What’s Driving Road Rage

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 24, 2007
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There seem to be more and more reasons for people to become irritated and irrational when driving on our highways and byways.

Oahu has too many cars for its highway system. At any given time motorists on this island can get stuck in an unanticipated gridlock, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Take the case of the gridlock during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The state Department of Transportation decided to do some work on the Zipper lane because it was a holiday and they felt the traffic would be minimal.


It created a traffic jam of biblical dimensions. It took some motorists traversing the freeway more than three hours to get to their destinations. The deployed Zipper lane reduced the westbound lanes from six to four between the airport and H-1/H-2 merge in Waipahu.

The Rod Haraga-less Department of Transportation was shocked and dismayed by the public outcry. After all, the Zipper lane has been deployed no less than six times on a Monday holiday in the past three years for similar maintenance work without grid-lock problems.

So what is the motoring public to do?

The answer might be for all motorists to expect the best and be prepared for the worst. How many times has one accident closed off an entire highway? Too many. The poor folks on the Leeward Coast went through a period when two-hour gridlock was a daily occurrence. The forgotten motorists on the Windward side on more than one occasion have found it necessary to turn around and go the other way because of an accident.

To be stuck in traffic gridlock is not what alters the motorist’s judgment and causes road rage - it’s not knowing why the gridlock is occurring.

Just sitting there, not moving, burning up precious fuel, your automobile overheating and people blowing their horns or trying to sneak by on the shoulder lane just makes it unbearable. Some motorists search the radio dial for relief. Others turn the car off and fume. Some get out of their cars and walk a few hundred yards up the freeway to see what’s causing the gridlock, hoping all the way that the traffic doesn’t start moving until they get back to their car. Even the sound of an approaching ambulance with its wailing sirens gives a form of relief, because it means there is an accident ahead and someone is seriously hurt, making the gridlock more forgivable.

As it turns out, if the motorist can’t see what’s causing the grid-lock and is left to ponder his or her situation, the mind will select the worst case scenario. The motorist will be filled with a kind of psychological pain with no remedy other than patience.

After this last holiday gridlock, people claimed they were very upset because they didn’t see anyone working on the Zipper lane. Would that have made them more rational? Not likely. Some motorists blame the media for not alerting them that the Zipper lane work was going happen on the holiday.

Is the motorist’s behavior in grid-lock predictable? You would probably be surprised to know that there’s research to investigate this phenomena. There was a study called “Schriven’s Mattress” done to try to figure out how people will react in certain stressful situations.

Generally speaking, the study was constructed so that a gridlock was caused by putting a mattress in the middle of a six-lane freeway during rush hour. In no time at all, the traffic started backing up and tempers began to flare. Motorists in the center lane were desperately trying to change lanes, because the other lanes were moving.

The typical reaction was a form of “road rage.” As soon as they got up to the mattress, however, their anger subsided dramatically and some even tried to get out of their automobiles to drag the mattress to the side of the road.

The point is, once the motorists understood what was causing the gridlock, they became rational and settled down to responsible driving techniques, like exercising common courtesy, using turn signals to change lanes, and driving with a little aloha.

There is little question that uncertainty and the fear of not knowing are very unsettling. And as sure as you are reading this column, another gridlock is right around the bend in the road. Sewer lines, road repaving, pothole repair and unanticipated parades and fun runs are all in your driving future.

The bottom line is there are just too many vehicles on the Island of Oahu and that’s not going to change. Gridlock is here to stay. And when they start building the “fixed guideway” transportation, it will usher in a new era of grid-lock never imagined by Hawaii’s motorists.

So just relax and enjoy the ride.

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