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Why people drive in that road-rage inducing fashion

It's the one thing that brings out the worst in (most of) us, says features editor Germaine Cheong.

If there’s one bugbear that might drive me to my grave, it would be motorists who do not use directional signals.

Even Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam aired his views in a 2012 Facebook post, giving three examples of poor driving etiquette observed while his wife was driving – someone speeding up to prevent his wife from switching lanes, even though she had indicated her intention; and two instances of drivers not signalling when changing lanes. He wrote: “I wonder if it is the case that we are simply noticing this more, or if indeed our driving habits have become worse.”

I’ve observed much more give and take when travelling in the US and Australia. Flick your signal and motorists, who’ve pre-empted your intention, slow down to give way. Courteous motorists in the less-developed Ho Chi Minh City slow down and wait patiently for pedestrians to cross busy roads where traffic lights are absent.

In Singapore, some motorists appear to adopt a defensive – and even aggressive – mode of driving that makes one wonder if they have a delusional sense of entitlement. Psychologists call this deindividuation, which broadly means a loss of self-awareness and, thus, feeling less responsible for one’s actions.

In the famous 1976 Halloween candy experiment by renowned US psychologist Edward Diener, 1,300 children were given the opportunity to steal candy and money.

Eighty-three per cent took more than they should when they were not asked for their names and addresses, and part of a larger group. Which is not dissimilar to driving, with motorists isolated in their vehicles and part of the larger surrounding traffic. Any chance of being personally identified is minimised under a veil of anonymity, so motorists are bolder and feel less accountable.

And, as it turns out, being enclosed in a shell made of metal and glass actually drives one crazy, because the driver is unable to communicate his displeasure, other than honking, f ashing headlights, gesturing or speeding up to engage in a staredown, as US journalist Tom Vanderbilt points out in his best-seller Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). It’s a vicious circle.

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Perhaps not many are aware – me included – that those who fail to signal before turning or changing lanes can be fined $70 (for light vehicles) or $100 (for heavy ones).

If the perceived anonymity promotes bad/dangerous driving, a popular app like Waze, which has the infrastructure to allow motorists to report traffic conditions, could help counter it by encouraging road users – even pedestrians and cyclists – to flag schmucks’ number plates and issue virtual tickets. Who doesn’t like a little game of name and shame?

Waze could partner insurance companies so offenders’ premiums are affected by the number of virtual tickets received.

If the soft approach doesn’t cut it, perhaps the grim possibility of running into a serial killer might.

US mob hitman Richard Kuklinski’s autobiography describes how he murdered those who crossed his paths in fits of road rage, which included failure to signal.