Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Raging bulls

Raging bulls
The Hindu

Chaotic traffic often pushes people to the verge of breakdown.

TWO CARS travelling one behind another on one of our pothole-scarred roads. The guy behind suddenly overtakes from the left, pulls up beside the other guy, and yells: "Do you know how to ****ing drive or what?"

The phenomenon: Road rage. Occurrence: Very common.

Considering the state of our roads and the number of vehicles plying on them, this is the most common sight for all those who are part of the mad traffic stream. So much so that if you are a careful, law-abiding driver, you are looked upon as a hazard, while you are in constant danger of being knocked down.

The other day things took a dramatic turn for the worse, when a traffic cop tried to pull over a BMTC bus for jumping a traffic signal at Yeshwanthpur. The infuriated bus driver defiantly parked the vehicle bang in the middle of the road causing a huge roadblock. What ensued was something that Bangalore has rarely seen: angry morning commuters taking to the streets, pelting stones at BMTC buses and the police.

What is it that triggers of such violent outbursts? Is it stress? Yes, says Mohan Isaac, Professor of Psychiatry, NIMHANS. Not only does he say that this behaviour is "normal", but predicts that such incidents will be on an increase in the future.

"If a group of people think that some injustice has been done or some action has not been accounted for, then they tend to respond violently. Most people might just be onlookers, but they tend to get involved in the argument. Ideally, they should not take law into their hands, but they are human and have adrenalin flowing through their system," he reasons. Prof. Isaac believes that this kind of behaviour is just a spontaneous outburst of anger and not "typical mob violence".

"Mob violence is when a group of people are led by a leader and have a certain idea of what they are doing, but without much thought. It is very passionate. A communal riot is a good example of that. At Yeshwanthpur, it was the peak hour and a bus was blocking the road. People had to get to offices, deadlines had to be met, and they were getting impatient. They were already hyper vigilant. Only a small trigger is required to disturb things. This is often what is called road rage. It sometimes stops with bad language or gestures, but if the trigger is big enough it can result in violence. It is just a sudden release of stress built up over a period of time." And this happens irrespective of a person's level of education and social background.

Prof. Isaac says that about 30 to 40 per cent people in the population are "suggestible", prone to such behaviour. "That is happenings around them can easily influence them. Also, we are in a time when emotional responses are more difficult to control. Life has become very fast. Work related pressures are at their highest. When change is so rapid, people's responses change."

Meanwhile, the Police Commissioner, S. Mariswamy, prefers to look at the issue philosophically: "We are a society yet to reconcile ourselves to punishments for violations. Even for a minor penalty you have people who try to bring in influence and wriggle out of it. We are aggrieved even when something just is done. If we have to grow up as a megapolis, we have to realise that for every violation there will be a punishment. There is no point in taking anger out on government vehicles."

So how do we deal with this urban traffic stress?

"We have to realise that there is a problem and the solution must come in the form of punishment, regulation and self-restraint. There is a tendency in the city to somehow overtake. We have to realise that if we follow rules all travel will be faster," says the commissioner, while Prof. Isaac prefers to look at the larger picture to solve the problem. He says: "First identify what factors are contributing, then analyse risk factors and then find a solution. The police will have to also do some soul searching on how to handle traffic offences during peak hours. But these are only temporary solutions. The only answer is urban planning. Probably build a New Bangalore, like Navi Mumbai."


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