Real men don’t run away, and furthermore . . .

The second odd aspect of the language around this case (see Real men don’t run away?) is the widespread use of the term “road rage” in the media to describe it. In fact, in its reader poll, CBC asks What do you think about this road rage incident?

There were 63 responses when I viewed the poll results, and about half of them specifically addressed this issue with comments like:

  • Turning around to go back and run over someone makes it premeditated murder in my book. (Tracker)
  • This is plain and simple murder and the driver should be charged as such. (Joey from Cranbrook)
  • It is murder.. not road rage.. there is a difference. (Boyd from Victoria)

Road rage is a phrase that came into being in the nineties. It is classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; some medical professionals consider it a manifestation of intermittent explosive disorder. Some people think it’s a euphemism to excuse varying levels of antisocial behaviour.

I imagine everyone who drives (or walks or cycles) notices that some people become very aggressive behind the wheel. Tailgating, cutting people off, speeding, aggressive lane-changing, blaring horns: all these are part of the daily commute. But the phenomenon of extreme violence associated with driving behaviour is a development of the last ten or fifteen years. Opinions vary as to whether these are cases of “road rage,” or are merely incidents when violent behaviour happens to occur on the road. It seems to be on the increase. The reasons are probably a complex blend of more crowded roads (well, maybe a more crowded world in general?), greater economic and social pressures, poor role models, lack of consequences, and who knows what else.

A radio station yesterday asked its listeners whether they thought having a universally-understood way to apologize for a driving mistake would decrease road rage incidents. I suppose it’s possible that the reasonable majority of us would feel better if we were convinced that the bad driving we just witnessed was a mistake and that the driver feels bad about it. But if someone has a propensity for violence, it is not clear that their buildup of anger can be easily avoided. As Wikipedia says, intermittent explosive disorder “is defined by a disproportionate reaction to any provocation, real or perceived.”

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