Road rage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me'

By Jana van der Merwe
06 May 2016

Caroline was attacked with a key, the point of which punctured the back of her head twice and was pushed into her right eye.

The traffic light was red when the young blonde administrative clerk in morning rush-hour traffic noticed the furious woman behind her.

She was sounding her hooter, making rude gestures with her hands and flashing her headlights – but Caroline Smith (24) of Brakpan never dreamed this complete stranger would grab her by the hair and physically assault her . . .

Caroline’s petite, manicured hands tremble in her lap as she sits beside her mother Wimpie (57) in her parents’ house in Brakpan, relating the frightening story.

“I indicated to the woman I couldn’t go anywhere. The robot was red and there was a truck next to me. I wasn’t going to race with a child in my car!”

It was school holidays and Caroline’s 11-year-oold nephew was on the back seat. She says she was more careful than usual in the heavy traffic.

Roadrage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me' PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

But on that morning of Monday 4 April the smart-looking professional woman just grew angrier and angrier – especially when Caroline, in the extreme right-hand lane, was driving too slowly for her liking.

But instead of simply passing Caroline and the truck when the road became three lanes nearby, the woman forced Caroline off the R23 near Brakpan, breaking her side mirror in the process and stopping in front of her.

Read more: Reckless driving backfires for furious BMW driver in Durban in shocking road rage video

“She got out,” says Caroline, raising her hand protectively to her badly injured right eye. “I thought we’d just exchange words, then she hit me,” Caroline alleges.

Caroline says all she did was push the woman’s finger from in front of her face and asked her to stop. But photographs of Caroline show the extent of the subsequent assault. Her head was allegedly repeatedly slammed against her assailant’s car’s bonnet.

Roadrage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me' PHOTO: Supplied

YOU is also in possession of a video another motorist took of the incident. It shows Caroline being pulled round by her hair and attacked with a key, the point of which punctured the back of her head twice and was pushed into her right eye. Fortunately the key did not puncture her eyeball and her injuries were treated in her GP’s surgery shortly afterwards.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Nomsa Sekele has confirmed the suspect is facing a charge of assault with the intention to seriously injure. But the case is still being investigated and the accused has not yet appeared in court. The alleged assailant was not prepared to comment on the incident.

Read more: Man arrested for road rage assault

It’s hard to believe an ordinary professional woman could be suspected of such an attack, but experts say that morning probably wasn’t the first time she’d got up on the wrong side of the bed . . .

Roadrage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me' PHOTO: Supplied

Karen van Zyl, a coach at The Anger and Stress Management Centre in Pretoria, says up to 70 per cent of people who seek help there suffer from a degree of road rage. “Road rage can be an indication someone has other problems and they build up as in a pressure cooker. Sometimes an insignificant incident on the road can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Dr Jacques van Zyl, a Johannesburg psychologist and behaviourist says aggressive driving and even road rage are definitely on the increase in South Africa, especially in heavy traffic in and around the cities.

Read more: Road rage charges against Malema dropped

“The general frustration and impatience of road users is increasing and the road is a convenient place to give vent to it. Many people view their cars as extensions of themselves,” Jacques says, and suggests 95 per cent of all incidents regarded as road rage are actually just examples of aggressive driving.

“An aggressive driving style and road rage are worrying,” says Dr Anesh Sukhai, senior scientist at the South African Medical Research |Council’s unit for research into violence, injuries and peace.

Roadrage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me' PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

Anesh, who specialises in road safety research, says road rage and aggressive driving behaviour are major contributors to our high road dearth rate.  But in many cases road rage isn’t registered; if someone forces another motorist of the road, for instance, it is reported as an accident and not necessarily as a road rage incident.

A Durban study in which Anesh was the chief investigator, looked at when behaviour was simply aggressive driving or road rage. More than 1 000 people took part in the study.

Roadrage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me' PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

Anesh explains the first level of “aggressive road behaviour” is the general irritation and frustration most people experience when caught in traffic. The next level involves the use of insensitive and obscene gestures, as well as inappropriate use of the hooter and headlights. “In the first two levels drivers can still keep their rage in check and do not therefore pose a threat to others.”

On the next two levels the motorist’s rage is out of control, Anesh says. On level  three of mild road rage, expressions of threatening or intimidating behaviour occur, such as cutting off another motorist or following or chasing them. Anesh says it’s concerning that 95 per cent of participants in the study admitted they had been on the receiving end of such behaviour. Up to 45 per cent admitted they had indulged in such behaviour.

The worst form of road rage is characterised by direct confrontation such as an exchange of words or physical assault. A total of 25 per cent of participants admitted they had been involved in such incidents, and 10 per cent admitted they had been guilty of such behaviour.

Roadrage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me' PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

Anesh says personality factors, such as when someone has a low frustration threshold or is inclined to temper tantrums play a major role. Factors such as traffic jams can also have an influence.

But both parties actually contribute to road rage incidents, Anesh says. “The so-called victims trigger aggressive and road rage behaviour, although it doesn’t justify the behaviour of the offenders.

Read more: Dashcam captures shocking moment traffic officer is shot at on N2

Jacques says South Africans suffer especially from the phenomenon of “labelling”. “The aggressive driver thinks the other party is doing something on purpose and feels they must teach them a lesson. For instance it’s thought certain behaviour is typical of women or BMW drivers. And at that point you as it were write the script for your own behaviour.”

Karen says at the centre they teach people to reason with themselves and to do breathing exercises. “Self-awareness is the most important influence you have over yourself behind the wheel. Think about what’s making you angry. We teach people techniques to remain calm and not react on the spur of the moment,” she says.

Roadrage: 'I thought we’d just exchange words – then she hit me' PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

Jacques says if someone behaves aggressively towards you, you must try to avoid conflict – although men sometimes see that as a sign of weakness. Experts warn you don’t know what the angry motorist is armed with. “Under no circumstances get out of your car. Try to defuse the situation by saying: ‘What made you so angry?’”

Read more: ‘I will shoot you’: cop’s shocking threat to journalist caught on camera

International research shows about 85 per cent of offenders say they would not have reacted the way they did if the other motorist had simply apologised, Anesh says.

Meanwhile, Caroline is still struggling to come to terms with the traumatic incident, and is taking sleeping pills, tranquillisers and antidepressants. “I feel afraid, I’m in pain; it feels like I don’t know who I am anymore. I just want to be in a dark corner,” she says two weeks after the incident. Her nephew has already had eight psychological counselling sessions. “I want to know why she hit me like that. What did I do to offend her? I don’t know her from a bar of soap. I expect an apology.”

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