A businessman, residing in a gated community in the National Capital Region, abuses and slaps a security guard for a slight delay in opening the gate for his car to enter the premises. An advocate, also a resident of a Housing Society hurls abuses at a security guard and slaps him several times.  A Delhi University professor, upset over similar reasons, vents her angst over the security guard and gets physical with the chap.

These are just a few incidents that got some prominence as the Police were informed and the accused were arrested.  They were soon released on bail, as these are “minor” offences.  No one knows how many such cases happen every day in housing societies across the country. Delhi is not an exception. The media has already coined a name for this kind of brawl – Gate Rage – taking the cue from the more familiar term, “Road Rage”, which again is spreading across the NCR like a contagious disease. In both cases, the weak and the defenceless are at the receiving end.

A friend of mine was driving along a Delhi thoroughfare at a normal speed when another vehicle came out of a side lane at a high speed and hit my friend’s car’s hindquarters. Surprisingly, the offender came out of his car, hockey stick in hand, and smashed the windshield of my friend’s car even before he realised what was happening. The offender then started his vehicle and sped away. It was then that my friend noticed that it was a yellow-plated car, obviously a cab!

In my sojourns abroad, spanning almost twenty years in both developed and developing countries, I came across bad road manners and aggressiveness only on three or four occasions.  Even in some of the economically backward countries, I was impressed by the civility of road users – whether drivers or pedestrians.  It is not that incidents of ‘road rage’ do not happen there. They surely do, but those are exceptions rather than rules.

In India we, the motorists, seem always to be on a very short fuse.  The slightest provocation makes us burst out in anger.  Those who are a little restrained do not come out to fight but start honking, which is an accepted menace on Indian roads.  Besides road rage-related incidents, another extremely disturbing news is that almost 30% of all the deaths on our roads involve pedestrians.

There may be various reasons for our propensity to get into arguments over trifles leading to fisticuff or worse.  One of the reasons for such incidents could be some personal problem disturbing the driver’s mental state that makes him irritable and prone to getting aggressive at the slightest provocation. Some people are by nature aggressive and, when they sit behind the wheel, their abrasiveness is apparent from the way they treat other road users

A civilised person is expected to control himself and refrain from violence – verbal or physical.  It is, in fact, a part of one’s upbringing. Like many other attributes, good behaviour and restraint on oneself are values imbibed from one’s family rather than at school.

My own observation, while driving on Indian roads whether in a city or on highways, is that for some unknown reason we are extremely selfish by nature.  It is not something seen only on our roads.  Just see how we behave wherever there is a line for getting some service, for example, at a ticket counter in any Metro station.

We are, at such times, driven by only one motto: “Me and Me alone. Others might go to hell”! So, we jostle, crowd the window, try to somehow “beat” the others standing in the queue and grab our tickets first.  The same behaviour, which is our second nature, is reflected when we drive vehicles.

Have a look at any intersection except those which have very few vehicles crossing them.  We suddenly increase our speed from a distance, as soon as we notice the signal is green.  We must cross the road even if there is a chance that the signal would turn red before we may reach the crossing. The victims of my selfishness are either some other vehicle or a pedestrian who might have been “at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Another obnoxious menace – seen more in the wild west of Delhi – is our nonchalant attitude to obeying the traffic signals.  Even if your signal is green, indicating your right of way, you must not think that no vehicle would come from your left or right. In fact, you must be doubly careful, especially about the bikes, and some of the ugly contraptions that are a cross between a truck and a motorised hand cart, who never care for the signals, as if they do not exist.

This also emanates from the same selfishness as mentioned earlier.  For whatever reason, “I must go before the others” is the dominant urge in the minds of those bikers and truckers who do not give two hoots about the danger for them or others using the road when they defy the stop signal and proceed.

It is surprising, but true, that even our disciplined driver-jawans behind the wheels of their trucks do not obey traffic rules.  They jump stop signals wantonly, with a kind of aplomb. In this case, it is arrogance, and the feeling of being ‘special’ that is behind the driver’s behaviour.

Most of us would say, ‘what do the traffic police do; why don’t they catch the culprits?’  The fact is that the traffic police can’t be at every crossroad to enforce the law and ensure the safe and smooth flow of traffic.

