and tolerance, or alternatively, reactivity, aggression and lack of restraint.
“Experiencing a parent’s anger in the car on the way to school can set things up so that if something goes awry for them in the playground then they are just that bit more likely to respond in the way they observed their parents do that morning in the car.”
The Aggressive Driving and Road Rage — Australian Survey 2020, says: “More than one in four (28 per cent) Australians who drive on a regular basis report having been involved in a road-rage incident as either the offender or the victim in the past.”
“[And] during the past 12 months, nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of Australian drivers say other road users have shouted at, cursed or made rude gestures at them or others with them.”
When our children are learning to drive or have their licence, Dr Steindl says our actions can get re-enacted too – only this time it’s behind the wheel.
Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission (TAC) has found considerable evidence that parents shape their children’s future driving habits considerably – both positively and negatively.
“Children are learning to drive long before they get their learners permits. Positive role modelling parents can have a huge influence on how children drive in the future,” says the TAC.
What exactly constitutes road rage?
Dr Amanda Stephens, research fellow at Monash University’s Accident Research Centre (MUARC), says driver aggression can occur in a number of ways.
“It can be swearing or gesticulating, honking the horn, to more serious use of the vehicle to show anger (e.g. speeding, tailgating, dangerous overtaking).
“Then there is the extreme form of aggression – what we call road rage and what we often see in the media, where a driver tries to get out of their car to confront another road user.”
Why do we road rage?
Dr Stephens says “there is something unique about the driving situation that leads to more anger and different ways of expressing that anger”.
“Often when we get angry, it is because something has got in our way or stopped us from doing something (a slow car that might be making us late) and this seems unjust or avoidable (e.g. there’s no reason for the car to be driving slowly) and we can easily blame someone for that situation (it’s the driver’s fault).”
She also says that the following components can contribute:
- The anonymity of the vehicle (i.e. it’s our bubble);
- Different social rules;
- The need to assess the situation quickly;
- A lack of communication between drivers.
How to model positive driving behaviour?
Dr Stephens suggests being mindful of your driving time (don’t dwell on it, rethink the situation, breathe calmly) or even who is in the car (do you want your children to see you do this?) can be a great way to refocus on the driving task and not let the annoyance ruin your day.
“Remember, aggression increases crash risk. It’s not worth it.”
Some other tips to avoid road rage from the National Road Safety Partnership Program are:
- Expect traffic delays every time you get into your car. Plan ahead and leave early to avoid time-pressured driving.
- Turn on the radio to your favourite music station or put on a podcast (before you take off) and enjoy the ride.
- Focus on the task at hand — getting to your destination as safely as possible. It will take your mind off any feelings of frustration and on to your driving.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs — it not only increases your risk of a crash, it can also make some people more prone to anger.
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