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So is 'rage' just a new excuse for violence?; Every day we hear about more cases of road rage, trolley rage and even air rage.

IT all started suddenly and unexpectedly - when motorists saw red and road rage was born.

Trolley rage followed as angry shoppers clashed in supermarkets across the country.

Then holidaymakers joined in, terrorising airline staff with punch-ups at 30,000 feet.

Some hoteliers keep baseball bats behind the counter to protect themselves from raging guests.

Even golf courses, traditionally a haven of tranquillity, have seen violent rucks between middle-aged businessmen.

As a nation, we all appear to be behaving increasingly badly.

A survey by the Automobile Association has just revealed that 90 per cent of motorists have been involved in some type of road rage, from angry gestures to assaults.

Rising levels of aggression are the result of mounting stress in our lives, according to the AA, which has carried out extensive research into the topic.

Simon Woodings, of AA in the Midlands, said: "There is a mixture of things that make our lives more stressful and many people are simply reaching breaking point.

"In the past, if a driver cut you up, most people would have just raised their eyebrows and called them a roadhog. Today, it is more likely to turn into some kind of road rage incident.

"We are all living with a lot more stress and even the most trivial things can push us over the edge.

"Plus there are so many cars on the road fighting to get from A to B. And by the year 2002 the number of cars will have increased by a further 10 per cent. It can feel like a real battle just getting to work in the morning.

"Cars are becoming increasingly large and powerful. The motorist feels cocooned inside this metal box and even the most mild-mannered person can turn into an animal.

"Road rage is a virus affecting all kinds of drivers as aggression on the roads continues to grow.

"It's very worrying - we have already seen road rage deaths and, at this rate, we could see violence on an even greater scale."

While increased raging on the roads is a major concern, everyone would accept that driving can often be a stressful experience.

Yet aggression is also erupting in the very places once reserved for relaxation and calm.

Dave Jones, aged 28, a computer operator from Birmingham, admits he suffers from golf rage.

"You finish a fairly stressful week at work and have this idyllic image of a relaxing round, playing these glorious, swinging strokes in the countryside.

"Then by the third hole, when you are in the rough with other golfers waiting behind you, the stress builds up.

"I saw one man finish a round and throw his clubs straight into a river. And I have become so tense that after taking a shot that I have just chucked the club after the ball.

"It's certainly the result of mounting stress. You almost start to feel tense about relaxing, because the two or four hours on the golf course are your prized oasis of calm and you feel under pressure to enjoy it."

But for one expert, the rise in raging is not about the history of growing stress - it's down to geography.

Gill Mackenzie of the Campaign for Courtesy said: "People are behaving badly because they know they can get away with it.

"If they have a fight with someone in the supermarket or threaten a hotel receptionist, they can be pretty sure that they won't ever see them again.

"Few people live in small communities any more. So we don't have to face up to the consequences of our actions.

"You would find very little road rage or trolley rage in a small village. People know if they clash with someone that person may well turn out to be their auntie's best friend."

Prof Chris Cullen, a clinical psychologist at Keele University, who specialises in anger control, said: "There certainly seems to be more aggression in evidence today. The media have played a role, coming up with terms like road rage and air rage, turning it into a major issue.

"But the media were only identifying what was actually happening out in society and there is evidence of growing aggressiveness in many different areas.

"We are living in larger communities and many of the traditional ties have broken down. People driving to work have no relationship with other motorists on the road. You are far less likely to attack a motorist with a wheel brace if you know that person.

"People have become far more focused on themselves ever since the Thatcher period in the 1980s and we are seeing the consequences of that."

There seems to be no need for arguments. We appear to have turned into an aggressive breed, ready to rage at anyone who displeases us.

But the man who first coined the term road rage is having none of it. Motoring writer Mike Rutherford regrets coming up with that infamous tag five years ago.

"It's getting crazy - after road rage we had air rage, hotel rage, pool rage - any sort of rage you could possibly imagine," said Mike, who has founded the Motorists' Association.

"And I honestly don't think it exists. Anyone who is likely to carry a baseball bat in the car will probably punch an air hostess and cause havoc in a hotel.

"They are violent and aggressive - that's the way they are. To say that perfectly normal people suddenly turn into animals when they get behind the wheel is rubbish.

"I would say people do become braver when they are in a car. You might make a gesture at the bloke who cuts you up on the road.

"If you are standing next to him in the pub and he is twice the size of you, you're not likely to make a fuss if he gets served before you.

"But the trouble with having terms like road rage is that it becomes a kind of syndrome or illness and it implies that the driver can't help it. So people can believe it is not really their fault when they end up in a fight with another motorist.

"I think there is actually a place for road rage. Mistakes can be very costly on the roads and if someone is driving dangerously they should be made aware of it, otherwise they won't change the way they drive.

"As long as it is not violent, there's nothing wrong with pointing out mistakes. That's a world away from driving around with a weapon stashed in your boot.

"Drivers have always lost their tempers - but now we call it road rage, it ends up making the headlines and psychologists are paid a fortune to analyse it."

What do you think - are we all getting angrier? Do you get wound up behind the wheel - or have you been subjected to someone else's "road rage"? Write to Talk About, Sunday Mercury, 28 Colmore Circus, Birmingham B4 6AZ.
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Author:Hudson, Jenny
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 7, 1999
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