Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Impediments to the Measurement of Road Violence

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Impediments to the Measurement of Road Violence

Article excerpt

Over the past ten years, there has been considerable discussion of what is often called 'road rage'. Articles appear regularly in the academic literature and the press, and governments have been prompted to take action to control what seems to be a growing incidence of violence associated with motor vehicle use. But is road violence a real and growing crime problem, or simply an exaggeration by the press? Most importantly, how can this crime problem be measured in terms of its incidence and impact? This paper considers how best to define the problem and to quantify its extent. It offers some suggestions for improving data collection so that policy-makers can truly understand whether action is needed to deal with violence associated with driving.

Toni Makkai

Director

Defining road violence and related concepts

'Road rage' is one of those notoriously difficult concepts in crime and justice. In some respects it is, like an elephant, easier to recognise than to define! The experience of driving may cause motorists to become agitated, leading to the use of obscene gestures or angry words. At the more serious end of the scale however, serious injury and even death may result. In Victoria, on 20 April 2005, the Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee of the Parliament of Victoria tabled its final report on the topic, Violence associated with motor vehicle use (VPDCPC 2005). The Committee formed the view that the colloquial expression 'road rage' was so imprecise and subject to differing interpretations that its use should be avoided entirely. Instead, the Committee adopted three separate concepts: road violence, road hostility, and selfish driving (VPDCPC 2005: 19-20).

Road violence was defined as involving spontaneous, driving-related acts of violence that are specifically targeted at strangers, or where strangers reasonably feel they are being targeted. This definition is generally accepted in the academic community worldwide.

Road hostility was defined as spontaneous, driving-related non- violent but hostile acts that are specifically targeted at strangers, or where strangers reasonably feel they are being targeted. Examples include making obscene gestures at other road users or verbally abusing them. The difference between road violence and road hostility is simply one of severity.

Finally, selfish driving was defined as time-urgent or self-oriented driving behaviour, which is committed at the expense of other drivers in general, but which is not specifically targeted at particular individuals. Selfish driving is driving behaviour with the objective of gaining time, space and pleasure but without the intention to harm people. Examples include weaving in and out of traffic or overtaking in the left lane. Unlike acts of road violence and road hostility, such driving is not specifically targeted at particular road users. The aim of selfish driving is not to harm another person or even to express displeasure with others. Rather, the aim is generally to 'get ahead' or to maintain progress.

There is no clear line that can be drawn between the three forms of conduct. Violence need not always be physical. For example, approaching individuals but not touching them can sometimes be violent such as when an attempt is made to force another driver off road, or where tailgating amounts to stalking. Some acts such as an assault and battery will however, be unambiguous, and will always amount to road violence. Most acts are capable of falling into multiple categories, depending on the circumstances. For example, tailgating may amount to road violence or road hostility, or even selfish driving, depending on how long it is done for, to whom it is done, and whether the victim becomes fearful for his or her safety.

A further problem identified by the Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee (VPDCPC 2005: 40) is the difficulty in determining precisely whether the parties involved in incidents are offenders or victims. …

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