I had been in Toronto in August 2003 when there was a pan-North American power outage.  There were no traffic signals, and no policemen to control traffic at intersections for the initial few hours.  It was worth watching how the motorists followed the “right of way rule”, as a result of which the traffic was slow, but there was no traffic jam.

Compare this with the chaos that we witness at any busy intersection in Delhi whenever a traffic signal breaks down or there is a power failure.  The reason once again is our self-centric mental attitude.  “I must pass the intersection before others.  Forget about ‘right of way’”.

No traffic police can teach you civilised behaviour and to be accommodative of others using the road.  On most occasions, we must be our own traffic police.  But that is something we find so difficult to learn.

The most educated among us have no qualms with driving on the wrong side of the road just to save a couple of minutes and half a rupee’s worth of fuel. This is rampant during the morning school hours.  Parents taking their wards to school invariably get late and, without caring about traffic rules, drive on the wrong side to reach the school in time.  The children sitting in those cars indeed get good driving instructions early in their lives.

Now, the traffic police have installed cameras at many spots, and erring motorists are sent a notice to pay fines.  At those spots, the motorists become extremely rule-abiding!  They would drive at a snail’s pace till they cross the cameras, and once outside their angle of vision, it was fun as usual.

As for the plight of pedestrians on our roads, the less said the better. Our motorists treat them as dispensable hindrances on the motorways.  In every civilised country, pedestrians get the first preference as compared to other road users.  In those countries, if someone steps on the Zebra Crossing even by mistake, cars come to a halt to allow the pedestrian to cross, whether it is the car’s right of way or not.

By contrast, it is a harrowing experience for pedestrians, especially the old or specially enabled ones, to cross our roads.  Even if there is a clear signal for the pedestrian, we invariably stop our cars at the well-marked pedestrian crossing, giving no space for poor walkers to cross the road.

At crossings where there are no traffic lights the pedestrians and the motorists engage themselves in a game of criss-cross, something they show at a circus, in which two bikes cross each other at a high speed without a crash.  The motorists try their best to run over the pedestrians, who must avoid that and reach the other side.

Once again it is the motorists’ selfishness that is responsible for it.  Other road users do not exist for the driver, who has not been trained to think that the road is for others too.

Another funny thing I notice on our roads is that in almost all intersections in Delhi where there are two carriageways, the pedestrian crossing ends at some barrier – either by way of an iron railing or an impassable bush.  The pedestrian must go around the barrier to gain access to the other part of the zebra crossing.

I wonder, when they design the pedestrian crossings do the engineers lose their faculty of thinking, or they simply do not care. It seems that the latter is the most probable reason for such terrible road planning.

The pedestrians are also not above reproach.  The tendency to jaywalk is endemic among our people. After all, we are free citizens of a free country, aren’t we?  We can cross the road wherever we like.  We are oblivious to the fact that some motorists may simply fail to notice us as we suddenly appear on the road out of nowhere!  If there is, God forbid, a collision then hundreds of people will gather at the spot to happily lynch the poor driver!

One could go on writing about the bad behaviour of road users both motorists and pedestrians, but what is the remedy?

Well, for the drivers, licenses must not be issued unless one clears a strict test – both related to traffic rules and signals as well as driving a car in real road situations.  The new automated testing arenas are a step in the right direction.

Enforcement of traffic rules by regular test checks should be supervised by senior officers.  If mobile units keep doing so across the city over some length of time, incidents of violation of rules will surely come down.

Jay-walking must be sternly discouraged, by imposing fines that really pinch.  At the same time, no leniency should be shown to motorists who stop their cars at well-marked pedestrian crossings.  Traffic cameras must be installed on all crossings to punish the offenders.

While strict application of the law will bring down accidents due to bad driving, road rages can only be tackled by the human plane.  Unless our general attitude to life changes from “me first” to live and let live, no amount of policing will help.

Those who raise a ruckus if the gate of their housing complex is not opened as soon as they appear there, or those who break the windshield of a vehicle simply because the driver might take a few seconds more to move when the signal turns green, actually suffer from a false sense of superiority and have an inflated ego.

Unfortunately, their perceived superiority does not make any difference to those who are truly superior.  Therefore, such people vent their ire on those who are either weak – like a security guard who takes a few seconds more to open the gate; or some driver who by nature is not a bully and cannot match a hockey stick with a baseball bat.