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Wednesday, June 10, 1998 Published at 02:27 GMT 03:27 UK


Bad manners drive motorists round the bend

Inconsiderate drivers cause emotional ones, says study

BBC's Andrew Burroughs says courteous driving could make difference
Drivers who burst into bouts of anger and, in extreme cases "road rage", are often provoked into doing so by the rude and inconsiderate behaviour of their fellow motorists, researchers have found.

A study carried out by the University of Nottingham analysed the experiences of 100 drivers aged between 17 and 42 to find out what causes tempers to flare.

The drivers were asked to keep diaries of all the journeys they made over two weeks, recording details of any anger, aggression or near-accidents they experienced.

[ image: Motorists are wound up by verbal abuse]
Motorists are wound up by verbal abuse
The results found that verbal and gesticulatory abuse from other drivers was the most common cause for hostile incidents between motorists on the UK's roads, with discourteous and careless driving close behind.

Professor Geoffrey Underwood says: "The interesting result from the research is that the anger is not causing bad behaviour but it is the product of bad behaviour and near accidents."

Participants were asked to assess the effects of discourteous driving on an "anger scale" of one to five, with the highest mark denoting the scenario that caused them the most distress.

[ image: Overtaking too close also cuts up some drivers]
Overtaking too close also cuts up some drivers
Incurring the most wrath were motorists who approached with their fog lights switched on, those who pulled out without looking and sped up when they were trying to pass.

Professor Underwood puts the antagonistic behaviour of other drivers down to "aggression" and says their effect on other drivers, like those who took part in the study, can be unpleasant.

"We are talking about people who are becoming so emotional they are not able to think, certainly they are not thinking straight and are not in control of their behaviour," he says.

The situations causing the least anguish were drivers who dawdled at green traffic lights, pedestrians who walk slowly across the street and police presence on roads. The latter contradicts the findings of a similar study carried out in America, where officers were a major cause of anxiety.

Admitting fault

But this latest study also revealed that anger was not necessarily the cause of accidents or vice versa. In almost 300 cases of near accidents that were described, only 109 involved angry drivers and this was only also as a result of the situation. Drivers became annoyed when they were accused of being at fault.

[ image: The advice is to avoid confrontation]
The advice is to avoid confrontation
Professor Underwood agrees that many of us would never admit we are bad drivers, but if abuse is thrown at the way we drive, we should pull back. He says: "If there is some discourtesy out there, just hang back, stay away from it and don't get involved in an incident."

He is in favour of more campaigns to encourage better road etiquette and make drivers more aware of the impact of their behaviour on other road users.

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