Columns 26.11.2014 04:39 pm

It’s like Lord of the Flies on our roads

Howard Dembovsky, National Chairman of the non-profit Justice Project South Africa. Picture: Supplied

Howard Dembovsky, National Chairman of the non-profit Justice Project South Africa. Picture: Supplied

Earlier this month I had the privilege of meeting and participating in a TV actuality programme with Dr Jacques van Zyl, a psychologist studying road rage.

He spoke of a condition called intermittent explosive disorder (IED), where people literally lose it and do things sane individuals ordinarily wouldn’t. There’s another use of the acronym IED – improvised explosive device – a homemade bomb used by terrorists. Both are equally devastating.

Using fists, axes, firearms and motor vehicles as weapons has come to typify road rage incidents in South Africa; most of which are occasioned by people travelling at low speeds. On Thursday last week, the latest victim, Suzanne Leyden, was dragged by a motorist with whom she had been involved in a minor collision. She had merely alighted from her car to get his insurance details. That homicidal motorist drove off and is still at large.

I am heartened that someone is conducting a proper scientific study into road rage – in particular the South African variant of it which is, in my view, somewhat different to and more violent than road rage incidents elsewhere.

Maybe it’s just me, but practically no reports of similar South African incidents seem to come from outside Johannesburg. What makes the city so different to the rest of the country and, indeed, the world?

I have concluded this homicidal behaviour is a symptom not only of people’s ordinary day-to-day stresses but also their frustrations with other motorists, who simply have no regard for traffic laws or the elementary rules of the road and common courtesy. This has been building since the JMPD was formed in 2001 and took it upon themselves to engage primarily in revenue generation, abandoning almost every form of physical law enforcement in the process. In the 2013/14 financial year, 92.56%  of the JMPD’s 6.04 million fines issued were for camera speeding offences. Only 4.07% of their fines were physical citations issued to motorists who were stopped by officers.

So now people have come to take it upon themselves to do two things: disregard traffic laws themselves and punish others who do so with impunity. It’s a classic case of pots calling the kettles black but then going a step further to punish the kettles. Our roads are now lawless societies in which vigilante justice rules.

Road rage will never be eradicated entirely but it would be completely incorrect to assume nothing can be done about minimising it. While authorities have no control over people’s mental states, they do have control over the deployment of their resources. When people are made to behave on our roads, such incidents will obviously diminish. After all, almost every single road rage incident develops as a result of someone believing someone has wronged them using a motor vehicle and there will be no consequences for the perpetrator … or for themselves for exacting revenge.

While this “Lord of the Flies” syndrome – in the absence of proper, respected and visible authority – prevails on our roads, people will continue to get hurt.

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