Road rage and me: a personal view

Published: 16 May 2012

Some people will scoff at this, but I like to think of myself as a fair and considerate driver: I don’t undertake people, I don’t tailgate (okay, I sometimes give dodderers a gentle push out of the fast lane, and there’s another caveat below, but bear with me), I stick to my urban speed limits, and on motorways and dual carriageways I try to anticipate when other drivers will need extra space to overtake a car up ahead. However, I am prone to the occasional bout of road-rage, and one thing in particular sets me off: cars undertaking me and pushing in when I’m queuing to overtake a slower moving car or, more usually, lorry. I absolutely hate this, because I can’t understand why the other driver can’t understand what I’m up to.

I’m not sitting in the outside lane twiddling my thumbs. I’m waiting patiently to get past other traffic, and I’m being aggressively cut-up by some muppet who’s too selfish to put himself in my shoes. I’d never do it to anyone else. It’s probably the British obsession with queuing manifesting itself in my driving, and also my competitive streak rearing its head; I’m not proud of it, but I find it deeply irritating and I’ll sometimes try to close the gap in front of me to fend off my undertaking attacker, which I realise is potentially dangerous, a bit childish and also counts as tailgating. I’m sorry, but it prods those buttons and I find it hard not to react.

However, I’ve never absolutely blown my top and tried to force a physical confrontation with any other motorists; I can keep enough of a check on my emotions to know it’s stupid and not worth it. But I’ve had other drivers try to attack me on two occasions.

The road rage diaries

The first time was back in 2005 when I had a Fiat Stilo Schumacher on test; remember those? I was turning right off the A1 at a roundabout into my adopted town, and came up behind a 3-series that was making the same manoeuvre, but painfully slowly. I left the Stilo in third gear, thinking that was all I needed to pull past when I got onto the two-way road into town. But as I pulled alongside and started to edge ahead, I noticed I wasn’t leaving the 3-series behind anymore; in fact, he was accelerating hard, forcing me towards the next corner on the wrong side of the road. I felt like I was too far ahead to brake, but not far enough ahead to pull in. A car started to come towards us. I held out for as long as I dared, then pulled back to my side of the road, probably at about 90mph.

I left the 3-series behind through the next couple of turns – Schumacher would have been proud – and pulled into a parking spot next to a river with lovely dappled sunlight filtering through the trees and onto a neatly trimmed verge. That was scary, I thought. Phew. Then that same 3-series screeched to a halt in the middle of the road. As the driver leapt out, I noticed he had a small girl – probably five or six years old – in the passenger seat. He immediately came after me and demanded a fight for ‘trying to kill me’. I looked at the girl. She seemed terrified. Looking back on it now, it’s all quite ridiculous, as 3-series man actually chased me around my car, me all the while refusing to man-up while other motorists – blocked by his car – sat and stared at us.

Eventually he gave up, but it was one of those moments when you realise how differently some people view the roads. He was the one who’d forced the dangerous situation, after all, but I was 100% to blame by his skewed perception. There was no way I could reason with him.

Road rage Round 2

The second incident happened a couple of years ago when I’d taken a Porsche GT2 the long way home from work. It was dark but dry on a road that I knew well, and I was tailing a guy at a short distance who was doing 40mph in a 60mph limit. We approached a short straight with broken white lines, I moved to the right and indicated and sat there for a second, giving him a moment to register that I was coming through. Then, just as I started to accelerate, 40mph man swerved into the middle of the road. I braked hard, and moved as close to the trees at the side of the road as I could. I was furious, and I could instantly feel my face flush with the shock of what had just happened.

A few corners later and 40mph man indicated to pull into his drive. As he did so, I peered out of my closed side window and raised my hand, a bewildered gesture to say ‘what the f***?’. 40mph man stopped his car and bounded towards me. I opened my window. ‘You almost killed me,’ he said, echoing 3-series road-rage man. I couldn’t believe it. How could anyone construe what had just happened as me attempting to kill him?

‘It’s not,’ I trembled, ‘for you to decide when or not I can overtake you.’ I was about to mention the broken lines and the 60mph limit when he then offered to smash me all over the asphalt if I fancied it. I bit my tongue, closed the window and drove off. It took me a good hour or so to cool off.

The Aussie view

Both these incidents reminded me of a chat I had with Aussie touring car legend Mark Skaife, who’s done some work on Australian road safety since his retirement. To paraphrase, Skaife told me that some high-ups in the Aussie authorities were actually opposed to giving young drivers more skills – teaching them how to correct slides on a skidpan and so on – because they feared these newly skillful youngsters would then go out on the public road and use those skills to drive faster.

As a car enthusiast, I pride myself on being able to drive quickly and safely, but there are far more people who couldn’t care less about improving their skills; instead they drive slowly to compensate, presuming anyone who goes faster has the same skillset as they do, and therefore must be dangerous.

It makes me very angry. But I do my best to keep a lid on it.

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator