Aggressive driving
is all the rage,
says Roger Ratcliffe

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When you find yourself a victim of road rage it’s natural to feel a growing sense of alarm. The impact is even greater – as it was on me last week – if you see in the rear-view mirror a souped-up, boy-racer car containing at least three young lads, two of them gesticulating aggressively while the driver had a hand jammed down on the horn.

I don’t know for sure what my crime was supposed to be. I had just passed through a large roundabout in Leeds, one with somewhat ambiguous road markings that can result in anyone who’s unfamiliar with them being squeezed onto the wrong lane. I know this roundabout well, but my guess is the driver behind me must have pulled into the lane for left-turning traffic only and found I was blocking his way into the one for vehicles travelling straight ahead. Cue a display of menacing behaviour I had to endure for five terrifying minutes until I managed to execute a quick U-turn.

It was the first road rage directed at me for over 20 years. The last time, a car that also contained young lads followed me while flashing its headlights, sounding the horn and trying to overtake. I led it through Leeds’s northern suburbs then onto the ring road and eventually parked outside Weetwood Police Station. The car soon vanished.

I mention all this because there is some anecdotal evidence that since the spring lockdown was relaxed people seem to be driving more aggressively, perhaps through pent-up frustration brought on by the enforced restrictions, although I’m no psychologist. But this has had the effect of making a friend go out and buy both a dash-cam and a rear-view camera to act as a deterrent against potential road ragers.

There isn’t much chance of an accurate tally of cases emerging, however, since road rage has no official status despite being an everyday occurrence. I was surprised to learn that there isn’t even a mention of it in the Highway Code.

Yet in very extreme cases it can lead to murder, the most notorious example being that of Kenneth Noye, who stabbed to death a 21-year-old man on an M25 slip-road in 1996. There was another road rage killing in Wiltshire last year.

The worst example I’ve witnessed was at a set of traffic lights in Bradford when I saw two men get out of the car in front of me, walk to a vehicle ahead of it and after failing to pull open the doors kick hell out of the chassis until the lights changed and the driver was able to escape.

Violent behaviour anywhere is covered by several laws, of course, but before things reach that stage on a road they can escalate because of offensive hand gestures, verbal abuse and shouted threats. Those behaving aggressively in the car behind me last week knew they were free were to intimidate without any comeback unless observed by police, who would probably have issued a warning. So I think the law should be much clearer. Since everyone knows what road rage is, it should be made a specific criminal offence. And besides receiving a fine and points on the driving licence, those found guilty should be forced to attend an anger management course.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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