Saturday, August 15, 2009

More on Rage

Now all of North America is abuzz with articles, posts, and comments about road/trail/pool rage, sharing the road/trail/path. This article is focused on "pathway rage" in Canada. There's another article, titled Pushing the limits in the Ottawa Citizen about sharing the path and runners, cyclists jockeying for position.

Pathway rage, sense of entitlement linked: experts
Stress affects the way the brain reacts, making some commuters self-centred

By Brendan Kennedy, The Ottawa Citizen, August 15, 2009

The source of the "pathway rage" that has overtaken some of the National Capital Commission's cycling pathways can probably be boiled down to the inherent conflict between commuters and recreational users -- those who use the paths to get from Point A to Point B, and those who are content to coast along at a leisurely pace.

When we're in a rush or we're under stress -- when we're running late for work, for instance -- our brains want to think faster and simpler, so our thought processes become narrower and more self-centred, says Louise Lemyre, professor of social psychology at the University of Ottawa.

"It's not so much that we're irrational per se, but we're under limited rationality and so we analyse only one side of the equation -- What do I want to do? Where do I want to go?"

We stop thinking of how our behaviour affects other people, she said.

There are almost twice as many trips on the NCC's cycling pathways today than there were 10 years ago, according to surveys done for the commission, and nearly two-thirds of the trips are made by cyclists.

The subsequent crowding has led to conflicts among the pathways' various users and fierce debates over what mode of transport has the greatest right to the paths.

The NCC says the 180 kilometres of pathways -- which have a posted, but unenforced, speed limit of 20 km/h -- are for recreational use only. But judging by the increased traffic during rush hours, they are also being used for commuting. Despite the growing congestion, the NCC has no definite plans to add extra lanes to accommodate faster-moving traffic. The commission says the paths are to be shared courteously.

So why can't we all just get along?

Professor Anne O'Dwyer, a social psychologist studying road rage at Bard's College at Simon's Rock in southwestern Massachusetts, has also found that being rushed is the strongest contributor to road rage: "When we're driving, that's all that's on our mind. Getting to our destination is the whole point of driving."

This tunnel vision leads people to become outraged when the course of their travels is obstructed, she said, adding that the same principle would apply to commuting cyclists.

Lemyre and O'Dwyer also agree that there is an element of "righteousness" or moral superiority that fuels rage when we get behind the wheel of a car or the handlebars of a bicycle or scooter.

"People think they are entitled to go first because either they're faster or because they're heavier," Lemyre said. "That holds as well for the cyclists who think they're the ones being more ecological or lighter and they think they have a right of way because of that."

The righteous indignation stems from moral superiority, O'Dwyer said, adding that we tend to look at driving and cycling as skilled activities. "You want to teach (other people) a lesson," she said, noting that we usually use our car horns to punish someone rather than warn them.

O'Dwyer added that moral outrage can be harder to control than other types of anger.

"Usually moral outrage is a really good emotion," she said. "... But the thing about road rage and the other rages is the things we get angry about probably don't justify the level of anger."

O'Dwyer, whose expertise is in interpersonal conflict, said she became interested in road rage because of how disproportionate people's reactions are to what provokes them -- running someone off the road because they didn't signal, for example.

Scott Marshall, director of training for Young Drivers of Canada, said one of the first things they teach student drivers is to plan their routes, so they don't need to rush.

"It's the whole adage about when you're rushed, you make mistakes," he said.

Lemyre said one way to limit pathway rage would be to "increase the predictability of each others' behaviour" by following rules.

But she said the real heart of the conflict is our "difficulty to take the role of the other, and forgetting that others have the same rights and obligations as we do ... and stress tends to limit that processing."

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How to avoid road and path rage
Tips from Young Drivers of Canada director of training Scott Marshall:

- Plan your route. "Not just how to get there, but how long it's going to take you," Marshall said, adding that we should also account for delays during rush hour and inclement weather. "Give yourself more time, so you're not rushing."

- Anticipate the lane of least resistance. Marshall suggests keeping an eye on traffic flows and changing lanes early enough to not get stuck behind someone who is trying to make a left-hand turn.

- Anticipate stops. There's no point in speeding up to a red light, Marshall says. "If you slow down early, you're still in motion, so psychologically you feel you're getting to your destination."

- Don't retaliate. "If you're receiving the road rage, change lanes and let them do their rage to somebody else," Marshall says, adding that retaliating only fuels further rage.

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