Road rage: it's a virus and it's incurable

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The Independent Online
Roland Bumper is professor of automobile behaviour studies at Milton Keynes University. To put it another way, he doesn't know much about cars, but he knows a lot about motorists. To put it another way, whenever the media need an expert on road rage or traffic accidents, Roland Bumper is at the other end of a mobile phone. But recently he has been rather busy on research of his own....

"That's right," he told us down the line. "I have been doing some fairly painstaking research into the causes of road rage. Of course, I would much rather be out and about being interviewed about road rage in TV studios, but interest seems to have died down temporarily, so I have been using this enforced idleness to get on with some work. And it's been worth it because I think I have now located the road rage virus."

Heavens above. Is road rage caused by a virus?

"I believe so. It is perhaps better named mad motorist's disease. In any case, we all know it is irrational and unprofitable, so you can't seek a logical cause except in scientific terms. And I believe we have now isolated the road rage virus."

Does that mean it is curable?

"Sadly, no. We think that the virus is passed on genetically, for a start."

Does that mean it is hereditary?

"Yes, but we don't use that term any more. 'Passed on genetically' sounds much more up to date than 'hereditary'. But worse than that, we think the road rage virus, or RRV, has started to develop immunity to all drugs."

But how can it build up resistance to drugs when it hasn't been subjected to any?

"Well, don't forget that any drugs that go into the body, for whatever purposes, do act on viruses whose existence we don't even know about."

So drugs we take to cure one condition may have an effect on another condition?

"Surely. I have made a study of several athletes who have been taking drugs over the years, and they may not be any better athletes, but they sure are proof against influenza - but that's another story. What I want to say in this connection is that we now think the road rage virus or RRV has been mutating into different forms."

Oh my goodness me. You mean, producing new kinds of bad-tempered behaviour?

"Yes, indeed. We have so far identified nearly a dozen separate forms of rage which have evolved from road rage. There is lane lunacy, football fury, phone frenzy, airport apathy, cashier crisis, headline hysteria...."

Hold on, hold on there a moment. Let's look at one or two of those. What's headline hysteria?

"Headline hysteria is a condition we have identified which involves sudden rage sparked off by a news item on TV or radio, or even in the paper. It doesn't have to be good news or bad news, just on a certain topic. Michael Howard triggers it off. So does Northern Ireland. So does Princess Diana. So does sport, though mostly this affects women, not men."

Cashier crisis? Is that something that happens in banks?

"Sometimes, though not invariably. A typical occurrence of cashier crisis comes when a position in bank or post office closes just as your place in the queue is getting nearer. Or when a cashier in a supermarket finds one item in your basket unpriced and rings a bell to send for a supervisor who never comes, and then she starts waving the detergent or whatever it is at the next-door cash till and shouting, 'Sheila, how much is the Worldcare Washing Up Liquid this week?' and you start seeing red...."

Hmm. Airport apathy?

"Interesting one, this. Have you noticed that when people are waiting in an airport departure lounge for a delayed flight, or just sitting in an aeroplane awaiting take-off clearance, they very seldom display rage, however annoyed they are?"

Well, isn't that because they know that rage will get them nowhere?

"Oh, no, logic has nothing to do with it. If logic was involved, nobody would get enraged at all. But in an airport we reckon it is a potent mix of rage and fear which produces this sullen apathy. Fear of flying, fear of accidents, fear that the pilot may crash the plane on purpose if you get cross with him...."

Hmm. And what about phone frenzy?

"Oh, for heaven's sake work it out for yourself!" comes the furious answer. "I've got better things to do than feed information to lazy journalists who can't be bothered to do their own homework! Go and bother someone else! Goodbye!"

And the phone is angrily slammed down.